When I was in sixth grade, my parents sent me to an elite private school in Boca Raton. My idol there was Erik Persoff, a senior who had the long curly hair of an outcast but was easy-going and friendly. He was by far the best musician in the school orchestra as well as the best artist. He was also the guitarist in a popular punk band he’d formed with some public school friends. I remember going to Peaches and seeing his band’s tape for sale at the counter, which blew my mind. The summer after he graduated, he was heading to the Berklee School of Music on a full-scholarship, but instead he died in a one-car accident in the middle of the night. Word on the street was that he was on LSD.
The next year, in choir class, I found a sketchbook underneath the wooden risers of the theatre seats. It was Erik’s. There were only four pages with drawings on them, plus the cover, which looked like a metal album. There was a nuclear mushroom cloud in the middle surrounded by a mélange of cartoon characters perfectly rendered. I took the sketchbook home and never told anyone about it. By myself, I’d look at the drawings and daydream about being a real artist, while also assuming that I would die young like Erik. I’d never met a real artist or musician in Boca, so I just assumed that Florida killed us all before we could make it out.
Paul Kwiatkowski’s illustrated novel And Every Day Was Overcast is a series of Erik Persoff stories. Here are bright kids who might have turned out fine in another state but are doomed by the fact that they were born here: two sisters who live behind a biker’s tavern, a kid obsessed with his transistor radio, the daughter of a single mom who believes her kids should do drugs at home “because it’s safer.” In Kwiatkowski’s Florida, “America’s Phantom Limb,” as he calls it, any kind of distinguishing characteristic is cause for concern, especially beauty. Being beautiful makes you susceptible to people like Trick, a 20-something drug dealer who preys on high school girls, or Hailey, a lonely single-mother who seduces boys. Love itself is carcinogenic: Trick’s behavior is “explained” as the result of the premature death of his beloved younger brother. A woman named Janet Jackson loses all her prized parakeets to a hurricane and disappears.