Friday, December 4, 2009
Cannonball Read Entry #8: I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle
For the sake of Full Disclosure, I should probably mention straight off the bat that I didn't really get the typical high school experience: I went to a Catholic Private High School (whose graduates include Sam Roberts as well as two of the cast-members Royal Canadian Air Farce, if you happen to be one of the twelve people who watched that show.) The hallways were predominantly infested with upper-class white kids from good, shame-based households, and the entire population of kids who were black and/or Jewish could be counted on one hand.
Needless to say, if I ever describe High School as the best years of my life, by all means, take me out behind the shed and give me the Ol' Yeller treatment.
Which is probably why I enjoyed reading I Love You, Beth Cooper as much as I did. As someone who pretty much got the Baskin-Robbins taste-test of High School instead of the full scoop, I still found that it held a sort of fond, contemptuous familiarity. It's a book that celebrates the good side yet pretty much mercilessly mocks the golden cows of teenage existence.
The plot is a fairly standard coming-of-age fare: Adorkable hero Denis Cooverman declares his love for Beth Cooper (Spoilers!), then goes on a madcap adventure with her, his movie-quoting-possibly-gay-best-friend, and Beth's loyal sidekicks, the sarcastic Cammy and the bubble-headed Treece. Denis drinks beer, gets into a fist-fight, sneaks into the women's washroom, and flees frantically from Beth's big scary demon boyfriend.
If this all sounds like one big teeny-bopping amalgamtion of cliches...Well, that's probably because it is. And so what really? There really is something to be said about cliches. Sometimes you want the plain boy/girl to whip off their ugly glasses, become insta-hot and get the dream boy/girl. Sometimes you want the sassy up and comer to beat the big mean corporation. Sometimes you want the rag-tag team of ruffians to beat the douchey rich ones. Why? Because shit like this doesn't happen in real life. Pretty people date pretty people (or ugly people with money), the corporation will always beat the little guy, and the Yankees are still doing fairly well.*
But of course, cliches are fucking boring if that's all they're putting on the menu, and thankfully, Larry Doyle doesn't just dump a pile of Same Ol' Shit on your plate. The characters are remarkably fleshed out, the narrative so meticulously mapped out and the humour bone-dry. Beth herself is a thing of wonder: Despite her beauty and popularity, she has a surprisingly existential underside to her as well. She's accepted the fact that life for her has essentially ended, and that her highest ambitions don't really excel past mediocrity. Between that and her own family secret, she's an incredibly deep character really.
My only real problem with the book would probably have to be that Kevin, the antagonist of the book, is a homicidal lunatic and is portrayed as being a by-the-books military man. This is probably just me trying to find something negative to balance out the critical blowjob I just gave Doyle, but as someone with an aunt, an uncle and a cousin in the military, I was a bit miffed that our armed forces were little more than Machiavellian kill-bots.
But yes, one petty little argument aside, I loved pretty much everything about it. If it were a girl, I would totally invite it to my prom since same-sex dancing was seen as abominable sin in the eyes of our principal.