I have always been suspicious of shy people. Being the opposite of shy myself, I never quite bought what I saw as an act. Even in high school, I often had the urge to shake a shy person and say, "Why don't you fucking say something?!" Shyness struck me as a kind of extreme laziness. After all, what could require less effort than being the only person in a room not speaking?
I also always assumed that shy people must hate me because I never stop talking. So, counterintuitively, when faced with them, I have usually gone out of my way to bring them out of their shell. I'll tell jokes and get loud and bounce around like a circus clown -- anything to get a reaction from them.
This behavior tends to frighten shy people, causing them to retreat further, which instigates greater hijinks on my part, and on and on. It's a vicious circle.
"Prep" proves me wrong entirely. Shyness isn't an act, and it's not a lazy trait. Rather, as evidenced by the book's heroine, it's labor-intensive and completely exhausting -- almost a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Consider Lee's inner monologue hastened by the mere thought of going on a date with a boy:
I was afraid of how even though I would put on lotion before I left the dorm, I'd feel like the skin around my mouth was peeling, and this suspicion would be another conversation under the one we were having, a continuous murmur that would rise in volume as we sat there. It would be demanding more of my attention, most of my attention, then almost all of it, and just before I went to the bathroom to check for sure (as if, thirty seconds after I came out of the bathroom, I wouldn't start wondering about the peeling all over again), I'd be tilting my head and shifting my chin to prevent him from looking at me straight on.
The entire book is like this. You might think that would make for unbearable reading, and it does, at times. Lee is not an entirely likable character. She's often petty and irritating and utterly self-absorbed. Yet there's something so real -- almost pure -- about her. We've all known teenagers like this. We've all been teenagers like this, even me sometimes. Sittenfeld captures adolescent angst to a degree not seen since "The Catcher in the Rye," a book to which "Prep" has been compared by many critics. I think it should be required reading in all high school Freshman English classes.
But as much as I enjoyed "Prep," it didn't have nearly the impact on me as Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," which was sent to me as a gift from my dear friend Tommy Raniszewski.
The lessons of "The Alchemist" are simple and straightforward to the point of being common sense. Yet there is something in Coelho's telling that makes you want to reevaluate your entire existence -- everything you've learned, everything you've done.
Homo philosophical. ♥
P.S. I'll be back at the Laugh Factory in L.A. this Friday night at midnight. And don't miss the next Hillcrest Comedy Show on Oct. 12. I'm hosting!