Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nothing is Terrible by Matthew Sharpe

Another rushed review by a bad library patron.

Nothing is Terrible is the story of Mary, an orphan sent to live with her uninterested uncle and aunt after her parents die in a car crash. From the opening sentence of the book in the prologue chapter called “I Die” we know things aren’t going to be easy sailing for Mary:

“’That girl isn’t normal, and neither is the boy,’ I overheard my uncle say to my aunt late on summer night…”

Her brother Paul is an invalid, sickly, yet overpowering and as Mary grows away from him and toward the outside world the tension of their interactions builds until a miraculous moment robs him of his power and ultimately his life. The ramifications for Mary make up the rest of the book. I really like the way Sharpe ties up the prologue and still somehow manages to capture the weirdness of when a child dies:

“This was his final puzzle, not a hard one. Then—at least this is the way I remember it—my brother became an idea.”

A little later sex intrudes as it does in its weird middle school way. The intrusion becomes life in a sadly humdrum tabloid way for Mary because of her remarkable and strange new teacher Skip Hartman. Sharpe tells it and doesn’t tell it in this way:

“The rest of the class, however, had joined Mittler [bully and emissary], and most of them had heard what he’d said, and what I’d said, and seen a few things they didn’t quite know how to see, and now they stood there, some of them staggering like people newly blind, as if they had used up all their eyesight looking at the strange pair of us. Skip Hartman took me by the elbow and led me to succor.”

So, an abandoned girl’s fantasy comes true, and a teacher in leather pants sees her as special, “loves” her and takes her away from her crappy life. Skip understands things about her no one else (even Mary herself) does (or tries to). They run off to New York and hide in a brownstone near Central Park.

“Sooner or later everyone finds a way to be mistreated. Some find it more easily than other: Skippy and I for example. But sometimes mistreatment is better than no treatment at all.”

And there it is, kids, the story of this book in that last sentence. Sharpe does a bunch of things to make this story flow, baldly exclaiming that no one knows the mind of a ten-year-old, really, dropped lines about people whose wishes come true, delicious details of new York life in the last decade and the body. He lets Mary grow up and rebel and get hurt and change and in fact, contrary to the exclamation of the first line of the book, she is normal, well, as normal as she can be. This is a feat in itself. The minor characters are great, something that comes through in his later books, which I plan on reviewing soon.

All in all I was swept away by the story and enjoyed seeing how Sharpe developed his premise and brought it to conclusion. Upon second reading the mechanics come through but I admired them, kinda like an English lesson where you are drunk and dancing the whole time.

What can I say? It’s time to receive my punishment from the tsking library staff.

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