EDIT so alfonso doesn’t start crying.
this book is like running with scissors for the teen set, but with less statutory rape and depression. it is a series of autobiographical essays devoted to “look how unconventional my upbringing was!!! look at how creative my sister and i were when we were on long car rides and wrapped ourselves in brown blankets and pretended we were poo and had conversations that we expected poo would have if it could talk!!! look at how our mother’s casual housekeeping and hands-off parenting freaked out other mothers, and note her snappy retorts to the offended individuals!! how cool must life have been for us, you see???”
this book treads the line between funny and irritating. there is an inescapable smugness to it, but some of the stories are quite good. let me try to explain what this book makes me feel inside.
let’s say there are two people. person A is blathering on about how he has four cars. he thinks this makes him really cool, and he is telling person B because he wants person B to be totally jealous of his four cars. however, unbeknownst to person A, person B actually owns six cars. but he has never mentioned them to person A because it is just a fact of life to which he has become accustomed and maybe he is a little shamed by his own excess or he just doesn’t think it is interesting to talk about or any of person A’s business. so but person B is listening to all this and feels like maybe he should speak up about it and clarify what is happening here because he is feeling increasingly embarrassed by the situation and person A’s totally misplaced value system because if it ever comes up in future conversations it is going to be very embarrassing to them both when person A learns that person B just sat there the whole time without saying anything…
and that awkwardness is the way i feel as a reader. not because i had a particularly wacky childhood, because i didn’t. but because listening to someone boast about how craaaaazy they are makes me feel just glazed and dead inside. no one wants to hear about skits you put on for family friends when you were eleven. trust me.**
and i did like a lot of this book, and i liked running with scissors to a certain extent too, but the whole idea of glamorizing parents who will drive their kids somewhere unfamiliar, give them a dime, and tell them to find their way home or call for help if they can’t do it; it seems unhealthy. it was a different time, sure, but it just seems careless. and there was too much weird family togetherness in the skit-performing and weird overly-involved in some things and totally laissez-faire in others that struck me as this horrifying bipolar formative experience, like being raised by some methed-out version of the von trapps.
and there is an edge of cruelty or masochism in some of these stories. for example—staging fake fights on public transportation where one girl would be ostracized and openly mocked by the other girls at full volume for the benefit of the other passengers, to gauge their reactions. as someone who has to deal with public transportation every day, this irritates me beyond belief. but i fucking hate spectacle, that’s just me. and breaking into some poor compulsive liar’s fantasy-world and taking it over and turning her only friends against her, even if they were only polite to her out of basic human civility. there is just something terrible about these people. who does this?? and does it with such wild gleeful abandon and then brags about it in adulthood?? “yeah, we totally ruined the only place she had where she felt like she belonged. but it’s okay because she was always lying about shit.” etc etc
what a tool.
at the end, sleator is there to remind the reader that he is, first and foremost, a writer of fiction and that he may have exercised the writer’s prerogative to embellish a little in order to make the stories “pop” a little more, or to give them a more satisfying resolution.
oh, if only james frey had employed this tactic, he could have avoided being scolded by oprah in front of everyone.
**EDIT—i realize i did a poor job of explaining here. let me clarify. i do not mind tales from people’s childhood, as will soon become apparent. what i do mind are people’s tales of “how cool they were when they were little which made them so cool in adulthood” but only when the things they think are cool are things i feel sorry/embarrassed for them for having done. like the kids who in jr high could quote every monty python sketch ever, and they were so cool in their little circle, but then they grow up and then you think “how sad” because that is like their life’s achievement and they have practically written a glory days type of song about it. me and sleator’s “cool factors” do not line up. pretending to have a baby swaddled in a blanket and then hurling it at the ground so it splatters everywhere and it takes people a little while to realize it was actually a watermelon—i don’t find that funny. it is basically littering.i find performance art to be intrusive and the practitioners of it are rarely clever, so it just becomes an inconvenience.and, yes, they were kids when they were doing this so that should mitigate it a little, but the fact is, he grew up and still thinks it is cool. i did plenty of annoying things as a teen, but i will not talk about them, much less publish them, because i have grown up enough to know that it was actually not cool. and maybe you think it is cool, and that’s fine. i just don’t. it makes my skin crawl a little. i don’t think i have explained myself any better here, but it’s all i have today.