James is eighteen, works at his mother’s gallery in New York, and is trying to worm his way out of going to Brown in the fall. Why? He prefers the idea of buying a nice old house out in a ‘quiet’ state, and not being around other people his own age. James finds people generally say obvious things ‘and then they repeat it about thirteen times’. His sister Gillian is studying linguistics and is particular about her name being pronounced with a hard G. His mother’s honeymoon in Vegas has failed, with her new husband betraying her on their first night away. James is young, but he is weary.
I often forgot that this understated, mature and often sly novel was meant to be YA. The voice of being ‘unsure’, was assured, if that makes sense, and you had a feeling that James will never feel quite right in any social situation – that he will continue to run away, backchat, play tricks, and swear preference to being alone.
James did experience something majorly traumatic a few years before (as did much of New York in close range) but you get the sense that it only confirmed or enhanced his burgeoning negative feelings about people and the world, rather than sparking them.
James’ grandmother, or Nanette, is the only one he truly feels comfortable around, and is sometimes the only one he’s got. Although a few times he mistakes connection with others, to be left disappointed.
This novel is quiet, there are no bells and whistles. It is occasionally beautiful. James watches a couple on the street:
‘Something about watching them made me sad. I think it was too lovely: the summer night, the open-toed shoes, their faces rapt with momentarily tamped-down joy. I felt I had witnessed their happiest moment, the pinnacle, and they were already walking away from it, but they did not know it.’