Nic Kelman, |
(Little, Brown & Co., 2003;
Back Bay, 2004)
I don't pretend to be the sort of person who looks away from the scene of an accident. I have conflicting, yet equally strong desires. First, that no one has been hurt, but secondly, I want to see drama, something huge, I mean life-changing. To know how much can be done to a person, that they can still survive.
Nic Kelman seems to have a bit of the same mindset.
His character, the never-defined "you," is not you, but it could be. He's the accident that happens always to someone else, so you never see him coming. He is inexcusably human, so frighteningly ordinary, he might be a friend, a relative, a co-worker, anyone. Everyman.
If it were not entitled "girls" I think the story would almost let us forget. This is a man who desires expensive talent, competence wrapped in a guise of innocence. He doesn't want babies or children. He is almost, but never quite, a criminal.
Success in business, in love, every achieved goal, has left him empty. "In the earning of things you have lost the ability to enjoy them," Kelman writes. "And others can only enjoy them because they did not earn them."
So he seeks out the not-yet-jaded, unspoiled treasures to collect and adore. The dichotomy of writing passion, in a tone of boredom and distance from the events is unnerving, providing a trueness to the anecdotal story and keeping it from being a middle-age jerk-off.
Believe me, you know this man. He might not act on his fantasy, but he knows he's justified in having it. Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, hordes of nameless here-this-moment then gone models, the unspoken reality of under-age pornography, all tell him he should. But even more, it's botox parties, the cosmetics we buy in the billions of dollars. Men might admit these things together in secret, but women promote it quietly every day.
Don't believe it? Kelman, who holds a BS in brain and cognitive science from MIT, as well as a MFA in creative writing from Brown University, didn't think you would. So he smacks you in the face with samplings from the Illiad, Odyssey and random science facts. In addition to the compelling story, there's historical record and science to back him up.
It isn't gentle, it isn't easy on the mind, but it isn't Lolita. Rather than a desire to throw the book at the wall (which Lolita did cause me to do, a few times) I was drawn in, horrified, but undoubting and driven against the truth unmercifully by the smartly written prose.
It either requires bravery or an unapologetic curiosity to read this book. Without reservation I recommend it, but don't pick it up unless you're willing for the knowledge it endows to cause things in your own soul to change.