Literary / George Orwell once wrote, “At age 50, every man has the face he deserves.” Here, in terms of the books written about Hawaii, we’ve had to wait 53 years for our face to be revealed to us. But boy, is that mirror cruelly accurate. Its name is Boi No Good and its author is Christopher McKinney, who’s already goosed the state’s conscience with four uncompromising works of fiction, including The Tattoo.
The story of three siblings of a meth-addict mother who are farmed out to foster parents, grow up with holes in their souls and reconnect violently and tragically, Boi No Good is our Hawaii Nei today. It’s the stories we read in the police blotter, the family members we tear our hair over. Boi ends up living on a rain-sodden taro farm worked by a ranting Filipino-Hawaiian who believes in revolution by any means necessary–including shamanism. Glory, the daughter, ends up with the briefly reformed mother, who turns back to her bad old ways and prostitutes her child for meth.
McKinney plumbs these lower depths in interior monologues that are hair-raising in their power and precision. But his story also scales the heights of Honolulu society. In a surprise development that takes the book from the sociological to a full-fledged expose of all our classes and ethnicities, one of the lost children, Shane, is adopted by a god-like old-school haole big-wave surfer, Charles Knotting, who is running for Governor on a slate that promises to barter welfare for voluntary sterilization.
This planinflames the permanently outraged Boi, who has put a juvenile jail stint behind him to join the Honolulu Police Department. Due to his brother’s inclusion in the Gov’s family, Boi witnesses one cynical power play too many (think rail, PRP, the PLDC and UH, then multiply by Caldwell over Mufi times Abercrombie). Subject to visions thanks to his foster father’s paranoid upbringing and his own Tasered psyche, Boi sets out to take revenge on the entire aloha-tourist-development-consumerist empire. That his attempt to take down Waikiki coincides with a hurricane blowing into town is the sort of coincidence, after Hurricane Sandy, that elevates this book from fiction into prophecy.
By way of disclosure, I first heard about Boi No Good from my own novel’s editor in Manhattan. He wrote me last year that he’d been asked to take a look at something extremely raw and so potentially controversial that he couldn’t see how it could get published as is. He wanted to know if half the stuff about Hawaii in the manuscript could possibly be true–like most mainlanders, he sees us through Mai Tai-tinted glasses.
I said I wouldn’t discount anything.
Much to my surprise, Boi came my way a few months later. Two potential mainland editors had turned it down (or been turned down by McKinney, after a trial edit). My editor had recommended me to Mutual Publishing, and McKinney and I ended up working together. On a first reading, I knew I’d been handed a special responsibility. That’s why, when even the Weekly’s reviewer suddenly dropped the book as too hot to handle, I was asked to write this essay. Boi No Good is one damn good book. The first proof is in those it’s already scared away.
Mutual Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 400 pages, $15.95
Chris McKinney will have a book-signing this Sat., Nov. 10, at 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Ala Moana.