161 pages, iUniverse
Review by Melissa Conway
I saw the movie Captain America a few months ago and noticed the name of the actor who played the main character was Chris Evans. His name brought to mind a boy I had in my high school Speech class, Jim Evans. I didn’t know Jim well, but he had a biting wit and a propensity for drawing graphic cartoons that reminded me of my older brother. Jim (and everyone else in class) was witness to one of my Most Embarrassing life moments – the time I got up in front of class to give a speech I was totally unprepared for. I had decided to wing it because the assignment was to give a humorous speech and I was SO funny, wasn’t I? Jim could have pulled it off, I’m certain, but me…well, I blanked out and ended up stuttering and spluttering and staring out at the class in horror before ducking behind the podium. There may have been a few public tears of shame shed. The stank from that experience forever soured me to public speaking. But I digress.
On this particular evening (after I saw Captain America and thought of Jim), I was mostly looking for an excuse to avoid my latest manuscript, but whatever my motivation, I ended up Googling around to see if Jim had an Internet presence. I knew he had a twin brother, so I typed in something like, “jim evans twin stan” and Bingo! I stumbled upon the book I’m reviewing tonight.
I probably would have glanced at the book’s description, said, “That’s cool,” and moved on to some other manuscript-evading tactic, if it weren’t for a couple of odd coincidences that eventually compelled me to buy the book.
The first coincidence was that Jim’s twin, author Stan Evans, self-published in the early 2000’s with iUniverse; same as me. The second and more compelling coincidence was that the story is about Stan and Jim’s childhood, which sounded (at first) eerily similar to my own. The cover says, “The darkly funny, true story of how twin brothers survived their mother’s madness.” Since I have often considered writing a book about my own ‘offbeat’ childhood, I was curious if the initial appearance of similarity between us played out.
In some ways, Box of Mustaches had me in a déjà vu grip as I read, especially the spot-on evocations of being a kid in the seventies. In other ways, the story had me thanking my lucky stars that my mother’s brand of eccentricity was mild in comparison to what Stan and Jim endured. I never would have guessed Jim’s life was so tragically dysfunctional; he seemed so confident – a defense mechanism, I suppose. To a troubled teen struggling to fit in with his peers when his life is anything but normal, the appearance of normalcy would have to be the next best thing.
The author’s writing style is very readable. In itself, the story is not amusing in the slightest, but seen through Stan’s eyes, the tragedy is quite funny. My sense of humor is similar to the author’s, that “laugh at everything” attitude that helped me survive the worst of the incomprehensible things my mother did and said over the years.
The chapters jump around in time and one is written like a script, but it’s not jarring. We read about the twin’s grandmother Centa, who was raped by a Russian soldier in a concentration camp in Poland and gave birth to their mother, Heidi. 16-year-old Heidi’s obsessive ambition to become an actress leads her to leave Germany for America. There, she marries, has the twins, and begins a slow spiral into insanity.
The author does a fine job characterizing the players in his life, and does an equally fine job communicating the raw emotion the events that shaped him inspired. By the end of the story, when he summed up his feelings for his mother, I was teary-eyed because on many levels I could relate to his powerful, conflicting love-hate.
It was interesting reading about Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from Stan’s perspective, as well. Like me, he and his brother moved to town in the middle of their high school careers. Also like me, they came from California and found that there was a pervasive anti-outsider bent at Coeur d’Alene High (no one cared that my ancestors were pioneers in the area). Unlike me, they arrived after their mother shot their step-father, turning him into a paraplegic and getting herself committed in the process.
Would I recommend this book to someone with no connection (however vague) to the author? Definitely. It’s a fine indie example. I was somewhat astonished at how brutally honest the author was about people who are (or were at the time of publication) still alive, but he puts forth a hopeful message for those who find themselves on the receiving end of someone else’s crazy: you can survive and you can succeed in life despite the hardship you’ve undergone.
Stan Evans went on to become an award-winning producer. I have no idea why he was unable to secure a ‘real’ publisher with his undoubted connections in the biz, but I’m glad I stumbled upon this hidden treasure.