Cover image for Troublemaker
Pera, Brian.
Personal Author:
First St. Martin's edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
214 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Earl, a 20-something Southern kid, is adrift in life. After his father's death, his mother - who can no longer deal with him - sends him to live with his grandmother in Memphis. His grandmother, getting senile and paranoid, turns him out on the streets of Memphis and from there his path leads him to New York City. In New York, Earl works as a hustler, then as a kept boy, but ultimately fails at both. Addicted and lost, he ends up on a train back to Omaha, where his mother keeps her door closed against him. With nowhere else to go, Earl ends up walking the grounds of a local carnival where he meets Red, an enigmatic 20-something man to whom Earl tries to attach himself, only to have Red slip away. Now the obsession with Red is the only thing driving him and Earl takes off to find this man whom he barely knows.

As the narrative moves backward and forwards in time, Troublemaker slowly reveals the truth about Earl, his past, his family, and his driving obsession with Red. Moving, compelling, and darkly funny, Troublemaker is about dislocation, obsession, and the search for affection. Pera's debut is a tour-de-force of voice and structure, marking the emergence of a major young writer.

Author Notes

Brian Pera lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Troublemaker is his first novel.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Take a 22-year-old boy with an Ozark background and let him hustle his body on the streets of New York City, all the while high on junk and liquor, and what do you get? Trouble, as Pera demonstrates in his debut novel. Kicked around from Omaha to Memphis to rural Arkansas as a child, narrator Earl finally ends up on a bus for New York. Casting around for work on the mean streets, Earl happens upon Madam, who owns a male brothel. Earl has learned to turn tricks in Memphis, and how to take drugs. In New York, he becomes a full-fledged junkie, ripping off Madam and hopping from one dubious sugar daddy to the next. After a string of affairs, Earl beating up a Wall Street businessman named Walrus, presumably killing him. In a highly strung-out condition, he goes back to Madam, who buys him a ticket home. But where is home? When Earl reaches Omaha, his mother won't let him in. Then he meets a pugnacious but physically appealing young man named Red at a carnival. After Red leaves town suddenly, Earl tracks him to Colorado Springs. Red has dyed his hair and calls himself Robert now. But Red is less than thrilled about a reunion with Earl; it turns out he's with a gang of "hawks," who recruit orphan boys from the heartlands for nefarious big-city business. Earl's Li'l Abner dialect, all "I's" and "you's," grows tedious, but Pera's elaborate, circuitous narrative is rich in nuance. By releasing information in the story in accordance with the way Earl remembers it, Pera plunges us into the uprooted desperation of Earl's consciousness, with its sad refrain: "What to do, what to do, now I run out of places." (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Earl, an uneducated Southern drifter in his early 20s, reveals his life to the reader in a series of flashbacks. After his father dies, Earl's mother throws him out of the house, sending him to his father's mother in Memphis. When his grandmother becomes increasingly affected by Alzheimer's disease, she also tells him to leave. Barely out of his teens, Earl moves into a flophouse and begins hustling, eventually landing in New York and a whorehouse run by Madam. Once again, he finds it difficult to fit in and leaves before he can be thrown out. After trying to live on the streets and spending a brief period as a kept boy, he goes back to Madam and asks for help. When she offers to send him back to his mother, he agrees, having no other option. But his mother won't let him in the house, and Earl heads for a carnival, where he meets and falls in love with Red only to lose him. Much of the storytelling takes place while Earl is hunting for Red. First-time novelist Pera presents a very real look at what could happen to any child who doesn't receive love and support. A difficult and emotional read; recommended for all libraries.DT.R. Salvadori, Margaret E. Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.