Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Youth In Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp / by C. Douglas Payne

Nick Twisp is quite a character. At 14, he's one of the few intellectuals among his small circle of vapid family and friends living in Oakland ("a large torpid city across the bay from San Francisco"). Thoroughly misunderstood by his mother, always more wrapped up in her steady stream of cretin boyfriends; neglected by his father, who frequently shuns Nick's allowance (a.k.a. child support payments) in favor of his own life in the fast lane; and ignored by most everyone else, Nick turns to his diary for solace. Recording his daily meanderings in vivid detail, he opens up about his cultural observations, philosophical convictions, problems with authority, acne dilemma, impression of public institutions and waining libido status. It's an oppressive, though not uncommon adolescent life.
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It is, at least, until Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, his dream girl and soulmate while on vacation with his mom and her current trucker boyfriend Jerry ("who's ultimate ambition is to go on permanent state disability"). After some romantic and intellectual sparring, Nick and Sheeni fall passionately in love. Ultimately they plan to live in Paris where they foresee a life spent in caf├ęs along the Seine, conversing with other prominent existential philosophers of the day and looking down their noses at the simpletons of the world. It's a dream Nick is willing to do anything to see happen. Only now he'll have to navigate he and Sheeni's budding romance around their bumbling adult counterparts who, though woefully ill-equipped for their tasks as parents, are still in charge. Nothing short of an all out revolution, Nick feels, is called for.
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Always watch the movie before you read the book. Or else one without the other. Payne's 1993 Youth In Revolt is that type of novel, one so infused with urbanity, dry wit, campy style and black humor, you just can't recreate the same appeal through alternate mediums. It's a book altogether marked by a distinctly rhythmic flair. Nick's ramblings play out in an almost poetical way, marked by humor and alternating nervous impulses. Doubtless an intentional nuance of the author's was a satirical style mirroring eclectic new wave French films like Godard's Breathless or Truffaut's Day for Night, Payne careful to leave in just enough aesthetic sensibility so the story's neither too vague nor overblown yet always fresh and spontaneous. (FIC PAYNE)

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