i have been trying to write this review for almost an hour. in between i have eaten peanut-butter and jelly on english muffins (and now on space bar and several letters) and have drifted off-topic numerous times, and erased tons of irrelevant crap. much irrelevance remains, but the short version of this review is:
i enjoyed reading this book, but it is not good.
this is a perfect rebound book for proust—after a long relationship, you just want to have a silly fling with someone stupid—to just have fun—to have something that feels exactly opposite from what you have had for such a long time. and this book was nothing at all like proust.
it was stupid in about nine different ways.
this review does a great job with both plot summary and reactions to plot, so catch up and then i can talk about meeee some more.
first of all, i am at the age where reading about college-age artists at a hampshire-type school without rules or grades who band together with a manifesto and use petty acts of vandalism to open people’s eyes to society’s ills makes me more likely to guffaw than to feel a connection with them and say “yeah, go on protagonists—i am with you!!”
i have no problem with people having ambitions or goals, or criticizing society, but how pretentious do you have to be to develop a written manifesto about dismantling the world when you go around performing petty crimes like some small town kids playing mailbox baseball and feeling so proud and revolutionary? sure, there is criminal escalation, but even then, most of the characters are still treating it as a big joke, or mindlessly following their cookie-cutter evil mastermind because they want her vagina. using the word ‘manifesto’ automatically makes you an asshole; it sounds so pompous, like correctly pronouncing “gyro.”
am i too old to see these characters as “cool”?? the girl at the center, to whom all these characters are drawn, is just a sleazy loudmouth parody of what is supposed to be transgressive or sexy (and if i had to read her verbal tic, “babycakes,” one more time…) henry is a spineless drone, tess a shrill frigid harpy, winnie a suggestible tabula rasa (see, i can use art terms, too), and that kid…
as a writer, are you sure you want to give a nine-year-old girl ocd and olfactory and visual hallucinations and seizures? she is just a collection of tics and idiosyncrasies and she’s not nicolas cage’s daughter or anything; she is of two unafflicted parents, but she’s a neurotic mess.
but i am drifting.
this is another secret history kind of book, and another one which fails. donna tartt could write a character, these are all echoes and shadows of characters—almost entirely one-dimensional. and i read secret history when i was about twenty, so it could be that i am just running on heart-fumes here, and if i were to read it again, it would fall short, but there has to be something to it, or there wouldn’t be so many attempts to recreate it, would there?
this is going to sound facetious, but you know who could have pulled off a story like this?? besides donna tartt?? christopher pike. back in the good old days of me being 11-13 (all 1,095 of them) i read a ton of christopher pike books. and he was usually able to write very convincing mysteries where all the loose ends were tied up and the supernatural red herrings explained. this novel backtracks and can’t decide whether it want to give a supernatural nod or not. the ending is ridonkulous. ree-donk-you-luss. wigs and switching and life-sized dolls and deceptions-within-deceptions…
but for all that, it was a fun read. i genuinely wanted to know what was happening and how everything would be resolved and it may not be proust, but it was fun and every book has something to offer, right?? this one is pure, end-of-summer, escapist fun.