WHAT EVER by Heather Woodbury


A Living Novel
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Wildly diverse characters muddle their way through 1990s America, for reasons unknown to the reader.

Previously presented as a stage piece in the mid-1990s, this is a mélange of dialogue-driven scenes that purports to be a novel but really comes down to, well, a play in loosely novelistic form. The characters are often ranters—from Violet, the Upper East Side octogenarian, to Bushie, a Hell’s Kitchen whore, to Polly, a white Virginia housewife pursuing an affair with a black man—and none is terribly eloquent or interesting. Violet is a slight exception to this rule, having a brassy broad’s gumption that serves her scenes well, even though she’s often speaking about nothing in particular to one of the people in her life (friend, maid, waiter at the diner where she’s a regular). Among the West Coast characters, the most interesting is Skeeter, a young rave kid who’s hitch-hiking across the country to see various relatives and who’s in love with two raver girls, Sable and Clove. All three are afflicted with egregious California accents (Woodbury, being an accent aficionado, tries to render them as realistically as possible), which gives their scenes a light sprinkling of comedy that relieves (a bit) the tedium of what they do (or don’t do). With her references to the Christian right and certain pop-culture notations (Clove claims to be visited by Cobain the Friendly Ghost after seemingly attempting to drown herself in the ocean), not to mention her fixation on getting every character’s manner of speaking down just right, Woodbury seems to be attempting to chronicle a slice of Americana, circa 1994–95. Likely it would all have been more enthralling on stage, listening to the different slang and hearing all the regional dialect variations, but on the page it just lies there, motionless and without drama.

An odd and unaffecting mid-1990s relic that would have been better as a treatise on modern American slang.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-571-21172-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2003