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Book Review: Some Sort of Ugly

If the kids talking about college on Tumblr (whether they’re still immersed in the “experience”, or if they’re reflecting on their carefree days of a youth that occurred less than two years ago) are really interested in reading something worthwhile about the subject, they’re either going to love or be severely traumatized by Nathan Graziano’s novella. Some Sort of Ugly was clearly written with a certain degree of insight into the subject of living through college during any decade (although this specific story is set in the 1990’s). It was also written with Graziano’s great affection for conceiving truly horrible circumstances, tossing his character blindly towards them, and then sticking with the scene for as long as possible.

Typically, the best moments of the book are those that stay on student Hamlet Burns for just a little longer than we’re comfortable with. Graziano depicts 90’s college life in America quite well, but the best scenes in the book are when Ham (as he refers to himself in the very first line) is hopelessly over his head, and yet retains a shred of hope that things will take a turn for the better soon. They rarely do, and that’s okay. It’s a learning experience. Ham understands this. He gets that some learning experiences are meant to leave us more screwed up than when we started.

Some Sort of Ugly is fun. Ham is like most college kids. He’s trying to put together just enough of an understanding of the world to get through it. In order to put together even a vague comprehension of what his future should include, Ham tries things. He gets a girlfriend, contracts an STD, has a pretty good time with pot, learns about what he’s capable of in terms of heavy drinking, deals with his parents as best he can (every single interaction between Ham and his father in Some Sort of Uglyis hilarious in how hauntingly familiar it’s going to sound to a great many people), joins a fraternity, gets a terrible haircut, and slowly becomes something that at least to him feels like a human being. One of the great things about Graziano’s novella is the fact that it covers a lot of ground, includes a huge range of characters (Drain-O is my personal favorite), and tells a number of rich, funny stories. It does all this in less than 75 pages, and yet it feels packed to the edge of the breaking point with people, cars, conversations, buildings, food, drugs, and music. It would be great if the book hung around a bit longer, told us one or two more things, but like any good storyteller, Ham knows when he’s said enough. Obviously, that means the talent for leaving us asking for more is Graziano’s.

This novella is very much set in its time period, but the beauty of Some Sort of Ugly is that it’s hilarious, unsympathetic portrayal of college is capable of holding true for a lot of people from several different eras of the college experience. There’s a lot of brilliant humor to be found here. Perhaps the funniest thing of all about Some Sort of Ugly is that it doesn’t present these stories with misguided romanticism. Occasionally, Ham seems amazed that he got through everything intact. With that thought in mind, it’s reasonable to look at this release not as a series of anecdotes of college life, but as one individual’s particular guide for survival. Your experiences may not have been exactly the same as Ham’s, but you’re still going to laugh like a bastard, and laugh out loud, because so much of it is still going to ring true.

Some Sort of Ugly is now available from Marginalia Publishing. You can buy the eBook on Amazon, and the print edition on Lulu.