Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Book Review: How I Paid for College

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit, I usually avoid the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story as a body of literature. I am nto sure why, as I certainly enjoy this genre of film, however the books are usually right out. Therefore it was with some trepidation that I approached Marc Acito's HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE. Even with the tantalizing subtitle of "A Novel of Sex, Theft, friendship & Musical Theater," I was somewhat leery of the novel. However I was completely caught up on my comic reading and was not in the mood for any of the other books on my night table, so I finally broke down and took it off the shelf.

HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is the story of how Edward Zanni spends his last year of high school before going away to college. As one of the Play People, or theater arts students, Zanni feels confined by the bedroom community in which he lives and is eager to escape to the wider world of Manhattan and Julliard. Edward's master plan for the rest of his life comes crashing down around his ears when his father remarriers and informs Edward that he will not pay for college if Edward does not major in business. Rather than buckle to his father's pressure, Edward and his friends rally and attack the problem like some sort of teenage A-Team. Thus they, and we, are launched into a year of, "...underage drinking, reckless driving, illegal drug use (on federal property), unlocking and entering, blackmail, fraud, forgery, and embezzlement, and...grand theft Buddha."

This novel presentad a unique problem for me. I want to convey my love of the novel and Acito's voice (how can you not love an author who, in his autobiographical coming-of-age story, has the protagonist say, "It's an autobiographical coming-of-age story-like there aren't enough of those already.") without falling into the trap of using cliches. I found this task FAR more difficult than I imagined. I devoured the novel in less than two days, and I was laughing the entire time. If hte completely outrageous, yet believable, situations the characters were getting into did not have me laughing, it was the characters' wry observational humor. Even with this veneer of humor, at the core of the novel is a very touching story of a boy becoming a man and learning a little something about life along the way. How could I share this with you without giving away some of the novel or resorting to hyperbolic language? I have picked up and put down this review several times since completing the novel. I was stuck with the description of Marc Acito as the gay Dave Barry floating around in my head, from both his website and the book, and it was a descriptor that I could not shake loose from my head. However this does not do Acito or his writing justice. He has the razor wit of Barry, but there is something more subversive to his character's observations on life and interaction with the world. Finally the lightbulb above my head flicked on and I finally found the perfect way to describe this book. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is a John Hughes film written by David Sedaris. Edward Zanni has all the panache of Ferris Bueller coupled with the loveable loserdom of the boys from Weird Science, and all of the other characters fit into roles that seem to be culled from the Hughes films of the '80s. Kelly, Edward's girlfriend, is the pretty dork girl. Paula, the slightly older, more worldly compatriot. Ziba plays the part of the mysterious beauty who hangs around the dorks for no apparent reason. There is Doug, the jock with the heart of gold, and Natie, the ridiculously smart social engineer who is initially an outcast amongst even the losers.

All in all I highly recommend HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE and I am really looking forward to the movie, with the rights having been bought by Laura Ziskin before the book even hit the street. Marc has shown me a world I wish I could inhabit for more than the 200 or so pages he shares with us.

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