Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obsession

[Written in a spreadsheet-induced haze, and so I apologize in advance.]

I make an effort to read book other than children’s books in my leisure time—I’m sure most editors do—but I almost always find myself sneaking a peak through the YA lens when I do so. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty easy to find YA themes and characters in non-YA books. Adolescence is universal, after all. Often more fascinating than the actual teenagers in adult fiction are the stunted adults—the adults who can’t quite find their ways out of adolescence and whose lives are painfully absurd because they are teenagers in adult bodies with adult responsibilities. You often find them crushed by or fleeing from their conflicting impulses and responsibilities. I think this is a real window into the broad appeal of YA. Some examples, then.

Image:RabbitRunbookcover.jpgRabbit Angstrom. I read Rabbit, Run for the first time right after Updike died, and it is a stunning book. It’s hard for me to imagine a better case in point for the adult adolescent than twenty-six-year-old Rabbit, who peaked in his senior year of high school and runs full-tilt downhill thereafter. I’m embarrassed I didn’t read this one sooner.

First edition coverRobert Cohn. The Sun Also Rises is a book on the other end of my personal reading spectrum. I have been rereading this book regularly since my initial, farcical misreading of the book in 7th grade (“I don’t understand why Brett and Jake can’t be together.”) and it always reveals new things to me. The character of Robert Cohn is recently particularly interesting because he is very vain, but he is also an outsider obsessed with fitting in and being noticed. He is painfully obsessive, romantic, and naive in love, and thus his more cynical, cruel “friends” come to despise him.* (Yes, I realize there’s an anti-Semitic angle here, too.)

I’d love to hear about other great adolescent adults in adult fiction.

File:Bridge declarer.jpg*I caught an NPR story about a couple of teenagers who are cleaning up on the bridge circuit (yes, there still is professional bridge; average age is 64) and it reminded me of this great passage in The Sun Also Rises:

[Robert Cohn] was not in love yet but he realized that he was an attractive quantity to women, and that the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle. This changed him so he was not so pleasant to have around. Also, playing for higher stakes than he could afford at some rather steep bridge games with his New York connections, he had held his cards and won several hundred dollars. It made him rather vain of his bridge game, and he talked several times of how a man could always make a living at bridge if he were ever forced to.

I can’t quite articulate why this is all so very adolescent to me.

3 comments:

Steve Brezenoff said...

I'm pleased you read and apparently enjoyed Rabbit, Run. It changed my life, literarily.

The Sun Also Rises, too, naturally.

Carol Hinz said...

Here's my question: are the great adolescent adults in adult fiction all men?

Mechelle Avey said...

One of my favorite adolescent characters is Rebecca Bloomwood from the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. The majority of Rebecca's problems stem from her lack of responsibility in money management. Even so, Rebecca manages to be an engaging character. Just like in Prada and Prejudice, fashion accessories and humor cover all sins.