Monday, June 15, 2009

I went to bed at 4 am coz of PrEp

Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld

The best thing about this book is the "voice". It should be taught to young writers who are trying to learn "voice". It's as distinctive a voice as Holden Caulfield, as potentially exasperating. But you HAVE to keep reading. I was amazed by how well Sittenfeld calls up the anxiety-ridden perceptive paranoid world of the teenage girl - Sometimes I found myself just cringing reading the book, but also thinking to myself, "Bravo, Sittenfeld(the author). You just NAILED that moment." There are sections in the book which are as perceptive about teenage life as anything I have ever read - and it makes the book a pretty uncomfortable read, I have to say - because teenagers are awkward, and "playing" at being adults ... and you want to save Lee(the main character) from all the trouble you know she's going to go through, but you can't. Sittenfeld also has a gift - a GIFT, I tell you - for honing in on a small moment, and exposing it, dissecting it.

Lee, our narrator, as a kid, was obsessed with prep schools. She is from the mid-west, her family is not a privileged wealthy family, but she somehow gets a scholarship to a prestigious New England prep school called Ault. And so she goes. The book is broken down into the four years of high school, and so we go through the entire time of her education with Lee.
The book is episodic - there is not one thruline - some characters come and go, others stay ... It feels the way high school feels. Prep school is a whole different thing, though - and Sittenfeld, who went to prep school, just nails it. The huge class differences between the elite kids - born to go to prep school - and, say, the minority kids - most of whom have huge scholarships. Lee is not in either group. She's a middle-class kid, not brilliant academically, not a genius athlete - just determined to be there.
Lee is not a pleasant companion (I suppose very few high school girls are). She is riddled with self-consciousness. It is horrible to read. But God, I recognize myself in it. She is concerned over who to be friends with, because of what it will look like. She has crushes on gorgeous junior boys. She struggles. But there comes a time when you realize: you know what, Lee? You need to fucking grow up. Sittenfeld does not sugarcoat Lee's social problems. Lee is not an ingratiating person - and I guess that was one of the main complaints Sittenfeld got with early drafts of the novel. Couldn't Lee be a bit more likable? But Sittenfeld stuck to her guns, and I think the book is MUCH stronger for it. It's not, perhaps, a fun read - as a matter of fact, the entire book made me wretchedly uncomfortable - but that's why it's literature, and not just fluff. Like what I said: It's the voice. What a VOICE this book has. Completely successful in creating this character.

This novel was one of those first novels that gets a tremendous amount of buzz (causing much envy in people like ... oh ... MYSELF), sits on the NY TImes bestseller list for a while, and has much press devoted to it.