With In Search of Captain Zero and now Can't You Get Along With Anyone?, I believe Allan Weisbecker is the greatest memoirist of our times.
The newest memoir follows Allan's previous book, Zero, which was an immense journey that the author took down to the end of the road: Pavones, Costa Rica. In Zero, he was trying to find a long-lost surfer friend with whom he'd traveled the world in younger days, smuggling drugs and hopping hurricane wings across continents to follow the perfect swell.
That book had me on edge, and I finished it in a matter of days. Things jumped out of the pages: the wild roar of surf and rain, the screech of howler monkeys, the simplicity of rain and banana groves, the lively atmosphere of whores and bars and sea-storms – all of this painted by Allan's blunt humor and descriptions of symbiotic relationships with waves, life, and all matter.
The newest memoir, Can't You Get Along, is all that and more. There are some life-changing moments in this book. For readers who are intimate with the author via his previous book (as well as Cosmic Banditos, his first novel), we feel like we'd already stepped into the author's Caribbean home-front and can shake our heads with him; his life has gotten majorly screwed up, even after he wrote our favorite book of all time, which should have won him some respect and peace.
Can't You Get Along follows the previous book with how painful the editorial process of Zero was, and how annoying it was and still is to deal with Hollywooers trying to bring these books to screen. The author gets to interact with potential actors playing him: Sean Penn, John Cusack, and Brad Pitt as well as a bucketful of producers, writers, and other people who are supposed to make things happen. It's exciting, even though Zero, according to Allan, isn't really a movie, not unless he writes the screenplay to make it into movie-material. But in these years following that book, it has all been a lot of red tape with bully communication: a big headache, in other words.
To top that is the fact he's met the real thing, he thinks, the love of his life. Something Allan's mom had really wanted for him. And it seems really cool for a little while, but that relationship gets crazy too. You get to meet this girl on one of the first few pages, in the form of a beautiful woman surfer named Lisa, whom also Allan sort of dedicates the book to:
For Lisa, who gave me what every writer needs…
I am not going to tell you much about Lisa, or why she gave Allan what he needed to write this book, only to say that without her, I think there would have been less loneliness as well fewer killer-crazy, cow-fucking surfers.
To top the ill-fated love business and editorial pains are possible contracts on Allan's head. He's the type of guy who speaks up for what's right, and won't back down usually, so various schemes gone bad have him worried too. In the late 90s, Allan helped investigate a murder of a Costa Rican rancher, also a U.S. citizen, Max Dalton, so he talks about this and the resulting strained U.S.-Costa Rican relationship of the case. You get a feel for the downright nastiness of land ownership "rights" of these remote ranchers; the most popular, most intimidating, most powerful guys win the land, basically. It's these types of guys who Allan still fears.
If you add up all these things, it appears that his life is as strange and intriguing as fiction. But Allan Weisbecker is very careful in his reproduction of truth: to be sincere to the audience, which is why this book is so refreshing to read – even though it's a struggle for him. He genuflects veracity and self-reflection at every turn.
Memoirs are created from memory. Allan is always investigating his memory and even new facts that come up later that he had not known about earlier, so his integrity keeps on its own toes.
Alright, so he's got some troubles that he's talking about candidly, which keeps the book hopping along, because you want to find out how in the world he is going to get out of the latest crazy situation, but it isn't just these wild events that keep you reading. Great memoirists must also know how to write.
I was trying to find a good way to describe Allan's writing style: the type that is on a more profound level that the average top-selling suspense novel, but one that none-the-less is one of those books you must not stop reading.
I finally got the right word when I watched a surf documentary called Zen and Zero, which guest-stars Allan. One of the film's narrators mentioned the term duende, a Spanish term usually related to art or music, specifically Flamenco dancing. It's a beautiful word that describes a strong, poignant reaction experienced in a peak moment.
Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca said of duende:
These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .Thus duende is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: 'Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.' Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action.
Allan Weisbecker's writing has this duende and power; he writes from the place inside. His writing is much like surfing. In both are movement, sanctuary, self-reflection, fear, respect, and of course wipes. I believe at times Allan has bled and it has splattered forth onto the page.
One thing that the author does, as was shown in Zen and Zero, is that he walks along the long board when surfing. I believe this is called stepping in surfer lingo. In writing he is risky too. He goes against virginal editorial advice and the modern grain, and writes about what happens in his lonely and wild word, without using perception management or apology. Keeps you hanging on edge and up all night.
I really look forward to more of his books.
But before I go, I want to contrast another woman mentioned in Allan's memoirs. Her name is Mom. You look at Mom and see the woman that many of us know as Mom. More beautiful than a sexy girl in a bikini, more deeply afflictive.
I can't even begin to relate the pangs of loss and utter sadness and frustration, yet hope, I encountered upon reading the last section of the book: "Mom Goes to the Beach." I can't re-tell it here. You must read the book, feel its duende, and then go check out Mom on the beach to see what the simple act of kindness from a random stranger will do in a life-defining moment.