Friday, March 27, 2020

Review: Slice Harvester by Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

When I went off to college a hundred thousand years ago, there was a pizza chain near the school that sold two small pizzas for $5. It was a college student's dream, cheap, fast, filling, and delivered very late at night. Except the pizza was disgusting. It came as a surprise to no one that they closed the summer after my freshman year because of health code violations. Before coming across Speedy's, I never would have guessed that pizza could be gross. Mediocre, yes. Disappointing, yes. Sublime, rare but yes. Disgusting? Who knew? Apparently Colin Atrophy Hagendorf knew. Slice Harvester is his memoir of eating his way across Manhattan, one pizza slice at a time, what was going on in his life as he ate all of that pizza, and his nostalgia for the punk scene of an earlier time.

Hagendorf was a NYC bike messenger, occasional punk rocker, and full time partier when he came up with the drunken idea to try all of the pizza in Manhattan on a quest for the best. Somehow, despite his level of intoxication when the plan hatched, he managed to not only remember the plan, but to set about doing it and to chronicle his attempt via 'zine and blog. Taking more than two years to eat one plain slice from each and every one of the more than 400 pizza places in Manhattan, Hagendorf does more than taste pizza. He reminisces about growing up outside of the City, joining the punk community, and lets the reader into his life and his relationships. This is not really about all the pizza he eats, it is about Hagendorf and how he became who he is. He chronicles partying that is out of control, the way that his alcoholism almost derailed his budding relationship, and his quest to really figure out who he is and who he wants to be.

In addition to his tales of his own life, Hagendorf introduces the reader briefly to some of the people important in his life, to random (and occasionally famous) people who eat with him along his quest, and to at least one pizza parlor owner's family journey to making pizza in Manhattan. He includes the punk community he's long been a part of, not only in the person of his fellow diners but also in terms of their culture. And this is the first place this memoir breaks down for a reader who is not punk. If you miss the cultural references because you have different touchpoints, you won't understand (or frankly, care about) many of his comparisons, missing a lot.  Each chapter of this "memoir in pizza" starts with a drawing and review from his blog or 'zine.  This is the second place this failed for me.  If I had read the blog before getting the book, I doubt I would have bought this as his reviews sound like nothing so much as a high schooler who thinks he's being clever.  Instead the descriptions are overwrought and reaching.  Over all, his narrative style is meandering and hearing about his excesses and his morning puke got old pretty quickly. He clearly wanted to assert his bona fides as counter culture and punk here but I'm not sure that a stunt memoir was the way to go about it, unless the stunt was something less prosaic than eating pizza. Actually, a straight memoir about being punk, rather than interleaving living that life with his "slice harvesting," might have been more unusual and interesting than this half in, half out memoir ended up being. Perhaps I'm too old and too conventional to be the right audience for this one but I would have thought that pizza, good and bad, both actual and as a metaphor for life, should have been for everyone.  Well, except for Speedy's pizza.  Because that stuff was gross.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly I’m not a big fan of pizza, but I like my toppings fairly plain..ham, onion, and pineapple :)


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