Courtesy Boy: "...vibe that rings sparklingly true"
Updated: Apr 24
Scott Phillips is the author of eight novels and a collection of short stories. His first novel, The Ice Harvest, won the California Book Award silver medal for Best First Fiction, and was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, for the John Creasey and the Maccallan Daggers, for the Hammett Prize, and for the Anthony Award.
Review by Scott Phillips
It may sound odd to say that you enjoyed an addiction memoir. Such books are, after all, based on suffering on the part of the author, and even the supposedly fun parts, before the author hits rock bottom and sobers up, are tinged with the foreknowledge that bad things are going to happen, probably very bad. You may admire such a book, but to say it gave you pleasure seems wrong on some level.
So, that said, I am here to tell you how much I loved reading “Courtesy Boy.”
Mike Matson and I are roughly the same age, grew up in Kansas and spent our young adult years in Wichita. Though we never met (to my knowledge, anyway) at the time, we had the same frames of reference, worked similar jobs (I in book and record stores, Mike in a local supermarket chain, assigned the job that gives the book its title), lived in the same kinds of soulless apartment complexes, listened to the same kinds of radio stations, went to the same kinds of bars and clubs and all-night restaurants.
As a writer, he has conjured up a vision of my hometown as it no longer exists, a late seventies and early eighties vibe that rings sparklingly true. His memories are vivid and beautifully described, and he sees his younger self with a forgiving but unblinking eye. When the memoir moves on to broadcasting school in Minneapolis and then to radio and TV news in Kansas, the portraits of his co-workers and friends are as sharp, affectionate and well-drawn as those from his salad days. They seem like a grand group of people, a lovely bunch of people to have known.
And through it all runs the undercurrent of a problem with alcohol. If the book weren’t subtitled “A True Story of Addiction,” the reader might be forgiven for not realizing until halfway through that the story is leading inexorably to a reckoning. The role of alcohol in the early part of the book is relatively minor, the sort of stories many, many people could have told at that age. But the stories that involve drinking come more frequently as it progresses, the consequences of the narrator’s behavior under the influence become more dire, and his unwillingness to give it up as a coping mechanism becomes all too clear.
Finally we come to understand, as Mike did, that alcohol has taken over the narrative. It doesn’t end with that recognition – his road to recovery is bumpy, as most are, but he makes it. As such he’s written a worthy addition to the genre. He’s also written a memoir that succeeds on many other levels as well, a truly entertaining read. This one ends as the author is sober and healthy; I hope he writes another about the years in between.
Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction by Mike Matson. Flint Hills Publishing, 2021. 350 pages. Available at Watermark Books in Wichita, Flint Hills Books in Council Grove, The Dusty Bookshelf in Manhattan, Claflin Books in Manhattan, Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Rainy Day Books in Fairway, and Round Table Books in Topeka. Also available online via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.