Sunday, January 5, 2014

Prep: A Novel

2006, "Advanced Reader's Edition," from Random House
Curtis Sittenfeld
Prep: A Novel
No official price, but "January 2005 publication, $24.95"
Slightly worn paperback

At the time I got this book (through legitimate channels I assure you), I had no idea it would go on to be so acclaimed, and so hated.*  And I think this was only my second reading, so it was odd to revisit it.  Although I think there are moments when Sittenfeld captures the pain of adolescence, she shows little of the joy.  That would be all right I suppose (if unrelievedly depressing), except that some of the glowing quotes claim the book is funny.  It's not, not even darkly.  (I did wonder if "Jonah Sault," the founder of the school, was supposed to be a pun on Jonas Salk, but if so, it's feeble.)  

Also, there's the problem of racism.  Yes, it's possible that Sittenfeld just means for Lee, the protagonist, to seem racist, but she (yes, Curtis is a girl's name) is the one who made one black character a basketball player from the Bronx, and another a sassy thief.  Also, Lee's Korean ex-roommate is still saying things like "We stop talk about it" in her third year in America.

And, while less of a problem, but still disruptive to the reading experience, the timeline is fuzzy.  In the last chapter, it sounds like Lee went to school in the early '90s, but people are still playing cassettes in her freshman year, and the fashions (including the pink-and-green belt on the cover) seem more late '80s.  (Of course, Preppies were more on the radar in the early '80s.)

I'm not going to use the YA label, even though it's about high school, because Lee is looking back ten or more years later.  (She goes to her reunions, despite her misery at school, something I've never been tempted to do.)  To be honest, I'm not really sure who the audience for this book is, since even some people who identify with Lee in the beginning seem to dislike her by the end.  My advice: proceed at your own risk.

*Ironically or not, considering a plot point towards the end, The New York Times gave it a glowing review.  On the other hand, has it as 67th on their "Disappointing Books" list, 175th of "The Worst Books of All Time."

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