Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jim Shepard, _Project X_

PEOPLE OFTEN LEND me books, out of generosity, or a wish to share something they enjoyed, or perhaps even out of some sense that the book is exactly the sort of thing I would like. It is churlish of me to see these books as a burden -- but I do. At any given moment, there are two or three dozen books I think I ought to be getting around to reading, heaped in stacks all around my office and my house, so I always try to dissuade anyone wishing to lend me a book. They are undissuadable. "I don't need it back soon," they say, "just read it when you have time." But I will never have that time, good friend, never. Your book will stay on my shelf as decades pass, for if I give it back to you after a year or two, you will ask what I thought of it, and how will I be able to tell you I never even opened it? Thus one of the kindest gestures a person can make for another becomes, for me, an occasion for gnashing of teeth.

But -- I did read this one. The person who lent it to me said the narrator's voice was perfectly convincing, so I looked at the first few pages, and yes, it is convincing. The novel is about two middle-school boys, both at the bottom of their school's pecking order, who eventually plan a Columbine-style massacre. The narrator is, so to speak, more the Dylan Klebold of the pair -- socially maladroit, but someone who ordinarily would most likely eventually find himself, outgrow his awkwardness, and pull through OK. His friend, edgy and sociopathic, is never going to be OK, on some level realizes this, and has nothing to lose.

I won't spoil the ending -- a friend may lend you the book one day -- but I will say my friend was absolutely right; the narrator's voice is so pitch-perfect a recreation of junior high alienation that I often put the book down, launched on a flashback of my own very worst moments at Franklin Junior High, 1966-69. All I can say is: Holden lives.

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