A teenaged actor’s quest for Juilliard tuition and a steady girlfriend—or boyfriend, whatever.
Insouciantly overcoming the handicap of being described as “the gay Dave Barry,” columnist Acito proves himself worthy of whatever praise people may want to throw his way with his first novel. His kid-with-promise is high school senior Edward Zanni, a somewhat pudgy and extremely theatrical lad from Wallingford, New Jersey, a place he can’t stand: “I find the term ‘bedroom community’ sort of sexy,” he comments, “but it probably just means that not much else happens in Wallingford beyond sleeping.” Edward dreams of escaping to Juilliard, after which he can become a famous actor and pointedly forget to mention certain people in his Oscar acceptance speech. Because of a near-nervous breakdown during his Juilliard audition, interpreted as incredible acting by the staff, Edward actually gets in; the only problem is that his fascist stepmonster has convinced his dad not to pay for college, meaning he’s got to come up with, oh, about $10,000—and that’s in 1983 dollars. Fortunately for Edward, he’s got a mélange of misfit friends who are pretty devoted to him and have a knack for lies, theft, and blackmail, none of which they hesitate to use on Edward’s behalf. The actual story of gathering money for the tuition only really starts up at the book’s halfway point; until then Acito is mostly just hanging around (quite enjoyably) inside Edward’s pinball-machine head, limning the absurdities of early ’80s suburban life, and having a lot of fun with Edward’s bisexual confusion. (He’s attracted to both his girlfriend and the football player that she’s not so secretly smitten with.) This approach has the added advantage of keeping the attention off the admittedly silly plot and more on Acito’s memorable, warmly described characters. The outsider edge to the proceedings here never devolves into snobbishness and keeps the free-form story humming hilariously along.
High school as it should have been.