November 26, 2014

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In passing, she makes a feeble attempt to get a spot in the opening sequence for Al’s barbershop quartet. Neither Tammany nor the producer intend for this appearance to be anything more than a joke”€”they”€™ll be ironically contrasting the wholesome, nerdy Midwestern kids with the hip Gazm”€”but Al and his buddies think they”€™re going to be rock stars, and they don”€™t keep it a secret.

The rumor that the local kids are going to be video stars rips through their high school, and suddenly the friends”€™ laps are full of cheerleaders: “€œThe girls had landed like flies when the video guest shot became a possibility.”€

Within weeks Al himself starts acting like an insect, coldly turning away from the sweet and virtuous girl he had been courting before his tenuous rise to fame in favor of a popular, opportunistic beauty. Bloated with pride, he begins to act so callous toward the cheerleader that she becomes sympathetic by contrast, even as the consequences of their foolishness bear down on them.

This character development would seem oddly accelerated if it weren”€™t for the book’s music-hall stylization; in the event, it works as a glum satire of the smugly false promises of celebrity culture. We didn”€™t start forsaking the people around us for glowing pictures on a box when the smartphone was invented. Losing one’s humanity is a multigenerational project.


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