I had an experience reading this novel. It was an experience unlike any other novel reading experience I have ever had. I am not saying I did not enjoy the book. The writing was beautiful and fluid. It was just also repulsive and a bit nausea inducing. It gave me, how do you say, the heebie jeebies. The flowery language and general disgust were nice complements, I think.
If you are unfamiliar with Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita is the story of one man’s passion and lust for twelve-year-old Dolores Haze (also known as Lo, Lola, and Lolita), as it slowly unravels him and tests his sanity. For a book about pedophilia, one of the most taboo topics in humanity, it is an oddly compelling read. My friend Liz said the novel was like an episode of Criminal Minds. You get to peek into the psyche of the mentally disturbed.
Humbert Humbert has been attracted to young girls his entire life. When he himself was a young boy, he lusted and lost. He never quite grew out of the taste for what he deems ‘nymphets’: “Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic.” Rather, these are not normal little girls, but little temptresses put on the earth to make men’s libidos pulse and lives miserable. Humbert struggles with his desire from afar most of his life, loitering in playgrounds and seeking out young looking prostitutes. He even marries because his betrothed dressed in a childish manner (this marriage does not end well). But the possibility to obtain, to be with, to actually possess a nymphet does not occur until he travels to the United States and becomes a lodger in the Haze household.
I’ve recently started a book club. Mutual reading is a good idea. I read a lot on my own, but it’s nice to have someone readily available to gush with as soon as you complete a story. I feel similarly about writing. That pesky writing group has so far evaded me.
The first novel we read is something I should have read in middle school, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. I have never read any of Spinelli’s work: not in middle school or high sch0ol, not at all until now, but I suppose it’s better late than never. Because it was meant for a younger audience, Stargirl is a quick read, but it is by no means an easy one. It is a story about individuality and conformity told through the eyes of our narrator Leo Borlock.
Leo is an overall “good guy,” well liked by his peers. He gets along. This changes when Stargirl arrives, who is unlike anyone who has ever set foot in Mica Area High School. She wears long skirts and keeps a sunflower satchel. She brings her pet rat to school. She plays the ukele and serenades students on their birthdays. She is unflaggingly upbeat, positive, and genuine. Having been home schooled, Stargirl is separate from the petty concerns of most average high school students. She does not want to be popular. She just wants to help people. She uses her uncanny and keen sense of observation to attempt to surprise and delight those around her. An instinct that usually confuses and even angers the wary people around her.
I am a big fan of graphic novels. I think it is an underutilized and underappreciated literary medium. I just finished two novels back to back on Neil’s recommendation: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. They are two very different novels in terms of style, illustration, and the way the content is handled, but they had many common themes that makes them great complements. As a warning, there will be mild spoilers below.
American BornChinese (ABC) is about Asian American childhood. The protagonist Jin Wang is the American born Chinese character. It explores the discomfort he feels with classmates that refuse to understand his culture and the cruelty of school children. The story of his evolution through grade school and high school is juxtaposed with two counterpoint stories: that of the Monkey King, a lesser deity who in his arrogance flouts the will of Tze-Yo-Tzu, the god of all, and also that of Danny, a white American student whose life plays out like a bad sitcom with the alarming and appallingly racist depiction of his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee. The three stories in the beginning seemingly have nothing to do with each other, but as the story continues on they interconnect in a masterful and ingenious way to relate a story of friendship and self-acceptance in an increasingly unaccepting world. The novel is a winner of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.
Shortcomings also focuses on Asian American characters, but in a much harsher way. The main characters of the story are Ben Tanaka and Miko Hayashi, who are a couple that have been together for quite some time. Their relationship is destructive and overwhelmingly unhealthy. They fight all the time about petty differences. Most of the characters in the novel are not very likeable. They are fairly self absorbed. Ben is consumed by his own misery and has a very negative outlook on the world. He seems to want what he thinks he cannot have and has no sense of real conscience about his actions and how they might affect people. Miko tells a very big lie, but she also seems to just be looking for a way out from under Ben’s negativity. Women Ben interacts with are not any better. While he and Miko are on a “break,” he fools around with two white women: Autumn Phelps, a young performance artist who is a complete tease, and Sasha Lenz, who leads Ben on and doesn’t really know what she wants. The only redeeming character in the novel is Ben’s friend Alice Kim, a lesbian and immigrant from Korea, who struggles with the demands of her conventional and restrictive family. The novel is not a happy one and ends on a sad note, but is interesting to read. There is a distance within the novel that doesn’t allow you to get too close to the characters. Rather you observe them and their actions as if from a great height.