In the end, after all the drugs and high heels, salvation still eludes Scott Sundvall.
But let’s start at the beginning. The very beginning.
Sundvall was a shoe pimp in the great “Church of Purchase.”
Which is to say the University junior was a shoe salesman at a “desolate, frontier, factory outlet mall” in Southern California, where he grew up.
At 20, he is publishing a memoir, a fast and loose narrative about a business in which dead cows become loafers. But a number of elements keep this story from just being a simple retail tale.
In “Outlet or a Heaven Full of Televisions,” Sundvall is looking through a large microscope. Under his inspection is the capitalist machine that reduces him and his friends to consumer cogs who can only find relief through drugs and daydreams.
What’s actually at stake here seems to be a fleeting sense of salvation – or hope – for a young generation of adults who identify themselves as products instead of people.
“I think that every generational pocket has unique circumstances surrounding it,” Sundvall said in an interview with The Minnesota Daily. “That’s really what I was trying to address.”
Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, Sundvall had plenty of opportunities to observe the flux of consumerism.
In the book, his best friends are musicians who risk everything on a burnt-out rock producer. Some drop out of high school to follow their great dream of riches and fame. When things don’t pan out, one band member commits himself to rehab. The worst of them, John, attempts suicide.
At his best, Sundvall monitors these dark crags of existence, conveying a hidden desperation that nips at the heels of his generation.
Even when reflecting on his own life in the memoir, Sundvall strikes a balance between two hopeless tones of voice – one of cool indifference, the other of violent disdain.
For example, life seems like a piece of cake when Sundvall becomes a sales manager at a women’s shoe store. But a bump up in management equals a few more pulls off the old liquor bottle each morning. Copious amounts of alcohol are consumed on and off the job. And eventually, the mounting sarcasm in Sundvall’s voice peaks when he lands himself in a “psych” ward.
Maybe a “crazy” man did author this memoir.
That might explain some of the flaws within the narrative. Among the most obvious are the ways in which Sundvall writes himself into the story.
In the book’s most adventurous scenes – including a karaoke night at a dusty Mexican-border bar – Sundvall’s narrative voice seems too detached. Instead of being a participant in the action, his voice dissects, describes and summarizes the scene.
That said, the same sense of detachment can actually enhance the impersonality of the world Sundvall describes in his memoir. Life, it seems, is lug nuts and loafers devoid of salvation.
“From my perspective, at least,” Sundvall said, “salvation is something that is constantly achieved and then taken away.”
Or people assume it can be bought or sold.
In some sense, the picture drawn in Sundvall’s memoir is bleak. There seems to be no salvation for the author or his friends.