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Book Review- “All the Wild Children”

All_the-wild-childrenJosh Stallings took the old adage, “write what you know” to heart and penned, “Beautiful, Naked, and Dead” and “Out There Bad” two amazing crime thrillers starring ex-marine turned strip club bouncer Moses McGuire. If you think that means Stallings has some experience with crime and shady environments you’d be right, but you’re not looking at the bigger picture. The McGuire novels aren’t just about noirish intrigues. They’re about a physically and emotionally scarred man trying to be better. Sometimes Moses stumbles and falls and he often pays the price for lousy decisions, but he gets back up and tries again. After reading Stallings new book “All the Wild Children,” a “noir memoir,” it’s clear that’s a struggle the writer knows an awful lot about.

“All the Wild Children” opens with a series of time jumps that introduce us to the struggles Stallings faces with the family he made and the family he was born into. The writer keeps that format throughout the entire book. It’s a haunting, organic, and effective way to tell a very personal story. The book’s various chapters focus on a specific event or topic so you can see how these elements impact and resonate throughout Stallings’ life

Despite the time jumps, “All the Wild Children” does unfold in a somewhat linear fashion. The early chapters of the book go back and forth between his childhood years and introduces us to a cast of eclectic, and vibrant characters, Stallings’ family. It’s here where his struggles begin because in the these opening chapters Stalling shows us that families can be both a source of soul crushing weakness and inspiring strength.

The weaknesses come from Stallings’ parents who are fascinating characters. His mother and father love the writer and his siblings but they’re two very damaged and complex people, who can’t live together. They eventually split, but even divorced they’re not the best of parents. So Stallings and his brother and two sisters had to band together and almost raise each other.

That bond that the Stallings kids form is the strength that the writer draws from his family. Because of that tight knit bond we get to know JoshStallingsStallings’ siblings really well, especially his older brother Larken who protects him, comforts him, and often gets him into loads of trouble.

A lot of that trouble comes when Stallings and his brother hit high school. Ravenswood, the forcibly integrated Palo Alto high school they attend is a dangerous place in 1973. In this section of the book the writer gains some life long friends but is also exposed to a world of crime, drugs, and violence. This leads to some tense encounters with police and junkies, and explosive encounters with jocks.

In one of my favorite chapters from this section Stallings recalls all the fun, chaos, and danger that resulted from his family opening a teen night club. You’ll learn about the many death threats the writer and his brother received as well the occasional fights that broke out on the front porch of the club.

In the final portions of the book an adolescence full of fear, violence, alcohol, and drugs begins to catch up with Josh as he pursues his future wife and a career in entertainment. There are disappointments, funny insights into the movie business, brushes with fame, and alcohol fueled meltdowns including one that happens on the set of low budget action film being shot in Russia during the final days of Soviet rule.

The other big element of the final portions of “All the Wild Children” is Stallings and his wife Erika’s struggles raising their two children: one developmentally disabled and suffering from a schizophrenic style disorder and the other who develops a dangerous drug addiction. These sections are harrowing and heartbreaking as the writer deftly recalls having to forcibly restrain his older son during many of his psychotic breakdowns and having to arm himself with a buck knife before searching for his missing younger son in a house of drug addicts.

So when you add that all together you’ve got a powerful, exciting, and pretty inspiring read. “All the Wild Children” is a book that reads like an expertly blended cocktail of Stephen King’s “Stand by Me,” the drug fueled misadventures of Hunter S Thompson, the crime writing of George Pelecanos, and the wry, powerful, and often hilarious anecdotes of Henry Rollins. Plus it’s a true story about a guy fighting a never ending, extremely difficult, and ultimately rewarding battle; the battle to be a better person.

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