Featured Book: Burnt Roof Of Mouth by McCutcheon
Regular iJamming! readers will know McCutcheon for his contributions in the iJamming! Pub, which are usually as witty as they are explicit. Truly devoted readers will know that his fiction – for McCutcheon spends much of his waking hours at the typewriter, rewriting his nighttime adventures to protect the innocent – follows the same form, as with last year’s short story collection Sex Drugs and Rock’n’Roll Never Goes Out of Style. But whereas that book bordered on the gratuitous in the liberal distribution of its title’s promise, the NYC-based author’s newly-published first novel, Burnt Roof Of Mouth, is the real deal, a proper page-turner that sees McCutcheon reveal a new maturity in his writing and a soft heart to boot.
(Full disclosure: I wrote the back cover blurb to Sex Drugs and Rock’n’Roll… and I consider McCutcheon a friend.)
Burnt Roof Of Mouth follows its narrator, Trevor, a pizza delivery boy in a New Jersey no-hope town, as he finds his hum-drum existence turned upside down by a sudden whirlwind adventure of sex, drugs, and French cheese. Yes, French cheese: after an unlikely liaison with a wealthy local mother (and her twin sister; McCutcheon rarely does sex by half-measures) Trevor, who until now has yet to board an air plane, is sent to Paris for 48 hours to bring back the kind of moldy fromages forbidden by America’s Food and Drug Administration. It’s an appropriately perverse assignment, one from which Trevor is naturally derailed by the City of Light’s more youthful attractions.
I’ll leave you guessing what those attractions may be, but make no mistake about it, Burnt Roof Of Mouth is a pop culture novel. Trevor and his shop-lifting, live-in buddy Mike are confirmed music fiends, and while the former remains immersed in a self-medicating world of the Velvet Underground and Joy Division, his room-mate not only introduces him to The Walkmen, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Kills, but also attempts to drag Trevor out of his Nirvana fixation, per the following conversation about the group’s Unplugged album.
(Mike:) “I don’t want to listen to it.”
(Trevor:) “What, you don’t like Nirvana now?”
“Sure I do. Kurt was great. But he was a one-trick pony. He got caught up in his own fame. Nirvana never got experimental. They never did a Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s, a Stones’ Satanic Majesties Request or a Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Besides, he killed himself and he had a baby daughter. That’s fucked up. Just like Ian Curtis. All this talk about tortured genius – I know, I get it – but no one mentions how unfair that is to their kids.”
Over the course of the story, the lead characters in Burnt Roof Of Mouth (the title alludes to the result of eating hot pizza in too much of a rush, and yes it is a metaphor for life) make discoveries about themselves and either do or don’t change their lifestyles accordingly: this is very much your coming-of-age novel, after all. The extent to which we the readers share these emotional developments is open to debate; I didn’t, for example, find myself crying alongside Trevor during his darkest moments. But while it’s not what the snobs would call literary fiction, nor is it cheap pulp of the imitation Irvine Welsh school; there’s a genuine tenderness to McCutcheon’s writing that cuts right through the outlandish escapades. And anything that Burnt Roof Of Mouth lacks for in the finer details it more than makes up for in pace and perspective, in wit and wisdom, and in its minutely annotated accounts of social life in suburban Jersey and central Paris, with the occasional detour into 21st Century New York City. To call Burnt Roof of Mouth a great beach or airplane read is not to demean it with a backhanded compliment – but rather to bestow on it the worthy crown of pop art. Props.