brothercyst: prep

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I finished reading Prep. I liked it very much--approximately 404 times more than I expected to like it. It is a story about excruciating, debilitating self-consciousness.

Now, we have all had experiences when we felt crippled by the awareness of how our actions might be perceived, but the narrator of this novel spends her every living moment that way. It makes you want to rip your brain out and smash pumpkins and kill a drifter, but in a good way.

The distinction that Sittenfeld drew in her infamous (yet reasonable and intelligent) review between literature and chick lit is that chick lit's appeal depends on identification but literature's appeal depends (at least partly) on empathy. And it is a credit to Sittenfeld's talent that I did indeed empathize with the narrator although I have never been to boarding school, am not from the midwest, am male, and often do things without thinking very much about how those things will affect other people or, more specifically, other people's opinion of me.

However, what I also found interesting (although it didn't contribute to my appreciation of the book's literary merits) was the realization that I did in fact sometimes identify with the narrator. Unfamiliarity with the rituals of a rarefied place as well as the queasy feeling of being surrounded by people born wealthier than you'll probably ever be...sounds like freshman year at Yale. The paranoia, covetous resentment, and self-consciousness that arise from sudden proximity to such people when you've come from a public school that sends most of its students to community college or jail: definitely a familiar feeling.

Many reviews have complained that by the end of the book, "nothing really happens." Somewhat true, plot-wise, but something "happens" in the sense that the book does something to you--impresses you with its rigorous realism, exhausts you by describing with precision and engagement the narrator's unsustainable self-loathing and doubt.


elmrockcity said...

Have you ever read Ethan Canin's For Kings and Planets? I experienced a similar tension between identification and empathy when reading the novel during my freshman year at Yale.

NickAntosca said...

I hadn't heard of it, actually, but perhaps I'll purchase and put on my soon-to-read stack with Tom Perrotta's Joe College (set at Yale, I think) and Tobias Wolff's Old School. Have you read any of those, or Prep?

Ned said...

I have Joe College and also have not read it.

Based on that review Sittenfield is more than intelligent

elmrockcity said...

I always see Old School at Book Trader and think about buying it, then don't. Next time I'm there (as in, Saturday), I will.

Tao Lin said...

i'm glad you liked prep

a detached, intelligent, tactful, and funny narrator writing about her severe social anxiety disorder