In her debut novel Mosh It Up, Mindela Ruby proves that she’s done her time in mosh pits. She knows what it means to be loud, fast, and punk and Ruby’s characters are alive with this same energy.
Mosh It Up is about Boop, a San Francisco punk of the punk-revival 1990s, when “real” punks acted curmudgeonly because bands like Green Day were rocketing to success while the real punks continued to play dingy basements and do drugs in dirty bathrooms.
Boop is a band manager who fits this profile and, after her band blows their one shot at success, falls into a tailspin. Locked into a cycle of abusive boyfriends, drugs, and alcohol, Boop finally decides that it isn’t the life for her. With the encouragement of Sada, her invalid neighbor, and Emma, a new friend from AA, Boop attempts to take back the reins of her life. As she struggles to make sense of her future and her sordid past, she also faces the realities that come with dying—she becomes Sada’s caretaker and confidante and watches as she slips away, eventually dying.
There is no doubt about it: Ruby knows her punks. She knows how they act and how they speak and how they would react in any given situation. Her word choice throughout is consistently angsty punk—the trying too hard to sound cool and coming off, more often than not, sounding stupid. There are moments where these little affectations—both what Boop says and thinks via the narrative—are beautiful and perfect. “Grumplestiltkin” was a laugh-out-loud moment, as was Sada explaining the meetings she goes to as “‘Bereavement management for the terminally ill. We call it having a good BM.’” These are spot-on and do a lot to pull the reader into this nosedive life. This sort of language exemplifies the need for humor amidst chaos, to laugh when there seems to be no other options. Another beautiful description—and Ruby shows herself to have an eye for these sorts—arrives later in the novel: “The queen bed’s yellow sheets and blankets lie clumped like scrambled eggs.” It is a wonderful, pedestrian moment that encapsulates the overall sadness of Boop’s life. For non-punks, the book provides an insight into the thought process of a group that, typically, is either forgotten about or derided.
There are others phrases and moments, though—and this is perhaps a reflection of a debut novelist still attempting to find her feet—that undermine the narrative rather than advance it. The avalanche of these little phrases and affectations become too much and they begin to detract from the story. There are only so many times one can laugh at something like “fucky-fighty,” “chest puppies,” or “mork-suck.” These phrases feel thrown in, and the only thing they add to the scenes is to show how annoying Boop can be. Writing humor in is always tricky—one too many little jokes, and every joke is taken less seriously than it should be. That is the case often here.
If you’ve ever skanked in a mosh pit or had a fight about whether Sid Vicious was guilty, then Mosh It Up is for you. If not, find a Dead Kennedys tape, pop it in, and see what happens. Even if you find that you have reservations about punk, there’s a lot going on in this debut novel that deserves a look. Ruby understands how to connect disparate lives together, and she does so in a time and a place that is fairly interesting—regardless of one’s own musical inclinations.
Sam Slaughter is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015) and the novel Dogs (Double Life Press, 2016). His other work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Midwestern Gothic, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. By day, he works as a copywriter for a lifestyle company. By night, he is the Book Review Editor for Atticus Review, a Fiction Editor with Black Heart Magazine, and a Contributing Editor with Entropy. He can be found on his website, www.samslaughterthewriter.com and on Twitter @slaughterwrites.
Mindela Ruby writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid forms. Her work has appeared in FRiGG, Aracadia, Literary Mama, Melusine, Connotation Press, The Binnacle, and other publications. Her job resume includes motel maid, SAT tutor, and radio DJ. She completed a PhD at the University of California and teaches writing at a community college. Jarring chutney and trying to tame a rescue cat named Wallace are among her extracurriculars.