A college couple blab incessantly in this garrulous coming-of-age novel.
Rachel Shepherd and Virgil Cantwell, students at a Texas university, have a lot to discuss. Their friend Zach is in a coma after being stabbed in the neck with a pair of pencils by an unknown assailant, an assault that may be connected to the shooting death of a Mexican boy. They talk about their dysfunctional families, rife with untimely death, suicide, alcoholism, child molestation, a wicked stepfather and miscellaneous debauchery. (Rachel and her father and sisters once walked in on her mother having lurid lesbian sex with a nurse at an old-folks home.) They discuss literature, art and philosophy. A bookish, religiose lad, Virgil regales Rachel with exegeses of Paradise Lost, The Catcher in the Rye and the Bible, sparking discussions of causality and knowledge, good and evil and whether Christ’s mission required blood sacrifice. They talk about their class assignments, their cats, what video to rent and what pizza toppings to order. They talk about Virgil’s fetish of having Rachel sit on his face, which, once enacted, becomes an intermittent conversation-piece. They talk about the weather. While they’re talking–over 150 pages consist of non-stop dialogue, rambling from one aimless conversation to another over several months of their developing relationship–the Zach-related mysteries abruptly solve themselves, with moral implications that Virgil and Rachel continue debating until the book runs out of pages. Dickson has an all-too-perfect ear for the intimate yet grating language of undergrads: â€œ â€˜It’s the scientific community that’sâ€¦convinced that there’s only one way of knowing: their simple-minded way, but they’re wrong, dead, dumb-ass fucking wrong!’ ” He probably also understands how most of it is mundane banter about personal topics that are of little interest to third parties–readers, alas, included.
Absent a compelling narrative, an intelligent viewpoint and stern editing, the novel’s naturalistic dialogue is so much hot air.