Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep

I heard about Prep by way of Arts Journal, Terry Teachout’s blog. I thought, gad another tiresome J D Salinger tome, this time written by a young woman. Oh no! Chick Lit! Before going into full bodice buster alert, I read what Terry had to say, putting the book on my list. Three months later I read and guess what? I loved Prep, and Curtis Sittenfeld, now a thirty-something I think, has written a fine book. She’s the new Jane Austen. Austen's country gentry morph into rich American High School kids. Curtis’s alter ego, Lee Fiora has wrestled a scholarship to a fancy private school on the East Coast. She thinks it’ll be really cool, but maybe she should have attended an Indiana high school and partied with her true peers. The rich aren’t like you and me said an author once.

So overachieving Lee at fourteen is overwhelmed immediately without mom and dad for a prop up. The kids are smart, rich and savvy, and they seem to have a cultural code written in invisible ink. Snafu after awkward embarrassment befalls our heroine and she is beaten down into a sniveling cracker eater. For the next four years, she over-analyzes every social move to the point of teen paralysis. In less weighty hands than Ms. Sittenfeld, Lee would be considered a boring navel gazer which is a step or two lower than a senseless slacker, but her gazing is so insightful and clever, though often wrong-headed, we wonder if her logic would overcome Socrates.

The title brings to mind the young adult market, but Prep is not for kids. You can put an R rating in those argyle socks, because Lee is so passive, the local heartthrob can pretty much write his own ticket on her ass. In the end, I’m paraphrasing Sittenfeld, high school is a golden opportunity of possibility, but adulthood: you are what you are.

I read the author interview included in the Random House Trade Paperback, 2005 and was surprised that Sittenfeld attended, nay, endorses the famous Iowa Workshop where she loved her teachers. How often do you hear that kind of thing, but between preppy school connection and workshop crony, obviously her work has gotten about. She says she is not a fan of precious prose with limp plotting. She’s kind of an old fashioned entertainer though I can assure you she writes beautifully. I hope to hear more from this rising star.

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