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Twelve | review | book | Lollipop
by Nick McDonell (Grove Press)
By Amanda Nash
I admit it, I picked this book up because it's about people like ME. I knew I would "get it." Not too challenging; maybe just a little smarter, a little nastier, than your usual summer reading but essentially just the New York City version of a beach book.
And I'm a marketing victim. I'd heard the author was 17 when he wrote the book, apparently went to one of the snippy NY private high schools I attended briefly myself, is rumored to have gotten the book deal through his bigshot editor father, and has blurbs from no less than Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson on the cover. Can you say, "well connected?" And lest I forget to mention it, he's not bad looking either. Of course, I wanted to enjoy the book for the piece of crap I figured it would be and then have the authority to write the guy off.
But I don't want to. He's good. He's right on the money, capturing the feeling of being an upper-middle or upper-class private school kid with no actual physical needs and no pressing emotion about much of anything (except, maybe, if you're unlucky enough, "Twelve." But I'll let you read the book to find out what that is). The emptiness is palpable, almost like the story is scrawled around a hollow cylinder (what was the name of that book that was written without using any e's?). McDonell doesn't ask you to sympathize or even understand these people, really, he just kinda sticks you in a room with them and lets you watch. And squirm. And like any good train-wreck story, you know something awful is coming but you can't look away.
It'd be easy enough to look down on McDonell's characters, but it's also easy enough to see how they got where they are: Nobody gives a shit about them. Not their busy, jet-setting parents, not their selfish, opportunistic friends, brothers, and sisters, and not really themselves. They'll do anything to feel something.
The protagonist, White Mike, isn't much better than the others; he's just slightly better. He cares enough to not take the drugs he deals. He cares enough to put a friend in a taxi when he's tripping his brains out. He cares enough to have some vague notion that he ought to care more. Not much, mind you, but just enough that you can sort of root for him.
So what happens? A lot of events that, although you can see how everything has led up to them, don't make any sense, because there's no real justice in this world. Minor infractions lead to successively worse consequences, until, at the end, all of the unfortunate threads culminate in one really awful thing.
But, then, you knew they would. And McDonell doesn't let you down.