Thursday, August 6, 2009

A bushel and a peck

I keep trying to find something to listen to so that I can avoid the 18-hour fantasy that's glaring at me accusingly from my bookshelf, so Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford was a pleasant diversion (the book's website takes you [intentionally, I've got to assume] to a website obsessed with breasts ... I'm just telling you). Carter is starting high school and is he psyched: girls, sports, booty, sports, par-tays, sports, sex. He's also scared -- as he fears he's just not up to all that high school entails.

The novel takes us through his freshman year -- a year where he meets the right girl at the very beginning and then screws it up. Sports is the way to be popular at Carter's high school, so he keeps trying that too ... and screwing it up. But he persists in telling us every cringeworthy mistake -- with a lot of humor and a little bit of self-awareness. Finally, though, he finds his niche (and gets the girl back), and that niche is my all-time favorite musical comedy, Guys and Dolls (don't rent the movie, go see the play). So I'm predisposed to like Carter, especially when I envision him as Sky Masterson.

Despite Carter's objectifying of any high school girl that comes across his radar, he's kind of a loveable guy. After all, you can only feel pity for these clueless white suburban boys as they attempt to sound like cool, black hip-hoppers. (And yes, I fully accept that my cringing at the sexist and homophobic comments throughout the text is middle-aged female cringing, and that there's some male bonding thing going on that is completely beyond my ken.) I do get that Carter is frantically holding onto a protective shell of coolness, because if anyone could get underneath it and reveal the shivering pile of ineptness, he would be doomed. How can you not love that?

I think I love Carter, though, because I can listen to narrator Nick Podehl inhabit Carter. He reads this book with the ADD that Carter's been diagnosed with. He's up, he's down, he's self-aware, he's clueless; he's laughing, he's sobbing. Podehl keeps us listening by varying his pace, his volume, his pitch. All of Carter's vulnerability and bravado is there in Podehl's voice. There were many, many times when I laughed right out loud at Carter's exploits. I'm wondering if my easily offended feminist instincts would have been more aroused had I been reading it to myself. With Podehl leavening Carter's less salubrious thoughts with his insecurities, I find that my instinct is to take him aside and bolster his self-esteem, rather than give him the dope slap.

He creates some pretty vivid characters aside from Carter, although I find them all to be fairly stereotypical. I think this is the writing, more than the narration. This book is hilarious, has lots of teen appeal (I think to girls more than boys, but then ... I'm a girl), but it's also fairly predictable and there's more than a bit of a lecture at the end: What others think isn't important, you must be true to yourself. And Carter's explanation of this revelation sounds pretty clunky. It was too sincere, not at all like the Carter that Podehl has created. Fortunately, this is not the last we hear of Carter: Crawford ends the book with an entirely typical Carter escapade.

I've heard a lot from Podehl this year, and his narrative talents are pretty amazing. This peformance is very different from that in The Killer's Cousin, so I think I could listen to him a few more times (which it looks like I will be). I generally don't like it when publishers rely heavily on only a few narrators. C'mon ... there's a lot of talented people out there!

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