'Please Don't Shoot Anyone Tonight'

The characters in Dave Newman’s novel "Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight" are a very long way from finding harmony.

Lou Reed famously penned these lines about our fair city: “There is only one good thing about a small town / You know that you want to get out.” He was writing specifically about Andy Warhol, but the desire to escape the limited vistas, the hemmed-in and narrow streets, the hometown skyline that is so familiar that it has become oppressive is a universal one.

I can remember watching as my friends from high school, one by one, bid their adieus to the Steel City, and I keenly felt the yearning to join them in their exciting new lives far from here. Eventually, whether we leave or stay, most of us make our peace with our hometowns.

The characters in Dave Newman’s novel Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight are a very long way from finding this kind of harmony. Dan and Matt are a couple of 17-year-olds just barely making their way through high school in the late 1980s. Their main concerns are heavy metal, skipping class, drinking cheap brews and raiding the medicine cabinets of their friends’ parents.

They are the residents of your typical teenage wasteland until Matt gets his girlfriend, Susan, pregnant. In their panic, Matt and Susan bring the problem to Dan, who decides the only solution is to rob the paint store where he works and use the money to pay for an abortion. No one questions Dan’s logic.

Matt said, “Unbelievable.” He sat up and found a beer. He popped the top and drank. He looked like someone had shoveled fuel back into the engine of his body. He said, ‘I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.’”

“I know,” Dan said, though I easily could have said, “I really appreciate this.’” This: The chance to become a criminal. This: The chance to pay for an abortion. That’s how it was, being 17. Things spun backward and got confused.

Dan is looking for a way out. His parents are scraping by in low-paying jobs they don’t like in an economy that has yet to trickle down. His home life is marked by the instability and eruptions of violent arguments that money worries bring.

The opportunity to step outside this familiar world into the realm of the criminal sounds pretty cool to Dan. His primary points of reference for dealing with the very adult concerns now thrust upon himself and his friends are the Hollywood action movie and the quasi-literate lyrics of Motley Crue and Guns & Roses.

Newman does a nice job of depicting teenage aimlessness. The bulk of the book follows Dan and Matt as they tool around town avoiding the problem of Susan’s pregnancy altogether. These scenes where the boys drink and carouse, and attempt to put off adulthood feel the most real.

In contrast, the crime element of the novel, which disappears almost entirely until the last few pages, seems contrived and tacked on—an unnecessary pulp gambit that actually distracts from a fine character study.

Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight by Dave Newman; World Parade Books; $10.