Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dirk Wittenborn's Fierce People

Bloomsbury Pbk, 335pp.
ISBN 0-7475-5680-6

Bret Easton Ellis loves it. So does Jay McInerney and Susan Minot. I guess that makes me suspicious straight away. I mean, all of them? You just know they must go to the same cocktail parties and laugh at each other’s literary jokes like a bunch of goddam phonies.

To be honest the back cover H-Y-P-E comparing it to The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby and Less Than Zero isn’t so untrue. If only someone had mentioned it was going to turn into I Know What You Did Last Summer about mid-way through, with a murder, a fire, an anal rape, and worse still. But you don’t wanna hear about that now.

You might think I hate this book, writing it up this way. Being sarcastic and all. But I don’t. Honest. Truth is till all that junk started happening (like the guy writing Fierce People was frightened I might get bored of the real story) I wanted to be Finn Earl, who is the main star of this here book.

Finn’s 15 and he lives in New York, but his mum takes too many drugs and some shit happens that means they end up living in this ultra-rich community called Vlyvalle. Once they arrive Finn falls in love with Maya, this heiress babe with a scar on her face. Then Finn starts nursing all these secrets going on behind the scenes till he’s just one big knot of lies he can’t get out of.

Maybe that sounds corny, but I couldn’t put it down - and truth is I was kinda in love with Maya too and felt like I must be 15 again or something dumb, which is loony but that’s what books do to you sometimes. Then this Wittenborn guy spoils it. I can see them making a movie of the whole thing now - with Tobey McGuire starring, or his kid brother since he’s too old and everybody thinks he’s Spiderman now anyway. Just being able to imagine that makes me so mad! Like I am being cheated of my own fantasies. As if Wittenborn had already sold it off by design, you know what I’m saying?

Wittenborn wants to be the J.D. Salinger of the class system in America. He even uses the words ‘phony’ and ‘goddam’, just like J.D. used to. The French call that a ‘homage’. Wittenborn’s real funny too, and he says these wiseass, sad things sometimes that hook you right in the heart, like the way he describes Finn and his mother talking: “It was sweet and spooky how a lie my mother wanted to hear could light her up inside. Like a candle in a jack-o-lantern, it made her seem hollow.’

Don’t ask me why but when I type that sentence out I just about feel like crying now. But I dunno whether I’m just crying for me and Finn - or for the book this could have been. Goddam.

- Mark Mordue

* Book review first published in Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum, August 17th 2002.

~ Fierce People was turned into a film directed by Griffin Dunne and starring Donald Sutherland. It went out on limited release in the USA and has gone straight to DVD recently here in Australia.

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