Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews The Grass Is Greener by S.M. Park. (University of Hell Press)
S.M. Park had his first book published, High & Dry, when he was sixty-five years old. At one point in his follow-up, The Grass Is Greener, he tells us that he’d been trying to get his voice right. Basically, he wanted to write stories in the same way he tells them. He says he succeeded with his debut and without that first book S.M. Park’s second would not exist. The fun part about reading this new book is it reads like the B-sides; and as a fan of the first I was buckled up and ready for the ride.
You don’t have to read High & Dry to enjoy The Grass Is Greener, but it certainly helps set the stage for Park’s alter ego Wilson High. The Grass Is Greener is the continued adventures of an underground marijuana grower and dealer. This time around, however, we’re seeing High in the process of retiring from the pot business after twenty-plus years in the black market. Like his first book, the stories here are hilarious—such as when he had to beg and convince his parents to let him borrow the family car and after getting lectured about trust and responsibility he drove directly into a mailbox, shattering the windshield. This is one example in a book full of tales of drinking and drugs that end in obscurity. Park again proves he is a storyteller of the highest order.
Park again proves he is a storyteller of the highest order.
I don’t want to make it sound like this is just a continuation of High & Dry or simply stories we can all read and laugh at. What separates this from his debut is small, but it is significant. About halfway through the book there is a chapter about his favorite bookstore, Murder by the Book (now defunct), and right at the beginning of the chapter he says he was reluctant to include it because he “couldn’t find the hook: unlike the rest of my life there’s no fringe characters, drugs, madness or cartoons involved.” High & Dry was the hits, but The Grass Is Greener gives us a more intimate look at S.M. Park. It’s cutting closer to the bone, including how his parents reacted to him. He was the odd member of the family, and while this caused strife with some of his siblings (and occasionally his mom), he had touching moments with his dad. His dad didn’t understand him, but didn’t let that get in the way of loving him and hoping for the best. I would have liked to see some more insight into his family because while these moments didn’t have the same kind of humor as the wild stories, there was a sense of authenticity that rose above, giving them a level of sincerity that showed High as a fully-formed human being.
In Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching there is this passage: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Park is a rock in a river and he takes it as it comes. He talks multiple times in The Grass Is Greener about how he could have picked a different life and it probably would have been fine, but he wouldn’t have been happy. He is self-aware enough to know himself and his limitations and follies, so he was able to go with the flow and avoid resistance.
In the end, this is a book about being true to yourself and following that path as far as it takes you, and I’m grateful to see Park’s experience during his experiment with life.
[On Thursday, January 18th, 2018, S.M. Park will read from his book The Grass Is Greener at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. Event details.]