This seems to be a good week for reviewing things, so I think it’s time for a look at Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. An alternate subtitle for the book could be The Book Adam Has Been Meaning to Read and Review Since, Like, Last September. What can I say? I forget things.
Thomas Mark Zuniga is a blogger, introvert, Christian, coffee drinker and wordsmith. When he released an e-book some time ago, I snagged a free copy for review purposes. It spent the next few months gathering digital dust in a folder on my laptop. Around the time TMZ agreed to write an excellent guest post for this blog, I remembered his book and resolved to finish it. I bought the paperback version—I will always prefer ink-and-paper books to virtual ones—and walked with TMZ through twenty-five years of struggles.
Appropriately enough, one of the first significant autobiographies in history was titled Confessions. For its author, Augustine, the story of a life is a series of confessions. Whatever our accomplishments, we make mistakes. We all struggle. Struggle Central, a memoir in the tradition of Augustine, testifies to the fact.
Is Struggle Central a good memoir? A good story? A good book?
Despite minor stylistic flaws, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian is an honest, vulnerable memoir that never loses sight of its purpose.
Right from the beginning, TMZ makes one thing clear: Although Struggle Central is his story, it isn’t really about him. The book is meant neither to shock nor impress its readers with his mistakes and triumphs. Its purpose is to encourage. It tells its readers, “You’re not alone!”
In Struggle Central, TMZ is remarkably honest, seeming to hold back nothing, making some heavy confessions. This is a book about loneliness, insecurity, fear and isolation. It deals with pornography, homosexuality, shame and doubt. If I wrote a memoir, I doubt I could be so vulnerable.
In all its confessions, Struggle Central tempers honesty with its strong sense of purpose. The book could easily have been a pleading, self-conscious cry for attention. It could have been a halfhearted attempt at openness, gilding its mistakes with excuses and rationalizations. Struggle Central is neither of those things. Its confessions are made as evidence of the book’s fundamental message: “You are not alone; there is hope.”
A number of the confessions in the book resonated with me. As an introvert, I relate to TMZ’s failed attempts to connect with people in churches. As a sinner, I understand the rationalization, shame and self-loathing in TMZ’s struggles to overcome pornography. As an insecure person, I know TMZ’s discouragement at how everyone else seems to be talented, successful or perfect. Struggle Central may not touch all of its readers, but it sure touched me.
On a literary level, Struggle Central has a surprisingly strong narrative. It recounts not a random string of events, but a structured story. TMZ doesn’t merely spit out facts. He highlights certain experiences, adding digressions and flashbacks wherever necessary to keep his story flowing smoothly. In the book’s story and structure, nothing is wasted.
The style of Struggle Central is a different matter: the book is packed with modifiers. If I had a penny for every qualifier, adjective and adverb, I would probably have enough cash to buy coffee at Starbucks.
Despite its many modifiers, the writing in Struggle Central isn’t bad. It’s engaging, readable, informal and crammed with sentence fragments and one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis. All the same, my nitpicky sensibilities were rubbed the wrong way by the constant use of modifiers and dramatic sentence fragments. The more they were used, the less impact they made. There were also a few puns and pop culture references that made me roll my eyes.
In the end, though, the writing takes secondary consideration to the book’s message and purpose—and these are excellent. Struggle Central has a clear and positive purpose, and it does a fine job of sticking to it. It could use a little polish, yet Struggle Central is a touching read for anyone who struggles—that is, for any human being on Earth.