You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The InsurgentThe Insurgent by Noah Cicero
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For Christ's sake! Quit whining and Grow UP!

Wait a second. That's too harsh. I sound like an assistant high school principal, But perhaps one of Cicero's intentions is to needle older readers into reacting like assistant high school principals. The younger demographic that is Cicero's own seems to eat this stuff up.

The allusion to assistant high school principals aside, this is not a YA novel. The characters are blue collar twenty-nothings --high school graduates, off-and-on college students, preternaturally well read, and working dead end jobs in Youngstown, Ohio. The two protagonists are immigrants. Vasily, shot in the leg as a five year old tossed over the Berlin Wall. Chang, who at five was tossed into the shit pile by his older brother on the ship bringing Chinese illegals to this country. Chang now lives off the SSI checks he receives for being crazy. He bathes obsessively to remove the shit odor from his body. Vasily washes dishes. They feel shut off from the American dream.

Cicero's style, and it took every fiber of my being neither to italicize nor put style in quotes, is to string together one line paragraphs with dialogue, a technique that if nothing else keeps the pages turning.

Our heros find a bag full of oxys in a strip club men's room and plan to sell them, make some cash, and take off for the West. The plan goes surprisingly well, and the last part of the book takes them for a downbeat road trip.  There are funny moments, but overall this is a novel done in by its dreadful earnestness -- or was that the Asst VP in me missing something.

I remember Brett Easton Ellis 30 years ago.

Perhaps this is Cicero's ho-hum Less Than Zero, and a much more promising, blue-collar American Psycho will be breaking out the surgical equipment and revving up the chain saw down the road a ways.

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