As I mentioned before, I’ve been looking forward to this book for quite awhile! So of course, once I got it, I gobbled it up immediately and, happily, I was more than satisfied with it. It was certainly worth the wait, and everything I would have expected from one of my most favoritest local authors. When I think “Local Hawaii literature”, THIS is the kind of book I’m talking about. Books like Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa are why Hawaii Book Blog was created. Five shakas for Lee Cataluna!

Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa is the story of an ex-con, Maui man named Bobby who is trying to get his life back on track. It’s a story about hard earned redemption and slim second chances; a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Because when you’re an ex-con addicted to feeling good, the highs are really high and the lows are really low.

There were very few positive people in Bobby’s life before prison, and even fewer after it. We as the reader stay with Bobby as people come and go, leaving him as a lost cause, from his probation officer to his career coach. We’re with him as he comes to grips with his troubled past and faces his future. He makes friends and loses friends, women come and go and besides Doreen’s couch, it turns out that you, as the reader, have stuck by him the longest. His humble, self effacing nature, kind generosity and loyalty to his family endear him to you, despite his many vices. Then before you know it, you’re rooting for him–this underdog anti-hero with a humorous, if not totally skewed, perspective on life. And then, once you’re on his side, he frustrates the hell out of you because he inevitably makes everything that much harder for himself.

Bobby is the kind of guy who doesn’t necessarily go looking for trouble but trouble finds him. He usually means well and has good intentions before his plans go awry. Most of the time, Bobby is his own worst enemy. You can’t really relate to him but you can understand him and maybe even know someone like him. It’s both amusing and sad to see him getting and losing jobs. Once because he kept eating the frozen potato wedges instead of cooking them, and again because he fell asleep in the tour van at Haleakala and forgot to pick up the tour bikes. And sadder still to listen to him wonder if the Nyquil he keeps pounding or the oregano he keeps smoking will show up on a drug test.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the unique voices of its characters, especially Bobby. But it’s more than just the Pidgin. It’s the way we experience his thought process… how he rationalizes things to himself. Sometimes he can be totally random and nonsequitur so that it hints at an underlying wittiness and shows us in a subtle way that there’s more to Bobby than meets the eye. Everyone underestimates him in the book, and being privy to his inner thoughts, you can’t help but think they shouldn’t. Then he does something stupid and you think again that they should. It’s this contrast in character and morals that make Bobby so interesting. Cataluna’s characters are more than just people with pidgin accents and local sounding names like “Kimo” or “Honey Girl”. She knows better than that. Her characters have an authenticity to them that only someone with her experience and talent could properly convey. If you want to know how to develop a well rounded local character, call Lee Cataluna. Maybe she should start hosting workshops on that too because we get a lot of books here at HBB with the opposite.

There are so many funny quotes, conversations, snippets of dialogue and Bobby-isms… I want to share them all with you, but I’d end up typing up half the book. You’re just going to have to take my word for it and buy a copy. I will share this snippet though:

Bobby and his sister/cousin Doreen are eating squid and talking. She has an affinity for smacking him around.

“Eh, I like that right hand double slap, left hook combination, Dori. That’s mean!”

Doreen was proud. “Mahalo. I learned ’em from my second to last ex.”

Which one was that, I was thinking? Wally the car thief or Dennis the coke head with the lisp? Don’t ask about the guy, I told myself. You no like know.

“So you like know where your mother stay?”

I no like know about that, either, but Doreen was on this like a dog smelling cat. Like cat smelling squid. Like squid smelling whatevers. Maybe squids no can smell.

This book had me laughing out loud from page one. I think I laughed the hardest when Bobby and the neighbor were making it (you know, da kine, it) on Doreen’s sofa, and while doing the deed the two of them were talking about eating a hot pancake sandwich from Tasty Crust Restaurant by the Old Wailuku Sugar Mill. Who knew food could double as dirty talk. And what do you think happens just as they’re exclaiming the tastiness of the pancake sandwich? I won’t ruin it for you, but, oh the drama!! I would buy the book for this riotous scene alone. Pork and beans pillow talk aside, there’s a lot to love about this book. I can’t stress that enough.

I do have to admit, after reading this book my Pidgin came out more easy. My friend and coworker Stephanie (from Ewa), who I often slip into Pidgin conversations with, was small kine shocked at the change and said, “Ho, wow! What happen?” So, if you like your pidgin come more strong, fo’ sure you should read Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa.  But fo’ sure you should read ’em anyways.

Check out Bamboo Ridge Events for info on the following readings and appearances with Lee Cataluna!

10.04.2011         LEE CATALUNA AT UH HILO!
10.06.2011         LEE CATALUNA ON MAUI!
10.05.2011         WINE & WORDS: Featuring Lee Cataluna & Friends
10.08.2011         LEE CATALUNA AT NATIVE BOOKS- Ward Warehouse
10.09.2011         LEE CATALUNA AT UHM