Social Hill: Book One: Book 1 (Paperback)
It's not enough that Tony Hill suffers from bipolar disorder, has been homeless and lived in his car with his two kids for three months, has been incarcerated stemming from domestic abuse, has not kept a job for more than a year, was dishonorably discharged from the Navy, and battles with family members at every turn.
What makes the protagonist of Social Hill, the riveting autobiographical novel by Jason Hill, so rare is that the same person capable of gravitating to life's dark corridors above also possesses, through the author, a beautiful and exceptional ability to express himself with the written word - poignantly, insightfully and humorously. This makes Social Hill a different yet brilliant literary work, an important social commentary and an up-close account of the mind of a troubled man struggling with his self-image.PRICELESS BOUNDARIES
There's a moment early on when Tony's teen daughter Danielle asks about how far she can go with boys and still be "proper." He replies, "to go onward and upward, you have to learn to live with a certain set of boundaries. If you want to go down and out, you can choose a life without boundaries ... But you'll get to where you want to go faster, and be happier, living within the right boundaries."
So much of Tony's story is about preaching boundaries but paying the price himself of not staying within them. Ah, the wise old dad - if only he could have practiced his own sage advice.
While he loves his children, his bipolar actions often take over, and when he slaps his son Jacob, who has Asperger's Syndrome, it is a defining moment. "I didn't know it that night, but that slap - and the reverberations that rippled for it like concentric circles expanding into a pond when one shatters its tranquility with a stone - was about to alter the course of my whole life."
For a long stretch, Tony and his family live with his mother - a blessing for a roof over their heads but a curse in the effect it has on Tony. In a heated exchange, he makes the rash decision to take the kids and move out. Finding where to live and doing what they can to make ends meet with no real income spirals Tony into despair.GENTLY RISING FROM DESPAIR
Hill's narrative is reminiscent of a style perfected by John Irving, with a knack to segue into past anecdotes while maintaining a thread to the primary storyline. This often takes the form of tales about his former love interests, whom he places on his personal Mount Rushmore of Women. With so much rejection and failure, both personally and professionally, he sees himself as receiving a pink slip for life.
Tony Hill tells us upfront, in the book's first sentence, that he is a good man. He repeats the claim near the end, some 330 pages later. I think he believes it, and he convinces the reader of it as well. When the author Jason Hill and I first spoke, I was impressed with how soft, polite, gentle and grateful he came across, knowing, as I did, the violence of which he was capable.
Social Hill is a spectacular book by a complex man and a talented man. The story is raw and real, the writing majestic and engaging, with plenty of lessons if you're open to seeing them. For every new chapter, digression and heartbreaking explanation, readers will be tempted to recoil and look the other way. But if you are like me, you'll find, despite the easy way out, that you simply can't.