The year is 1991 and the narrator of Paul Kwiatkowski’s debut novel “And Every Day was Overcast” (Black Balloon Publishing, released Wednesday) is searching for a way out of his life amid swamps and strip malls of South Florida. In this way, the narrator (also named Paul) is every teenager — searching for identity, meaning, love, acceptance. Paul and his rotating cast of friends take any drug they can find to make their lives more interesting. He explicitly yearns for, and occasionally succeeds with, women. Desperate for acceptance, Paul stands with his friends through a series of bad decisions — from remaining complicit in a horrific beating to huffing Freon — and decides, time and again, to reinvent himself: changing his musical tastes, clothes, the way he talks, becoming a step closer each time, he’s sure, to his true self.
We learn all this thanks to Kwiatkowski’s brief, beautifully written chapters but an additional element of depth and emotion is provided by the and accompanying photographs. These are not meant to necessarily represent the characters, but serve to provide atmosphere: a number are from Kwiatkowski’s personal collection from growing up in the ’90s in Florida, but it is never clear which photos are from his actual life and which are staged.
But it doesn’t matter, really. This is a work of fiction that just happens to challenge the relationship we have to text, images, and the truth. Seeing the photos juxtaposed with text places readers so completely in the mindset of a high schooler it’s jarring: the loneliness, fear and anxiety that comes with a day-to-day mindset, but also the searing love of independence , as evidenced from Paul’s thrill at finding an abandoned trailer in the wood.
This is a book for contemporary art lovers and those unafraid to travel back in time and see the ’90s — and high school — without the gloss of memory.