Friday, October 02, 2009

Finding Lubchenko


Our book today is the second teen fiction novel from Michael Simmons, 2005's Finding Lubchenko. Simmons' first book Pool Boy was very good - another stunning debut! - and you can see lots of the reasons for that in his second book.

This is the story of young Evan McAlister, whose wealthy tech-baron father rightly sees him for the smart-mouthed over-clever scam artist he is. Evan's father not only puts him to work as a copy boy at MRI, the family business, he also makes a point of giving Evan no cash - and paying him minimum wage (which, Evan blandly assures us, doesn't suit a person with his tastes). To supplement his income (and as a way to get back at his father and simultaneously win the old man's attention - although Evan, who narrates his own story, would never admit to either of those things), Evan starts up a business of his own on the side: stealing office equipment from the cavernous, overbuilt offices of MRI and selling it online.

He does quite well by this scheme until a minor complication threatens to ruin everything: his father is accused of murdering a man, and Evan - whose ambivalent relationship with his father is the most interesting thing in Finding Lubchenko, even though it's given comparatively little room - might have the means to prove his father's innocence ... but only by a process that would reveal to the authorities his own money-making scheme. Since he doesn't want to do that, he sees only one option: find the real killer himself.

To do this, he enlists the help of his two closest friends, the "viking goddess" Erika, and the tech-nerd Ruben. These two are described with the typical deadpan smart-ass tone Simmons gives to Evan throughout:

Now, giving a kid so much freedom and so much unsupervised space may be a bit controversial. Not everyone would think this was a good idea. But I'd like to argue that such liberal and progressive parenting practices are in fact a model for all parents of America, and I strongly suggest that everyone take a lesson from these enlightened people. It is true that we ran a sort of criminal syndicate from the garage. That is true. But Ruben was sure to go to an Ivy League college. He'd probably get several advanced degrees. And he' surely make millions of dollars when he finally got a job. It was his destiny. So, clearly so much freedom, so much access to resources, wouldn't prevent Ruben from becoming a smart, rich, accomplished member of our society. And what's more important than that? Ruben had highly liberal parents and he was going to be a whopping success. I (on the other hand, and to prove my point) had a prison warden for a father, and there was a good chance that I'd never amount to anything. You add it up. I think the conclusions are obvious.

Whatever. There you go. Ruben.

And it's not just people. The book is full of Evan's snide asides on virtually everything, like how the quality of French food is a direct cause of the, er, quality of French thinking:

... run-of-the-mill French food - the junk you'll find at any street corner butcher or bakery - is better than anything you'll find in Seattle or anywhere else in the United States and probably the world. I think this is why French people are so sleepy-headed and mealy-brained. If you're constantly stuffing exquisite pastries in your mouth, there's no reason to get too excited about anything. How I felt when I was eating an eclair or a hot crepe smeared with Nutella and bananas. The world could be ending and I wouldn't are one way or another. I'd just be thinking about what was going on in my mouth.
Anyway, I guess there's more to say about France. But I don't want to get too distracted.

Finding Lubchenko sports some fine comic timing and an unflagging narrative energy, and it swaps the surprising social commentary of Pool Boy for a more conventional 'will he catch the bad guy' 'will he get the girl' set of concerns. But it handles those concerns well, gives us a main character who's never quite as clever as he thinks he is, and in all provides an hour's smart entertainment. And there are no vampires.

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