“Memories of childhood humanize us as adults. With age, our version of that time is deformed then reassembled. What fragments bleed through are tailored to a narrative designed to hide vulnerability.”
-P.K., And Every Day Was Overcast
If the absence of vulnerability is a hallmark of adult self-retrospection as the first three lines of Paul Kwiatkowski’s debut novel, And Every Day Was Overcast, suggests, then the candid recollections of book’s protagonist, P.K., certainly break the mold. The narrator’s willingness to cast aside vulnerability in the service of brute honesty is all too evident as he recounts the ten years of his youth spent in Loxahatchee, Florida during the 1990s. P.K.’s youthful exploits are told in such nerve-bearing detail that not much is left to the imagination.
Take, for example, P.K.’s account of how he willingly exposed himself to a drifter to score alcohol for him and his friends. Another section of the book describes how P.K. witnessed an acquaintance commit a random act of cruel violence against the school outcast, then abandon the victim’s unconscious body outside a 7-Eleven. The friendless, unfortunate boy, named Cobain, is never to be seen or heard from again, leaving the P.K. to ruminate in remorse through the course of his young adult life.
“Worse than my guilt and fear was the relief I felt” laments P.K. “I told myself that his evaporation was a small death that had brought him to a better place.”
Yet another passage from the book describes the 40 hours of court-ordered community service P.K. spent under the wing of an HIV-positive ex-drag queen named Cody, who introduces him to the secret lives of supposedly straight, well-to-do yuppy men who cruise for sex in drive-in theater parking lots and dingy gas station bathrooms in their off-hours away from work and home. Such are the types of memories many would try to bury as far into the depths of their psyche as possible. Instead, they are brought to light by the narrator in a graphic novel that reads like a yearbook from one of the most dysfunctional high school experiences imaginable.
Kwiatkowski’s Florida is more than just the sunny, resort-ladden getaway destination its tourism department would have one believe. Its magic and charm are certainly not lost on the author, though both take a form that is much less that of the Disney variety. The author admits it took him leaving the state to fully realize just how much Florida’s topography influenced his adolescent experiences, though he’d always had it in the back of his mind that the state functioned on a plane quite different from other places.
“I grew closer to the Bahamas and Jamaica than I did Georgia” says Kwiatkowski, who is currently based in New York. “So I think when you grow up in that cultural landscape you’re aware that you’re a little bit distant from the rest of America.” Shows like America’s Most Wanted, which Kwiatkowski says never ceased to showcase Florida’s pedophiles, rapists and murders, only helped to validate the author’s suspicions about the Sunshine State.
Narratives like the vignettes found in And Every Day Was Overcast have been told countless times. Kwiatkowski’s book calls to mind Larry Clark’s seminal film Kids (1995), which drove a slegde hammer into the whimsical, John Hughesian notions of young adulthood many had often considered the norm. The novel continues this tradition,recounting the awkward and often ill-advised exploits of listless teens, though it exchanges the New York’s skyscrapers, yellow cabs and rushed pedestrians for everglades, palm trees and alligators. Still, the novel’s presentation is quite ground-breaking in its own right. And Every Day Was Overcast blurs the lines between fiction and memoir by juxtaposing countless photos taken by Kwiatkowski (most between the ages of 13 to 18) with vivid prose. Its narrative is as much dependant on the text as it is images to fully tell P.K.’s story.
“I didn’t want it to function as just a photo book where people would be like ‘Oh these photos are really pretty.’ I realize that they’re snapshots and that they’re nothing special,” says Kwiatkowski. “I’m sure a lot of people have the exact same types of pictures from their past.”
As a whole, Kwiatkowski’s novel succeeds in doing much more than simply conveying the isolated experiences of one idle teenager with a penchant for drugs, pornography and reckless sexual encounters. Through a marriage of images and words, the novel illustrates the result of adolescent malaise against Florida’s eerie, subtropical backdrop. Perhaps less noticeably, And Every Day Was Overcast is also the story of a man fortunate enough to have actually made it out.