Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tale of Two Summers

It's like I was telling my esteemed colleague Ty the other day - teen novels are often sharper than adult novels, because teen novels are pitched to the most unforgiving audience in the known world: teenagers who actually read. They can sense stupid artifice and plot boondoggling a mile away, and they can't stand, utterly can't stand, being talked down to.

Writers who respect that can end up writing really, really good books - books that are so lancingly smart and sharp and wry that they bear only an insulting comparison to most contemporary fiction aimed at adults.

Adults (present company excepted, of course) have learned to settle for less, or rather for MORE - more redundant dialogue, more extraneous padding, more ridiculous plotting. Some of this is peer pressure - nobody wants to STAY the creepy-smart outcast after high school. And maybe part of it is traditional, since society tends to say 'adult' novels will be hefty three-deckers with loads of subplots.

Which isn't to say there isn't tremendous enjoyment to be taken from such immensities. My friend Beepy is currently crawling her way through Middlemarch (when she's not playing pornographic video games or drunkenly phoning people late at night, that is) and loving every sentence of it.

No, my main point here is that any smart, self-respecting teen reader would be bored shitless by A.S.Byatt.

Of course, such an audience comes with its own dangers. Namely, if you suck, they'll heap scorn on you and walk away. You're not really given the luxury of screwing up. They want the goods.

I read a teen novel last night (I think I'll read a few in a row, to cleanse my palate after Bully Boy) called A Tale of Two Summers by Brian Sloan. It's about two best friends, Hal (who's gay) and Chuck (who's straight), who spend their first summer apart when they're fifteen. Chuck goes to theater camp (the straight one's into musical theater, get it?), while Hal stays at home and goes to driving school. They decide to chronicle their 'tale of two summers' in a blog.

Yes, this is the world's first blog-novel.

Both of them have romantic adventures - Hal with a dreamy French pothead, Chuck with a girl from theater camp - and absolutely no detail is left out. The book virtually drips with spooge, and I'm not sure what the aforementioned sharp, smart teen would make of that. The author clearly means his sexual frankness as a good thing, a way of being upfront with his readers. But one can be forgiven for doubting whether ANY teenage boy, gay or straight, would put half of this stuff in a blog that could be read by anybody.

Actually, that's the main hurdle in teen fiction: believability. There's nothing more cringe-inducing than a 20-something writer ineptly mimicking the patois of teenagers (ulp). Better by far to avoid patois altogether, but many authors - Sloan included - just can't seem to resist giving it a try.

So Sloan's book is full of OMGs and LOLs and OC references, and most of them are cringe-inducing. His two teen bloggers sound like two fifty-year-old Broadway theater-queens. I'd bet Sloan thinks he can get away with that because one of his characters is gay and the other is, well, a theater queen. But it fails more often than it succeeds.

Their two summers feel inconsequential and contrived (never moreso than when, in need of some tension at the book's climax, the author hauls in TORNADOES. Geez). This is made worse by the steady allusions made to a New Year's party the year before where Hal came out to (and tried to make out with) Chuck - I wish the author had chosen to dump the blog-format and simply write that story.

I can't stand it when I think the author has chosen to tell the wrong story about his characters. Seems to be happening a lot in this blog....

There's some moving stuff, even so. An argument scene between our two main characters half-way through the book is very well done, and the writing is never anything less than peppy. But I couldn't recommend anybody buy this thing in hardcover, and it alone certainly didn't cleanse my palate.

Maybe tonight. I'll keep you posted.

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