A Minneapolis mom unstrung by her rebellious 15-year-old’s flight from home imagines in detail her daughter’s experiences in a drug-inflected nowheresville populated by adolescent dropouts.
That’s the premise of this labored first novel from the author of the well-received debut story collection Short People (2003). If you buy it, you’ll probably be moved by the plight of aforementioned mom Julia, who’s chronically depressed, in and out of hospitals and drug therapy, at tearful odds with her primly dictatorial husband Robert, still mourning the suspicious death of her brilliant and beautiful older sister Sarah when both girls were teenagers. Julia’s renegade daughter Cheryl is harder to care about, because she talks like a bit player whose scenes were cut from Rebel Without a Cause or The Blackboard Jungle, while hanging with politically (and otherwise) naïve “revolutionaries,” sampling every controlled substance offered her and juggling sexual partners among the Lost Children who congregate in a festering “Dinkytown” beyond suburbia, and at the eponymous “café,” a grungy coffee shop. Flashbacks to both Cheryl’s combative time at home and Julia’s self-destructive past scarcely relieve tedium bred by the novel’s present actions, typified by Cheryl’s moonstruck reaction to new “boyfriend” Trent (“This…guy was a dick, but he was reckless and charismatic”) and more tender moments shared—as if she were Natalie Wood consoling morose Sal Mineo—with younger teen Jarod, notable primarily for calling his adopted stray puppy “Dog” and his clueless, unbalanced mother “ho-bag.” One understands that Furst intends all this to be taken seriously, but the novel is such an egregious mishmash of Kerouacian sentimentality and exhibitionist nihilism that it’s all but impossible to believe a moment of it.
Bad stuff from start to finish. The author of Short People can do better than this.