If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home is Dave Housley’s third short-story collection. He dives head-first into innovative short-story forms, exploring the lives of characters that range in their resignation to life. Each story recounts the singular, specific agonies of struggling to grow up in a time when American pop culture icons put down their mics, wiped off their makeup, and became the shoulder for lifelong fans to cry on.
In this collection, Housley made the decision to keep one foot firmly rooted in pop culture that reads as deliberately accessible to ripples of generations—from VH1 and Walmart to Dungeons and Dragons and KISS trivia. In particular, Housley shines in writing age empathetically. He explores what it means to start over again, if we ever get the chance, through the voices of toddlers, teens, twenty-somethings, forty-somethings, and the people we become when our hair turns and falls out.
As a child that grew up in the VH1 frenzy of Rock of Love and Flavor of Love and the subsequent spin-offs, I was beyond excited to see the creative ingestion and efforts to point stories in the direction of both mid-2000s reality TV and Ace Frehley ramblings circa the 1970s. Each story I finished I was left eager for the next, whether it was blending seamlessly into a group of aging Deadhead friends, watching scrounging-for-fame ‘80s hair-metal stars on TV to find love, or weaving through crowds of tattooed, middle-aged, hardcore Dio fans at tribute concerts. In exploring the bowels and reverberations of our ingested pop culture, Housley peels back the cellophane on what “classic” rock was before the word “classic” was attached. In doing so, he reveals the dignity of the songs and people that motivate future generations at the times when they need it most.
One story particularly, “Death and the Wiggles,” cuts deep into emotional peril while the music takes a backseat. A woman named Sherri runs away with a dentist to begin a new life without her husband. In the wake of her departure, she leaves the couple’s young toddler Ian behind. While grappling with the loss of his wife, the husband decides to keep an unfortunate promise—take Ian to go see The Wiggles in concert. He decides to bring his old drinking buddy Woomer to the show with him. In one scene Ian stands transfixed, laughing and jumping on his father’s lap, singing along to songs. All the while Woomer sits beside them, pouring shots of Jim Beam into his Coke and slurring suggestions that the two men should go to Bonnaroo together the following summer. The image of the father with his son on his lap showcases the emotional grappling of being caught between youth and adulthood. Housley shows dexterity and bravery in allowing the reader into these blind spots of maturity where ego ends and commitment begins, and old lives unexpectedly crumble away.
The collision of identity is an overriding theme in this collection. The reader is drawn into an often unexamined aspect of human nature: people create familiar homes out of their grimiest parts and shield those privacies out of protest, a silenced yet throbbing perseverance.
Housley’s voice is persistent and cuts to the heart of what makes people feel alive. He reminds us of when music was communion and we were all young fuck-ups trying to find our way out of something.
If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home