Originally published August 2016
Lose an arm, find a life.
It’s safe to say that Ken Pisani’s protagonist in “Amp’d” is not your typical hero—and if Aaron were an actual person, he’d most likely offer up some kind of toxic retort to the label if you tried to apply it. He’s not that kind of guy.
Aaron, now living with his retired father in his childhood home in Paris, Illinois, is in fact an Olympic-caliber sulker, having lost an arm in an auto accident. Forced into a living arrangement that puts him in the attic, he spends the vast majority of his time making lists of what he can or can’t do with one arm, and getting as high as he can off Vicodin and medical weed. His drive that fuels his self-loathing matches the intensity with which those that surround him try to help him turn it around.
And somehow, somewhere in the middle of his father taking care of him, Aaron finds his groove taking care of his Dad. And tending to his own bruised ego. And helping his sister come to terms with her difficult marriage. And learning to understand his fireman-loving, pool shark mom. And helping an 11-year-old experience an adventure of a lifetime.
I love, love, love these characters, in all their flawed glory. Jackie is the sister that you can just tell is wildly disappointed with her station in life, married to the equivalent of a meter reader, whose most recent best moment comes in the form of a costume party invite to hang with old high school friends. Her husband Steve is every parent’s worst nightmare. Mom left Dad years ago but still stops by for sex, and Dad is the embodiment of every unappreciated good guy out there. The one that shelves his dreams for family, that makes an office job living without complaint and really just wants to watch SportsCenter. And the one that while not overly emotional, loves beyond measure.
There’s Will, a amputee compatriot and quasi-mentor to Aaron. And Sunny Lee, the radio voice behind quirky useless knowledge—and Aaron’s romantic fantasy.
And then there’s Cancer Boy. I just …. well, there was ugly crying.
Amp’d is sweet and gentle and funny and tragic and reminds me a lot of a Jonathan Tropper novel in all the best ways. It’s a great length for a weekend read and absolutely did not disappoint.