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SkinnyDippingIntoBooks

Skinny Dipping Into Books

I like the rain. I want to have a spring bookworming rain party full out with wellies—but not those Hunter Boots; absolutely not—, with yummy airy things like puffed pastries, meringues, mini fluffy cheese cakes, mousse dessert, macaroon, biscuits, crepe, and Earl Grey tea, definitely Earl Grey tea.  and Tillandsia. We'd have lots of "air plants". Lots! And We'd read, but not anything structured. We'd bring books, trade books, read out-loud, pass books around between sentences and paragraphs. We'd leave with books we hadn't discovered.

 

I like books like I like my Jazz; euphoric, dangerous, occasionally a bit manic, sorrowful, bleak, raging, mood-incongruent, mournful, unforgivingly ragged, symbolic in a quiet way, warm apple pie for the soul. Give me a Plath style. Yōko Ogawa, M. Roach,


Criteria: Not rated on likability of characters. Not objective. I like Moxie Soda; chances are you don't.


time spent in that before bed reading slot:

5-until blurry eye 4-Later than I intended, but I still kept to my extended, extended reading time 3-I really should have been to bed an hour ago  2-customary 30 minutes. 1-book. side table. eyes closed.


How are common themes handled?

5-With an aesthetic that repurposes everyday themes into something fresh. Think of Hole Celebrity Skin covered by Cat Power  4-there is a comfortable air of familiarly.
3-Deja Vu 2. No deviation from its mates  1. Devastatingly trite, redundant, and stale.

Where would you keep it post-reading?

5-Next to my bed.  4-it's the center piece of my favorite bookshelf 3. On my other favorite bookshelf, but it's a bit dusty over their 2-Great cheap bookends 1-It never made it out of the box marked 'moving'.


Emotional response-

5- Where is my teddy bear? Emotional-hangover 4- If I wasn't so emotionally stunted I'd cry.
3. Did James Cameron co-wrote this? Artfully contrived. 
2- calculative emotional manipulation. This was literally written by James Cameron.1- I…feel…..nothing.

Mechanics (plot structure, voice, presentation, word choice, sentence structure, characters, writing style, pacing, and consistency):

5-Chanel 4-Prada 3-J-Crew 2-Gap 1-Old Navy

Currently reading

The Complete Stories
Flannery O'Connor
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
Alissa Nutting, Alissa Nutting
Out of the Pocket - Bill Konigsberg

Fucking groan. Mother fucking groaninggggggg

Everyone knows my distaste for Openly Straight, primarily due to the narrative of a gay man being able to conceal or change his sexual identity, but also my strong distaste for the writing style. Surprise! the same author wrote this novel. Frankly, I am astonished that this book has coveted such a wide following and particularly surprised by the high accolades it has received.

It is one thing to compose a novel that is contrived and derivative when compared to similar books of the same genre. It is an entirely different thing to write a novel that is both contrived and derivative when compared to the author’s own work. Out of the Pocket is essentially Openly Straight. And here’s why….

Openly straight adopted the concept of ‘closeted’ by transplanting a gay man to a new school who conducts a ‘social experiment’ by hiding his sexuality. It’s simply just a weak plot device that results in the same thing; a closeted kid. With Out of the Pocket we have another male character, Bobby, and again with high athletic prowess. The difference here is that this novel is overwrought with sports references and discussions of sports. He is legit closeted, with no hidden gimmicks, but suffers the same redundant identity confusion found in Openly Straight. There is also the same configuration of friendship, before and after ‘coming out’, which is discussed later. We have a Mr. Scarborough in Openly Straight, but this time he is a counselor, both times serving the same purpose as a segue between closeted Bobby and out Bobby.  

Bobby is extremely popular, but escapes the standard jock attributes—mainly assholeness— that we all know these guys (most) really act like in high school. He has successfully navigated a straight life by ‘dating’ one of his closest friends, Carrie Conway. The symbiosis of the relationship is barely, if at all understood. The author seems terminally unable to convey why Carrie, who flirts with Bobby relentlessly without the smallest amount of reciprocation of intimacy, is even part of this charade.

