Dollhouse
Mike Boyle
Thieves Jargon Press, 2007
ISBN 0977075036
176 pages, $9.99

Dollhouse by Mike Boyle is in-your-face writing that takes the reader on a wild ride through the sex-filled world of Tony Diggs, sometime rock musician, factory worker, and drug delivery boy. This is shock fiction reminiscent of Bukowski’s work, or Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Dollhouse is resplendent with porn; it constantly aims for the money shot and Boyle relentlessly cashes in.

Ask yourself this: how many intense descriptions of sexual exploits can you take before you become inured to them? Tony Diggs never seems to wear down, moving from partner to partner to partner.  Ladies love Tony Diggs.

Cindy told me what all girls tell you, that I was better than them; they were dragging me down.

This pretty much sums up the Diggs experience: don’t get dragged down. Keep moving.

Before he met Cindy—his girl for most of the novel—if you’d told Diggs he’d be sharing a pastel pink room with a bunch of dolls, he’d have told you to go fuck yourself. But that was before life in the Dollhouse, where Tony lands when things wear out with his long-time girlfriend, Wendy. Quickly, he’s sleeping with both Cindy and her mom. Tony’s not the kind of guy who looks back. He doesn’t look forward either, and that’s the downfall of the book.

Dollhouse is basically a day in the life of Diggs, extended over several months. It’s expository, plotless writing. To Boyle’s credit, Dollhouse is brutally honest and authentically told. Mostly it’s straight-out narration but at times it lapses into stream of consciousness. For example, when Tony decides to hit New York City, gigging with his band, New Left, he spends the weekend in the bed of a spoiled Stanford girl who is waitressing her way through the summer. The tone of the writing changes here as Tony briefly considers a very different future. I like where it goes—the reader floats along with Diggs, one life behind him and another right there, right there where he can almost reach it.

I saw how it was and how it was gonna be. I’d do it anyway, what else was there? But it’s no good being an outlaw, living in bars like they did. It’s no damn good, a man needs something better. You need a chance; a fighting chance.

Diggs reaches for that chance. He lives full-throttle.

Fulfilling his own needs is his prime motivator. Because he really doesn’t stop to think about how his choices affect others, I found myself wanting to empathize with at least one of the people directly in his line of fire. I wanted to pull for Cindy–who overcomes cancer, drug addiction, and the emotional trauma of her boyfriend sleeping with her mother– but somehow Boyle makes Cindy unlikable, too. I found all of the characters are unlikable. All of them are driven, not by some goal or higher purpose, but by the desire for immediate gratification with no eye to the consequences of their actions. Boyle misses opportunities to humanize them, and therefore misses the chance to turn a good tale into a great book.

I recommend Dollhouse to anyone looking for a balls-to-the wall ride. Diggs is outrageous, unafraid of living, and you’re right there with him every step of the way. Mike Boyle took me far from my world in this expositive chronicle and despite the me who wanted more meaning in all of this, I enjoyed the trip.

[[review by Sue Miller of GUD Magazine; see the comments on our original blog for how to win our review copy ]]

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