Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I've been hearing about this young adult novel for years and meaning to read it for just as long. It's a page turner and well done. And I suspect the things that bugged me about it only bugged me because I'm an adult and not really of the intended demographic. The novel sets up two mysteries at the start--the first, what is going on with this narrator (who is an intense and emotional fellow) and two, who is he writing to (the novel is epistolary and the first letter makes clear he does not really know the person he is sending the letters to). Both questions get answered, but what was interesting to me was that the answers ultimately meant very little to my experience of the novel. The reason that he's a little off is not exactly predictable so much as it is familiar, but without giving it away, I only think it felt familiar because I'm a grown-up and this isn't the first time I've read about that subject. If I were a teen/pre-teen this might well be my first exposure and therefore much more powerful. The recipient of the letters isn't completely explained but is revealed just enough that you don't wonder who s/he is...but I really didn't care at all who s/he was...which raised the question for me: would the novel be better or just as good if it wasn't written in the form of letters? The first person voice is definitely a strength of the book, but first person narratives don't need to be justified... So then is the form of a letter particularly key to the novel...not so much, I mean we get direct dialogue and scenes which make it more like a conventional first person narrative than actual letters. And because the recipient is a stranger--barely more familiar to the narrator than I the reader am--his/her existence doesn't change how the story is told either. The novel could just as easily have been written as a diary (though the narrator makes a point of saying he doesn't want to write a diary because they can be found). Thematically the letters probably matter--they mean the narrator is reaching out to someone, but not to someone who he is close to. But that doesn't really change my reading of the novel or my understanding of the narrator. So is the point of the letters just to set up a mystery for its own sake? I kind of think it is. And in the end, that seemed fairly okay. I zipped through the book not just because it's young adult but because I was very curious about what would happen and what was going on. And I felt satisfied in the end--it's an emotionally effective novel. So did it matter that I was "tricked" into wondering about something that didn't matter that much ultimately... I guess not. Which surprises me. My impulse would be to say, of course that matters, don't do that. But as is so often the case, writers get away with a lot as long as they write a good story.

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