Garry Craig Powell, aged 25 - as a proto-'boyo'
Do you know what a ‘boyo’ is? The Urban Dictionary defines it as ‘An endearing term used to refer to (young) men searching for the meaning of life through the works of Jung, Freud, Nietzsche and other such psychologists/philosophers.’ I have only become aware of this meaning in the past couple of days. And yet, by happenstance, Huw, the Welsh hero of Our Parent Who Art in Heaven (Flame Books, 2022, already available for pre-order), often addresses himself in his thoughts as ‘boyo’, the traditional Welsh or Irish form of ‘lad’ or ‘dude’. In our age, when young men so often feel emasculated, neutered, and lost – when so few of them have had real present fathers who confirmed them in their manhood, and when so many of them have been told in the course of their education that they should behave more like girls, be nicer, less aggressive – vast numbers of young men are trying to confirm themselves, give themselves the rite of passage they never had, and become more self-assertive, self-affirming. Become heroes, in fact, not mere representatives of ‘toxic masculinity’ (a concept that is not merely spurious, but toxic in itself.)
And what does that have to do with Huw, the hero of Our Parent Who Art in Heaven? Well, he’s a college professor in his late 40s, by no means ‘a lost boy’, and the central themes of the satire are, as the title suggests, identity politics in general, what used to be called the War of the Sexes and now seems to be more of a War of the Genders (however many there are), the woke takeover of academia, and the intolerance of the new ideology – the ‘cancel culture.’ Huw draws the ire of Frida Shamburger, the Chair of the Creative Writing department at Oxbow State University, where he teaches, largely because, unlike her submissive husband, Melvyn Shamburger, Huw refuses to be apologetic, and gives his opinion very bluntly, and often. He is indeed, as I myself was often described in student evaluations, ‘brutally honest’. (Not that the novel is any way autobiographical, it goes without saying!) In fact the dastardly Frida, along with her henchwoman Rocky Rathaus, a dim-witted poetaster, and Broome, a vindictive student spy, will try to neuter Huw – and if they can’t knock him to his knees, in abject submission, as Melvyn is, they'll do their best to get him fired. And if that fails, the most extreme measures to eradicate him will be on the table…
As you can see (I hope), the novel is a wild romp, Shakespearean in the extravagance of its plot and its larger-than-life characters (if not quite as sublime in its poetry as my models), and hardly an in-depth sociological analysis of the plight of the modern man. But in a sense Huw is an Everyman, if a more intellectual and cultured one than most. He is a decent bloke, a person with no malice, at least until attacked, and yet he finds himself under pressure from the narrow-minded ideologues who run the Creative Writing Department, who have very little interest in literature or Creative Writing, and very little talent. (Most of them envy Huw his talent as a writer.) What’s more, Huw faces a crisis in his private life too: his beloved wife Miranda, who is a little loopy, discloses to him that her love is much less unconditional than he had thought. And she will come under the influence of a deranged, manipulative psychiatrist, and a female empowerment guru, Petronella Pikestaff, who both encourage her to ‘liberate herself’ from Huw. Will he be able to keep his job, in the misandrist environment? Will his marriage survive, with the pressure on Miranda to be a modern, assertive woman? Such questions face not just university professors and intellectuals, but many men nowadays.
When I look back on myself in the picture above, forty years ago, I see that although I would not have recognised the term at the time, I was already a ‘boyo’ – still a boy in my mid-twenties, not a man, which I ought to have been if society had been doing its job properly. It’s taken me most of my life to figure out how to undergo the rite of passage myself, both in my life, and my writing. I hope I can pass the torch on to younger men. Come on, boyos!
(This is a revised version of an essay published on Late Last Night Books on 26 April 2022.)