just trying to keep score.

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“I wasn’t looking forward to meeting the parents for a different reason — to me they were libido kryptonite. I liked to imagine the students as an independent resource, new creatures of their own design. Day to day, it was easy to think of junior high as an island of immortal youths that might never age, but seeing the parents killed that fantasy. Suddenly I’d be aware of what nearly all my students would look like two decades down the road. And after I’d seen them, it was impossible to get those images out of my mind.”

Alissa Nutting, Tampa.

Tampa is self-consciously-enough positioned to be shocking — from the faux-PMRC explicit content sticker on the cover onward — that you almost start from a place of wanting to resist it, at least as a gimmick, and largely one can. As a female sexual predator with a taste for fourteen-year-old boys, Celeste Price wants to fall somewhere between Humbert Humbert and Patrick Bateman. Probably the best thing that Alissa Nutting does, though, is straddle a particular play of repulsion, where the language Celeste uses to describe adolescent boys (and sex with adolescent boys), normally not beautiful creatures, contrasts so directly with her impressions of adults — men and women alike — and more normally-satisfied desires. Oh, and she’s got a thing for overcooking her imagery, which sometimes works really well (and at least as often is just infelicitous), like a mother-and-son combination a paragraph or two later: “Their resting expression was one of squeezed panic, like a ferret dressed up in a miniature corset.”

Ecco 07.02.13

July 19, 2013, 9:30am  Comments

ben marcus, the flame alphabet

“Esther was probably riding a horse right now, wearing the black Mary Janes she refused to shed for anyone, even if it was a shit-clotted field she needed to cross. Or she was lugging a saddle to the stable, or standing not-so-patiently as someone overexplained something Esther already knew. At home she fumed when you doled out information she took to be a given. Anything factual went without saying. Esther opposed repetition, opposed the obvious, showed resistance to anything that resembled an instructional phrase, a word of advice, a sentence that carried, however politely, a new piece of information. These were off-limits, or else would be scorched by her temper. Out in the world I wondered how she concealed it.”

Normal teenage behavior. This is the start of, and really the inverse of, Marcus’s nightmare, though: the ability of the teenager to wound her parents with curtness, or silence. This is before they realize that she wounds them, literally rather than emotionally, with her speech, and which is the first of the loosely-nested series of metaphors that get suggested behind the icky apocalyptic sci-fi of the main plot.

Knopf 01.17.12

January 17, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

dbc pierre, lights out in wonderland

Capitalism is a limbo.
"Not a structure but an anti-structure. Driven not toward a defined end, but hovering over a permanent present, harvesting a flow of helpless human impulses. It builds no safe futures, leaves no great structures, prepares no one for roads ahead. And why would it? We don’t march through an age of civilization but float between Windows and Mac, treading water.”

Kind of nice. Also the kind of thing that this is chockablock full of — the rush of one character’s thoughts and philosophies, in his notebook, as he talks about killing himself. It’s meant to be, and largely reads like, the writing of a smart kid. But as such, it’s difficult to separate the artifice (the author’s skill in writing like a smart but unpleasant adolescent) and the experience (of being trapped for a couple hundred pages in the head of a smart but unpleasant adolescent; mind you, something I did in my own head when I was an adolescent).

WW Norton 08.11

August 14, 2011, 12:00pm   Comments

joe meno, the great perhaps

"Usually Amelia does not like to walk at night by herself. Most of the time she feels that she is being followed by someone menacing — a maniacal sexual predator or an FBI surveillance team. Amelia often believes she is more important than she actually is, and that secretly, behind every corner, every parked car, every tree, someone, some important observer of history, is almost always watching. But today is very different. Walking home, defeated, her book bag slung low across her back, limping sadly beneath the bare arms of the autumn trees, she does not imagine herself as an image in some future history book or a reenactor in the documentary of her life."

This is a version of a Meno-translated adolescent; even with the rather detached, omniscient narration, the push-pull between needing to be special and being certain you’re not is clear and pointed.

Norton 05.11.09

September 22, 2009, 8:05am   Comments