Evan's "perfect, masterful, mediocre life of nothing" is about to change. A 14-year-old boy he fathered in high school, Dean, suddenly loses...

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Evan’s “perfect, masterful, mediocre life of nothing” is about to change.

A 14-year-old boy he fathered in high school, Dean, suddenly loses his mother in a car accident. Not having seen the child since birth, the 31-year-old Seattle rock musician is now faced with the prospect of raising him. Plus, after an impromptu guitar performance with a famous band, Lucky Strike, his fledgling music career is about to skyrocket.

There is a complication, however; Evan has epilepsy. At the advice of his parents, he has learned to keep his condition a secret, causing him to keep loved ones at arm’s length. How will he ever come of age when, bottom line, he could potentially die of a grand mal seizure at any moment?

No stranger to epilepsy, Garth Stein, author of “How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets” (Soho, 368 pp., $25), directed a documentary on his sister’s epilepsy operation, titled “When Your Head’s Not a Head, It’s a Nut.” He also wrote “Raven Stole the Moon,” a thriller/mystery published in 1998. He grew up in the Seattle area and is currently a writing instructor for Powerful Schools in Seattle.

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While Stein illuminates the world of epilepsy with deep humanity in this novel, its major theme is male relationships within the family, especially between father and son.

In one particularly memorable passage, Evan’s journey into parenthood deepens when he discovers his son has a talent for street hockey. He attends a game and gets so heated up over a bad call he behaves with an “irrational defensiveness,” his first step into the realm of “real” parenthood.


Author appearance



Garth Stein will read from “How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets” at 7 p.m. Monday, Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).


Bonding through sports is a father-son tradition for Evan. His childhood back yard was full of balls and bats, bicycles, golf clubs — “tools” used by father and son for lack of intimacy. He offers this explanation:

“Since the beginning of time, back in the caveman days, fathers didn’t chat with sons about poetry or music. They took their sons out to the savanna and stalked okapi. You don’t talk about sonnets on the savanna or the okapi will escape.”

But the story is not just about men. Mica, a sexy sound engineer of Asian and African descent, sparks Evan’s overmedicated libido — and career — back to life. Although bordering on being almost too perfect, an alter ego to Evan, she lasers through Evan’s false perceptions and sees the potential of his enormous guitar-playing talent.

It is music, after all, that helps Evan transcend his medical condition and gain clarity. He blows back audiences a foot with his prolific playing, able to remember everything he hears, an “Oxford English Dictionary of riffs in his head.”

The novel’s potentially dark key signature is brightened by Stein’s skillful handling of humor. For one, Evan’s demented but warm-hearted friend Lars is a stitch. The 6-foot-4 drummer waves frantically across a crowded room “as if a giant albino with a dent in his head is hard to pick out of a crowd.”

A special treat to Seattle readers is the setting. From the music scene in Sodo to Dick’s Drive-In up on Capitol Hill, navigating the novel’s locale is like moving around in the comfort of your own living room.

Evan’s emotional journey — from a sanitized, solitary existence into bona-fide fatherhood — hits all the frets of a powerful story: sharp-witted dialogue, vivid characters, insight into medical challenges and prose that snaps like well-placed plucks of guitar strings. In the end, Evan’s plight is universal. Despite his deepest flaws, the greatest secret is the one he keeps from himself: his worthiness to love and be loved.

I hold up my lighter and turn it full-flame for Stein’s latest work. Encore!