Native San Diegan Adam Gnade reads from his new autobiographical novel, ‘This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You,’ at Verbatim Books on Feb. 22
If you have spent any of your formative years in San Diego, you will recognize many of the geographical landmarks in Adam Gnade’s new novel, “This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You.” Perhaps you learned to read at Pacific Beach Elementary School. Perhaps you bought your after-school snacks at a mini-mart on Grand Avenue and Lamont Street. Maybe you acquired the makings of a massive hangover in a ratty party house on Zanzibar Court. Maybe you smothered said hangover with a plate of carne asada fries from Taco Surf.
If you did not grow up in San Diego, no worries. If you are now or have ever been a bullied kid, an alienated teen or a 20-something trying to find your professional groove without acquiring an ulcer, you will see bits of yourself in Gnade’s hero, the perpetually conflicted James Jackson Bozic. And you might also find comfort in James’ journey, which spends a lot of time in many dark places before finding its way to a welcoming patch of light.
“The book deals with a lot of hard ideas about death and the loss of friends and dislocation, but I wanted to give it a gentle, reassuring final word,” said Gnade (pronounced “guh-naw-dee”), who will be holding a book release party at Verbatim Books in North Park on Saturday. “It is pretty reflective of my life. I wouldn’t say I’m happy all the time, but I definitely have a lot of joy. I’m still struggling very regularly, but the struggle feels right. It feels like I’m on a good course to someday do something better.”
The thing Gnade wants to do better is the thing he has been doing for his entire professional life. The thing he discovered when his high-school self read an article about Portugal in a travel magazine and decided that he was going to be a writer, and that his writing travels would never take him too far from the place that would always be home.
A native San Diegan, the 44-year-old Gnade grew up in Pacific Beach, where he and his fellow latchkey kids explored abandoned houses, ate their dinners at 7-Eleven (nachos and Funyuns with ice-cream sandwiches for dessert) and survived the tortures of their middle- and high-school years with varying degrees of success.
Gnade graduated from Mission Bay High School in 1994 and promptly sold a story about a typical day in his young life to the San Diego Reader. He attended Mesa College “for about a second” before embarking on a writing career that included an internship at Revolt In Style, a few years at SignOn San Diego (an early digital version of the San Diego Union-Tribune), and freelancing for San Diego’s SLAMM magazine and other publications.
In 2002, Gnade and a group of friends started Fahrenheit San Diego, an alternative weekly that lasted for two stressful years, in which Gnade drank too much, slept too little and watched his co-workers struggle with ulcers and other health issues. When the magazine went bust, Gnade did a lot of road-tripping before settling in Portland, where he wrote for the Portland Mercury and began plotting the next chapter of his writing life.
“I have always wanted to write well and sell books,” Gnade said during a phone interview from the farm outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has lived since 2010. “Struggling with that over the years has been great, and the pain of that has been good pain. Having one thing to focus all of your efforts on is very healthy and sustaining. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found writing.
Gnade’s literary career kicked off with the 2008 publication of “Hymn California,” the first in a series of autobiographical works that includes the novel “Caveworld” (published in 2013), the novella “Locust House,” and “This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You,” a bittersweet tribute to Gnade’s hometown that came out last week. On Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough.
In the novel, young James starts out as a happy Pacific Beach Elementary first-grader only to become a miserable Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed middle-schooler and then an anxious Mission Beach High student. Teen James somehow survives both a hellacious acid trip and a friend’s suicide before finding his place with the goth kids, artists and free spirits of San Diego’s underground punk and art scene.
Other adult adventures ensue, as James moves to Portland, gets his heart broken, launches a writing career, and eventually moves to a farm in the Midwest, where the California kid finds the peace, quiet and distance he needs to write about the town that made him who he is. A town of perfect burritos, unexpected shadows and a love that will never fade into the sunset off Crystal Pier.
“San Diego is always home to me. That is one of the reasons why I will always write about it,” said Gnade, whose parents still live in the house he grew up in. “One of my plans is to come back at some point. It’s like in a fairy tale, where you go out and seek your fortune, and you can’t come home until you have found it. I think that’s what I’ve been doing since I left. And when I find that unknowable thing, then I’ll come home.”
Adam Gnade book release party
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Verbatim Books, 3793 30th St., North Park
Phone: (619) 501-7466