Book Review of CD Payne’s Youth In Revolt
After reading the 400-odd pages of Payne’s overwrought fictional memoir, I doubt I’ll make the time to watch Michael Cera play the novel’s lead, Nick Twisp. I’d suggest you skip both.
Youth In Revolt is a “comedy” novel that laughs too loud at its own jokes. About 200 pages too long, it’s a flabby, tiring read. After the initial glow from reminiscing about teen love wears off, after the thrill of vicariously acting out some high school revenge fantasies through the protagonist becomes threadbare from repetition, after you wince at, and then hate, and then learn to grit your teeth through Nick Twisp’s grungy, acne-obsessed, undeniably whiny and teen-angsty voice, you’ll be ready to put the book down. The narrative feels forced, the plot repetitive. It’s as if Payne attended two semesters of his local public school before being home-schooled for the rest of his high school career.
Yes, it’s sometimes funny in a “what will that irascible character Nick Twisp do next!” sort of way, but after the fifth wacky caper explodes onto the pages and explodes in the protagonist’s face yet Twisp again dances between the raindrops of authority, it begins to feel as if something’s missing. It begins to feel like nothing’s at stake. Is there really nothing beneath Twisp other than a single carnal desire and an unhealthy fixation on some hyper-intelligent, white trash beauty?
I get the joke; teenagers crave sex, and in the alternate world of comedic novels, they’ll stop at nothing — from grand theft auto and the torching of a neighborhood to dosing acquaintances with pharmaceuticals — to get it. I doubt Payne needed 500 pages to tell it.
The book is nothing if not Nick Twisp’s. Payne’s diary construct beckons the reader into Twisp’s dingy head, to see the pain of adolescent life through his eyes. We get a reliable and thorough rendering of Twisp-world, for all its ugliness. Give credit — the novel’s tone never strays, the camera never wavers. When a moment threatens to pull Twisp’s character into untested depths, as in this conversation between the protagonist and his friend, Frank, the tired comedy voice wrests control and steers the protagonist back towards the safe, shallow end.
“Isn’t it scary being away from your parents? Not having, you know, security?”
“Sometimes it’s scary. But to tell you the truth, Frank, security seemed in short supply even when I lived with my parents. At least now I don’t have them telling me what to do.”
Youth failed to hold my attention. I’d be reading along, lose interest, and end up thinking about dinner or a different, much better book. Bad news for a novel whose only selling point is entertainment. It’s supposed to be a light read, popcorn for the reading stomach. Pretend for purposes of this review that Youth is an cops-n-robbers action movie; I found my mind wandering in “action,” shoot-out scenes as often as the “joshing with the partner over donuts in the squad car” or “lieutenant yelling about collateral damage” scenes. Not good.
Much like this review, the book wandered. It didn’t have an ending so much as it just stopped. Sure, Nick climbs the proverbial mountain, puts the sword into the stone and pulls it back out again, but — do we care?
Skip Youth. If you want a diary-style, looking-back, comedic coming-of-age story, read Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. Clarke can write a damn good sentence, create a believable set of characters to populate his vivid worlds, and doesn’t mind writing in a character his readers can empathize with. He knows pace, plot, and best of all, how to entertain.