Boulevard, July/August 2002
Review by W.D. Valgardson
The Beautiful Dead End by Clint Hutzulak is not a book for the faint-hearted — there's nothing romantic or soft about it. It begins: "Outside, he realizes he is not drunk enough. He sits down on the corner of a concrete planter at the edge of the parking lot and rolls a cigarette with his last paper." Shortly thereafter, Stace, the protagonist, dies of a drug overdose. The majority of the book follows his life-after-death experience.
What captured and held my attention was the hard reality of that afterlife, and the tough look at the way a real life can be squandered. Toward the end of the book, Stace returns to observe Lillis Rae, his former wife, and feels something he's never felt before — regret. He confesses to having spent a lifetime acting without thought of consequences. In the chapter "Asleep," Stace returns to Lillis Rae's house and speaks to her while she sleeps. The poignancy of what could have been is powerful.
"I want you to tell me whose ring is on your hand," Stace says.
She rubs her thumb over the engraved initials, turns her hand, turns the ring up to the light. "I kept it for you in case you changed your mind," she says.
"Changed my mind about what?"
"I kept it for when you decided to come back," Lillis Rae says.
Who among us has felt that? Has felt the sharp pain of what could have been if we'd just made the right decisions in our relationships?