Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Young People Books

I just finished reading Couch, by Benjamin Parzybok, which, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed. For people who haven't read it, it's an epic journey across two continents, a quest, in fact, to get a big orange couch to an elder council who will know what to do with it. Although ironic and at times absurd, it is never silly. And it's also touching. Along the way, the three young men who are moving the couch come to grips, in one way or another, with who they are, and even if they haven't actually solved the problem of who they are going to be, one gets the sense they can see it from here.

It's a young person's book. A hip, witty, enjoyable young person's book. Not a young adult book, although I can see myself really liking it when I was a young adult. But a book who's themes revolve around figuring out what's ahead. A book where parents matter only in the most peripheral way, significant others are part of the future, and friends matter most of all.

I don't know why I felt that so strongly when I read this book. I didn't try to impose my concerns on it so much as feel how strongly I couldn't find myself in it. While it's not the kind of book that excludes women readers (just the opposite, it's thoughtful and self-aware in a way that invites both genders, I think) it was none the less a deeply guy book. It's about guys in the company of guys. There was a thing floating around for awhile about the difference between 'men' and 'guys'. John Wayne was a man. Tom Hanks is a guy. In that particular parsing, the three main characters in this novel are clearly 'guys.' Nice guys. Good guys (well Eric can be less than a good guy.)

I tried to think about novels that aren't Young Person novels. James Joyce wrote one of the definitive young person novels--Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which, for the record, I hated. And also wrote one of the definitive novels that are about middle-aged angst, Ulysses (which I loved, but that may be partly because I knew I had to love it or I wasn't smart.) When I was in college, there was a kind of genre in the canon of books about men--Mickelson's Ghost, Henderson the Rain King, the Rabbit books. I felt myself at arm's length from these books (not surprising for a 20 year old white girl.)

There are, of course, lots of books that I read and don't feel so distanced from. Lots of those books have absolutely nothing to do with my sensibilities or age. One of the joys of Karen Joy Fowler's books for me has been that I often felt that they were aimed at me. Even if I wasn't really a Jane Austin lover. (I liked Jane Austin, but not the passionate way so many people do.) A lot of those books are written by women, but a lot of them, The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy, or Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem, are, like Couch, books about guys, young guys, finding a way.

It's a funny reaction to a good book. If I have anything to really say about it, it's ignore my nattering. Good read.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pedant speaks (years later) Jane Austen, not Austin

February 03, 2011 10:24 AM  

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