As you know, I sent you a text earlier today with an autocorrect error. My phone changed the title Skippy Dies to Sloppy Dies. This turns out to be somewhat appropriate freudian slip courtesy of my iPhone. Skippy Dies is a big ol' mess.
This book weighs in at a hefty 661 pages. I'm a fast reader. I like reading. I'm not intimidated by long books. 500+ pages of Harry Potter, or Civil War history, or a novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII and I'm there. But 661 pages of a book where I already know the ending? This is a problem. Not only does the title of the book reveal the ending (hey, does Skippy DIE? No shit!), but in case I missed it or was hoping it was a metaphor, there's a prologue which outlines 14 year old Skippy's tragic death at the donut shop.
It's not all awful. There are genuinely funny scenes, I have laughed out loud several times. I have even posted some of the more funny lines to my Facebook status. For example, at one point Skippy is sent to the school counselor, a priest. Father Foley happens to be deaf, so he can't really understand what Skippy is saying to him. He lectures Skippy while occasionally stopping to ask a question. He asks Skippy what he's been feeling lately. Skippy's response is to mumble something about his thoughts, which Father Foley isn't able to hear. But he hears enough to think, "Did he say thoughts? It sounded like he said something about thoughts. Well, well. The pieces begin to fall into place. The disappeared ambition, the blank stare, the sociopathic attitude, the constant twitching---Puberty, we meet again" (411). I literally laughed out loud when I read this. I've spent a good part of my life surrounded by 13 year olds. Trust me when I tell you this line is hilariously on the mark. And, let it be known that after reading this book, I will literally never be able to read The Road Not Taken the same way again. Ever.
My problem is that there is too much going on in this book but without enough payoff. There are multiple narrators: Skippy, his friends, his enemies, his teachers, their friends, their enemies, the principal, etc. It's overwhelming. It is a book desperately in need of a good editor.
I feel determined to finish this book, although I don't really know why. After all, I know what will happen. The dramatic irony is keeping me from fully engaging with the characters. It's not creating the pleasant buzz of: Oh, no, Skippy don't do that! Instead, I feel distant from Skippy and his problems: Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about that girl you like, Skippy. After all, you're going to die. This is wasted angst. It's going nowhere!
One last observation. In the Tournament of Books, Skippy Dies faces A Visit From the Goon Squad in its first match up. They are similar in some ways, especially the multiple points of view and the layers of information revealed through the structure. However, Goon Squad is as tight as a drum. Nothing feels extra. It's controlled and deliberate and it should crush Skippy in round one. Maybe Skippy will recover, and I'll let you know. But right now, I'm limping across the finish line. Of course, since I'm only on page 435, that finish line is nowhere near as close as I would like.