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Eugene Weekly : Books : 5.24.07

Geeks, Girls and Garden Gnomes

Tales of love and independence

BY MOLLY TEMPLETON

There's a reason I Love You, Beth Cooper (Ecco, $19.95), Larry Doyle's new novel, is such a self-assured debut. Actually, there are a lot of reasons: The man's got a resume. He was an Emmy-winning writer for The Simpsons; had editor positions at Spy, National Lampoon and New York; and currently contributes to The New Yorker and writes Esquire's "The Doyle Report" column. Busy fellow. Funny one, too.

I Love You, Beth Cooper follows one hectic, madcap, violent, sexy, absurd night in the life of Denis Cooverman, valedictorian of Buffalo Grove High School's senior class, who blurts out the book's title phrase during his valedictory speech. As it turns out, Beth Cooper doesn't seem to mind this. Her home-from-the-Army boyfriend, on the other hand, minds quite a bit.

Doyle's book is much like the Cabriolet Beth drives during much of the bizarre night that follows graduation: Packed to the gills with strange happenings and constantly about to go off the road — though whether this would be a good or a bad thing depends on the given second. Each chapter begins with a cartoon image of the constantly abused Denis, while under his drooping face is a quote from a film, emphasizing how much I Love You, Beth Cooper has in common with teen comedies. Which is to say a lot. It's not other books featuring 18-year-old protagonists that come to mind when you're reading Doyle's novel (even if you read a lot of those); it's Can't Hardly Wait and Sixteen Candles and Rushmore and possibly even films you've never seen (just the title of Revenge of the Nerds is inevitably evoked). Doyle's characters are filled-out, familiar stereotypes, from Denis' over-literate bio geek to his possibly gay best friend to Beth Cooper, not exactly who Denis has always imagined her to be — and no angel. But then, Denis isn't exactly who he thought he was either. Lightning-paced and just shy of laugh-out-loud funny, Doyle's novel is like a mash note to all those films that depicted enjoyably unbelievable versions of adolescence — except he almost makes you believe.

The protagonist of Nick Mamatas' Under My Roof (Soft Skull Press, $12.95) is also too smart for his own good though he's a bit younger. Twelve-year-old Herbert Weinberg also has considerably larger problems than girls and their violent boyfriends: His out-of-work father has decided to build a nuclear device in a garden gnome, set it on the lawn and declare the family's house the nation of Weinbergia. Oh, and Herbert can read minds, which comes in pretty handy when your house is overrun with seceding hippie types and the Army is camped outside. Mamatas' satire, though it certainly has bite, is at times surprisingly sweet, largely because Herbert is such a winning character — an observant only child whose telepathy has, whether he likes it or not, made him wise beyond his years (a scene in which Herbert picks the image of internet porn out of a weatherman's head and immediately Googles it is pitch-perfect). Under My Roof takes place in a not-too-distant future where Canada is the "White Menace," the U.S. is embroiled in a couple dozen wars and mini-marts are as likely to break away from the country as independent-minded individuals. Much of the book's charm comes in its smallest details, which fill out Herbert's unusual, engaging story, and in Mamatas' dead-on, snippy commentary about everything from ghostwriters to corporate promotion to adult perceptions of kids. Though it may make you snort with laughter before it makes you think, Under My Roof has more heft than its small spine might suggest.

Suggested reading: Nick Mamatas' blog post about a freshman English class's reaction to Under My Roof, online at nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/953600.html

 

BOOK NOTES: Floyd Skloot reads from Patient 002, 7 pm 5/24, Knight Library, UO. Edward T. Haslam reads from Dr. Mary's Monkey, 7 pm 5/24, Tsunami Books. Suzanne Collins reads from Gregor and the Code of Claw, 7 pm 5/24, Powell's, Beaverton. Jack Malebranche reads from Androphilia: Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity, 7:30 pm 5/24, Powell's on Hawthorne, Portland. Michael D. Yates reads from Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate, 7:30 pm 5/29, Hilyard Community Center. Jennifer Belle reads from Little Stalker, 7:30 pm 5/30, Powell's on Burnside, Portland. Lauren Kessler reads from Dancing With Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's, 7 pm 5/31, Knight Library, UO. Alissa Lukara discusses and signs Riding Grace, 7 pm 5/31, Barnes & Noble. Keith Donohue reads from The Stolen Child, 7 pm 5/31, Powell's, Beaverton. Mark Lindquist reads from The King of Methlehem, 7:30 pm 5/31, Powell's on Hawthorne, Portland.

 

 


















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