Bobby’s ceaseless struggle with his sexuality leads him to disclose his sexuality to a clumsy, and ultimately totally irresponsible school counselor. The author tries to provide room for philosophical conversation revolving around the permanency of sexuality and embracing it, but this seems like a meager attempt to heighten a flat plot.  It was almost, almost as pathetic of a secondary character as Mr. Scarborough in Openly Straight. It was also at this point, that, when coupled with the premise of Openly Straight, that I questioned if this author had some sort of alternative agenda.

He reveals his sexual identity to a friend, and of course, being teenagers this gets all sorts of messiness, and even though it is revealed to some fairly deceitful individuals, it somehow remains contained, until a reporter comes on the scene.

From then we have your typical high school forced coming out fallout and the rush to cycle through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining (sorta), depression (throughout), acceptance (cause let's make it all cute and neat)—that is so goddamn trite with these premature coming out plots, especially with those in the Y/A genre.  

One of the major, but poorly composed secondary characters is hit with a chronic disease right at the onset of Bobby’s coming out and this is ultimately disorienting and muddles an already weak plot. It is also dealt with poorly.
 
Within this typical plot sequence Bobby encounters the standardized hate; a ‘you faggot’ here, a brush off there, rejection from his teammates, hate from members of opposing teams etc.  It is all so cookie cutter and safe.

Fortunately dearest Bobby is rich in his position in a power over paradigm that the blow of homophobia is extremely limited. All sorts of secondary characters lean on post-outted-Bob, and his feedback is neither constructive nor negative, it just exists unnecessary on the pages. Most of the school rallies behind him and it is as unrealistic for the situation as it is harmful to young readers (more on this later). For example, his teammates, many of them who wanted him thrown off the team, arrange a whole YMCA dance-athon in the locker room. It is both moronic and doesn’t jive with character development. Some of his friends are highly supportive of his coming-out, some waver, while a few totally reject the notion of accepting him. This again was boring and formulaic, the secondary characters showing little to no depth.

We have the customary ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you. You aren’t gay’, parent and we have the overly compensating ‘I am so proud of you’ parent.  

Bobby also meets a mysterious man; one year older and out, because the older, more mature, more experienced out gay man as the partner of the closeted guy seems to be a necessity in Y/A coming of age novels. Rendered in what seems like pencil scratching on a pharmacy receipt, this character stalks Bobby, quite literally just appearing at times. It is at these times, particularly one point on a beach, where I get the feeling the author scrambled, hastily grasping for anything to continue the story. There is barely any intimacy between the two, and the intimacy that shared is so muted, so monochromatic that it read as bug repellent for love. ‘Young Adult’ is a genre, not a euphemism for lazy writing.

Most troubling was the “bonus chapter’, which would normally be called an epilogue, if, you know, you are an author that isn’t in elementary school. It read more like an essay about life, puking up Rafe’s correspondence with Mr. Scarborough from Openly Straight, than anything constructive or necessarily important to the plot. The voice here was a tad off, too, and read fairly younger than the voice of Bobby in previous sections.

After this the book concludes with a random-as-fuck! ‘An Interview with Carrie Conway’. I am not even going to….

Absent are typical speech patterns of teenagers, namely swearing, a lack of sex, scant references to drugs and alcohol, immature patterns of behavior, as well as other factors indicative of adolescence.

It frightens me that youth will read this, presumably those struggling with coming out, and given the speed at which social media is dictating a Gossip Girls like ethos at many schools, that someone COULD possibly be outted like Bobby, and that this would be something they read. That they would read of someone so popular, so above the ramifications of forced disclosure of ‘alternative’ sexual identity, that he remained unscathed.  What is this author telling these kids? That popularity would act as this huge protective factor, and shit on you if you aren’t the quarterback of your high school’s football game? That privilege dictates acceptance? That, well, for some people it does get better, but for geeks and dorks and outcasts, well better luck next time? To further the implications of privilege by proxy of popularity there is even a discussion between Bobby and another less popular kid. When this kid explains that he did something wrong to get popularity, for many of the reasons stated above, Bobby dismisses it in what amounts to a big ‘FUCK YOU!”. This is just negligible.

With Openly Straight and Out of the Pocket, I have to ask, as a community, are we this desperate for attention that we will applaud books that adopt toxic narratives and disseminate information that can certainly have a deleterious effect on younger members? Because I am certainly not willing.