For those unfamiliar with Tom Spanbauer's legendary local writing workshops, "dangerous writing" can be summed up as unsullied candor in literary writing—both prose and poetry. Though this may initially seem simple to do—especially as memoirs are the latest "in" thing, memories can be quite treacherous to traverse. In a recent conversation, Spanbauer recently told me about this phenomenon: "The 'danger' refers to the power that this truth holds—a power that is often beyond the writer's control once the words are written."
Spanbauer's new novel, Now Is the Hour, is filled with such power—often in the form of heartbreak. Whether from unrequited love, his own domestic despair, or simply the stifling racism and conservatism of Pocatello, Idaho, protagonist Rigby John Klusener has got to get out of town. At the beginning of the novel, 17-year-old Rigby John is literally at a crossroads, hitching his way to San Francisco on Highway 93. He also stands at a figurative one, as he flees the rigor of his Catholic upbringing and the sexual mores of Idaho.
Pocatello has never been more interesting. Rigby John skinny-dips with Mexican laborers, makes out with Shoshone drag queens, and smokes spliffs with big-tittied intellectuals.
Spanbauer keeps the possibly tired subject of a late 1960s sexual awakening refreshing with his prose, so unpretentious that it's like he's whispering it in your ear: "Soon as I said queer, I wanted to capture it in the air and cup it back into my mouth."
It's this insight—and perhaps the inherent honesty—in Spanbauer's dangerous writing that causes his readers to fall in love with his protagonists, particularly Billie Cody: "Technicolor Pisces, theatrical smoker, woman of mystery, kneeling beatnik, blue-toed existentialist, intellectual snob. In her heart of hearts, Billie Cody was an Idaho girl. Only an Idaho girl can slam a pickup door like that."
Now Is the Hour is, at 450 pages, quite long, though it never drags. This innate grace truly is a mark of Spanbauer's storytelling skills. Perhaps only an Idaho boy can write a novel like this?