Thursday, March 28, 2019

Book 174: Boys And Girls Together



"But there was, because over in the far corner a man was sitting, a lone man, and for just a moment he looked at Aaron, and Aaron saw the look and he saw what it meant. The man in the corner knew; you could fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you couldn’t fool the man in the corner."

Dates read: August 31- September 6, 2017

Rating: 3/10

I took my first trip to New York City in high school. I did a little bit of theater stuff, and the teacher who headed it up did an annual trip to go see a bunch of Broadway shows during Spring Break. I begged my mom to send me and she did, and I had a blast. I saw Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Producers, and Mary Louise Parker in Proof. I also got my first taste of the big city without parental supervision...we were chaperoned, of course but we had free time to go explore a little and it was so fun. I've been back several times, and while I've never had the personal desire to live there full-time, I totally understand why some people fall in love with it.

William Goldman's Boys and Girls Together tells the story of five different young people who all end up in the Big Apple, and whose lives come to intersect. This is a novel that focuses very intensely on its characters, and so we get not just the story of the principals, but their parents as well. Wannabe writer Aaron is the son of a New Jersey lawyer and his Southern bride, who is his father's delight until his untimely death of a heart attack, and winds up being the afterthought to his mother's favorite, his lovely but impetuous older sister. Aaron is cruel and proud, and when he's drafted into the military, crosses paths with Branch. Branch is the offspring of an Ohio mother who managed to trap his mostly-uninterested father into marriage and dominated him until he fled into the military and died while fighting overseas. Branch is mostly weak-spirited and lives under his mother's thumb until he flees to New York to try to become a producer. There's he's reunited with his college friend Walt, who directed plays and goes to the city to try his hand at it there rather than be trapped in the lucrative business his father built up and maintained both before and after Walt's mother died, having ignored her breast cancer until it was too late in an attempt to punish her husband for his infidelities.

These three all converge around a play, and their lead actors are Jenny and Rudy. Jenny is a tall, curvy girl from Wisconsin whose body seems to create most of her problems: she's nearly raped as a preteen by a stranger, and then is nearly raped again by her only friend in high school, who becomes her steady boyfriend. She follows him to New York and ends up working at a publishing firm, where she becomes embroiled in an affair with her boss. Rudy's story is the most focused on his parents of all: the two are both young, confident, and good-looking kids when they meet in Chicago and try to out-stubborn each other, which they continue into marriage and parenthood. Rudy is a sweet-natured and shy child who loses the only person in his life who really cares about him when his grandfather dies, and then becomes a pawn in his parents' struggles. He has no real ambition to act, but when Branch spots him, he's convinced.

I love a character-driven novel, so I expected to love this. Starting with the stories of the parents is an interesting device, and one I appreciated because it enriched the environment into which these personalities were planted and grew. The only problem: no one is actually interesting or compelling. Aaron is a raging asshole, Branch is pathetic, Walt's boring, Jenny's affair cycles through the same will-he-or-won't-he-leave-his-wife conflict so many times that I literally rolled my eyes at my Kindle, and Rudy's cardboard martyrism (apparently he literally can't say no to a direct request?) makes it hard to get invested in him. The only part of the book I really enjoyed reading was about the relationship between Rudy and his grandfather, who is the only person who views him as something more than an object. Goldman also wrote The Princess Bride, and it's easy to see the seeds of the grandpa-grandson relationship he depicted there in that portion of the book.

I usually try to think of an audience that might potentially like a book, even if I didn't. Every book isn't for everyone, of course. But it's hard to think of a particular group of people that might like this novel...it's definitely character-over-plot, but like I said, I didn't find the characters worth spending the time with (and this is a long book, over 700 pages, so there's lots of time). Apparently it had some notoriety when it came out because two of the main characters are gay, but neither of them is depicted particularly well, so I wouldn't say it's a good LGBT read either. Goldman is clearly a talented writer, based on his other work, and even in this one he has a knack for dialogue, but I can't in good faith recommend that anyone read this work.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever been to New York?

One year ago, I was reading: Of Human Bondage (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

Three years ago, I was reading: Yes Please

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