Pirate" by Jón Gnarr, translated by Lytton Smith;
Deep Vellum (258 pages, $14.95)
Pirate," the second installment of Jón Gnarr’s
childhood memoir trilogy, is essentially an
Icelandic-punk version of "Catcher in the
Rye." Rather than Holden Caulfield wandering the
streets of New York looking for someone who is not a
phony, Gnarr narrates in pseudo-stream-of-consciousness
style through his never-ending search for real punks in
was diagnosed at a young age with an intellectual
disability caused by emotional and learning differences
including dyslexia and ADHD, but went on to become an
actor, comedian and mayor of Reykjavík in 2010. Both
"The Indian," the first installment in Gnarr’s
trilogy, and "The Pirate" are somewhat
emotionally challenging texts translated from Icelandic
by Lytton Smith and published in English by Dallas’
Gnarr leaves readers in "The Indian," he had
set sail, and failed, to travel across the bay in search
of a place to be alone in the world. He is a wild child,
contrast, in "The Pirate," he seems to be
craving normalcy as he enters his teen years. The text
is first-person narrative rather than broken into short,
almost poetic chunks interspersed with excerpts from
one defines punk is a point of contention with Gnarr.
Sid Vicious is punk until he isn’t anymore. Religion
is squarely not punk unless attending confirmation means
getting money to spend on cigarettes and punk records.
To play in a punk band do you actually have to be able
to play the guitar? Young Gnarr would emphatically say
no, but the band doesn’t work out if you have stage
longs to belong to anything. His family doesn’t accept
him. He is malcontent at school, except in his English
class. He has no luck with girls and a revolving door of
"friends," the closest of whom acknowledge his
existence only when he puts himself into harm’s way.
only respite from the verbal and physical abuse of his
peers comes from punk music and the English language in
which it is sung. But even that leaves him
second-guessing. The last thing he wants is to find out
he was actually listening to New Wave.
text encapsulates the feelings of loneliness and being
misunderstood and bullied all while searching for
self-identity that are all too common in the teenage
experience. At times, the familiar emotions and
questions posed by Gnarr’s younger self can be
anxiety-inducing for the reader. The Pirate is for that
reason both a stimulating and confounding read.
want the best for teenage Gnarr. Every new character
seems like one that might stick. Every one Gnarr finds a
way to push away. He floats aimlessly, waiting for
something to happen to make someone notice him.
post-punk Gnarr seems unlikely to recommend swallowing
handfuls of sea-sickness pills to take the edge off
family gatherings, it is unclear where "The
Outcast," the final installment of the trilogy,
will take readers.
the dark and emotionally draining moments of "The
Pirate," Gnarr ends on a hopeful note, leaving
readers with cautious optimism for him finding a future
and a place in this life.