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The novel Skippy Dies is like a doughnut

November 23, 2010

Some books are like potato chips—you just can’t stop readin’ ‘em.  Maybe it’s the salt. Or some diabolical bioengineerickal sort of thing cooked up in a crackling subterranean megacorp lab inducing an addict-like craving unknown by the EPA or USDA.

And some books are like doughnuts—they taste good—very good—but at some point, you’ve just had enough and you stop reading.

Skippy Dies, a novel by young Irish writer Paul Murray, is a doughnut book.  Fitting, since Skippy, a klutzy Irish kid at Dublin’s venerable yet torn and frayed Seabrook College, a boarding school, dies in a local doughnut shop—in a prologue sort of first chapter.  Was he poisoned?  Did it go down the wrong pipe?  What?

Prologues.  Oh oh.  Not sure I go for them.  Though, to be fair, we don’t see the word ‘prologue.’  A quibble.

Thing is, this is a 661-page doughnut book that could do with some serious editing.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully written—there are plenty of lyrical and hilarious passages on my dog-eared copy worth remembering.  Like this bravura passage, injected with Kerouacian bennie-hopped verve:

“So you take one then two then three then you don’t know but your head is going frrrrssshhhh every time you turn it like skis turning on snow like every time you blink it becomes this long voyage eighty days around the world and every time you open your eye it’s like in a different place only with Lori beside you every time you keep it floating off into space….”

Half a page and not one comma or period—a percussive rush of emotion—the repetitive every time, every time—straight out of Skippy’s consciousness.  Lovely. Murray is a writer of great control and inventiveness, shifting easily from dorky kid put downs and textings to high-flown lyrical airy prose.  Those passages do induce a craving for more.

The hardcover edition, by the way, is produced in British style—smaller size, the storied Faber & Faber imprint, lovely paper and binding—a very nice feel, designed to last.  And yet, here I am, having gallantly made the long ascent to page 357 and I’m going to throw in the towel.  If the book ended at 357, I’d’ve finished it.  But it didn’t.  It should’ve.

There isn’t enough so-whatness.

My internal So What-o-Meter, a gauge measuring the why should I care about this book—the characters, what’s at stake in the story, the big ideas or the fabulous writing—is drifting lower, past the give-it-up point. My tank is low.  I ran out of gas.  Skippy Dies is the intertwined tale of school kids goofy hijinks and the love life of a hapless history teacher, past graduate of the school.  Aside from hoping that these kids grow up okay and finding out why Skippy dies and watching as Howard the Coward (the teacher) doesn’t get the girl, there’s just not enough at stake here.  Low so-whatness.

But Paul Murray is some writer.  This time, he produced a doughnut in need of a colder-eyed editor’s bite.  But I’m convinced he’s got some serious potato chips in his future.


From → Fiction

  1. A valiant attempt at consumption, oh well. If the story is not going anywhere, it’s not going anywhere. There isn’t enough coffee in Seattle for that fat a doughnut.

  2. Jodi Paloni permalink

    I looked at this book since my thesis topic was on youth as narrators in adult fiction. The number of pages was the deal breaker. Glad I didn’t pick it up, since I have trouble not finishing a book.

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