One of the consequences of being a proud member of the twenty first century—one should always opt for the most future dated time period available at birth— is that judgments come quickly. The Internet and its mobile components have created a sense of understanding and wisdom beyond our actual reality. We generalize too easily and shut doors too quickly before we truly comprehend. Perhaps it has always been this way, that few pause, take a breath, and attempt to have sober second thoughts.
It’s with this thought of possibly unwarranted entitled opinions I consider “Girl Crazy” by Russell Smith. The novel was released earlier this year and lent to me by my good friend Becky. It’s a novel about a young man named Justin moving from a passive nature to an aggressive one. This path leads him to a lifestyle of sex, drugs, crime, and violence with no real negative consequences.
To be fully honest, I’m not a hundred percent sure of what I think of the book. Déjà vu plagued me through my reading: A poor, hot girl opens a world of “darkness” to a previously naïve, unmotivated young man; a passive person overcomes his cardboard character foes by finding his truer, admittedly scummier, self; getting away with a crime is easy if you don’t feel guilt; internal turmoil at living “a little life”; the gritty city. I was reminded of Fight club, Wanted, self-help books, DC Vertigo comics, and HBO shows.
My first reaction was to dislike it. Roll my eyes at the familiar plot, lack of context, and the gross simplifications (why can no one write convincingly about video games?). Then I began to wonder where my dislike came from and if, perhaps, I was being unfair. After giving it some thought I came up with three reasons why the novel didn’t sit well with me, causing my poorly considered first reaction:
1. It does cut close to home as I’m a man with passive tendencies, prone to let stuff slide in an attempt to avoid a decision; holding back my thoughts in confrontations. So there might be envy in my reading of Justin’s conversion to a man of action and despite its violent and amoral ends, the transformation was one of the redeeming moments of the novel. There’s a sense of triumph as Justin began to redraw his DO NOT CROSS lines due to the realignment of his moral compass that I’m reluctant to admit being impress with. I disagree with where he drew the lines, but at least they were being redrawn. I wonder if it’s better to make a bad decision then to not make one at all.
2. That the book implies that might makes right is our world’s norm. That civilization is largely a window dressing over the savages that we are. In the small lives of humans that greater ideas of peace, law, and compassion matter little. The novel’s characters tended to fall on the “happy naïve world”/sheep or on the other side aggressive jerks/wolves. It felt as though the only grey character was Justin, but he too was lost as he chose a side by the end of the novel. Although I’m pretty confident that the world is not like this, I wonder how many people believe that the world is this way and if it is in great enough number to make it so.
3. The male sexuality portrayed, particularly through the mental language of Justin, was not flattering but it did touch on the part of it that I’m not happy with. Although I don’t think I obsess at much as Justin, I can’t say that my mind has not wandered down such avenues. The question is whether there is anything wrong with it (“pluck your eye out”) or are we simply wired that way and our actions are our character, not our thoughts.
The word literature gets thrown around a lot and one cannot read the news without a review of a book that “will blow the reader’s mind”. I am skeptically of these claims, as most books are safe, or at least nothing new. Girl Crazy was largely not new for me; the story was familiar to me. And yet, I find it has left my mind ajar. I have uncomfortable questions I find myself compelled to answer which is all you can ask of a truly good novel.