Archive for the ‘Rashomon’ Category

Barnes, Julian.  Talking It Over.  New York and Toronto: Knopf, 1991

A book by Barnes much earlier than Arthur and George (2006), this one reveals then a longstanding interest in narrative alternations.  Talking It Over is about a love triangle–about two men of apparently opposite character who’ve been friends since school, and the woman one of them meets and marries and then the other steals away.  These three are the alternating narrators.  The novel itself often makes claims to being a sort of Roshomon situation–the characters seeing and understanding the same events differently.  See for instance, the quote from Shostakovich’s autobiography: “He lies like an eye-witness” (222).  Also, while we’re getting their versions of events, we can’t particularly trust them because they are aware of the person who is recording their stories–and perhaps even have a glimmering that they are actually characters in that person’s novel.  One way or the other, their awareness of a storyteller they talk at allows for their misrepresenting what happened or how they felt about it even within their own narratives: this offers  no stream of consciousness interior view of their minds, only what they’re willing to share, which will inevitably be then privileged in terms of presenting just what they want someone else to know.   Indeed, this is often a subject, too.  Oliver says, e.g., that we remember only what we care to out of the vast range of possible details and events.  “I don’t remember.  I won’t remember.  Memory is an act of will, and so is forgetting” (16).

But in fact, the novel challenges that idea.  For one thing, it never really does work as a Roshomon story.  We don’t get different characters’ views of the same events; instead, we get each character telling us only what they choose to tell, and it often happens later that we discover they’ve kept things back, from each other and also from the person they’re talking to through it all–the novelist, perhaps?  Me?   As they “talk it over,” then, they become the novelists of their own fictions, fictions built on not particularly whole truths.   This is not a case of people interpreting the same events differently in terms of their differences of character, etc.; it’s a case of people creating, consciously, different versions of events that then hide more detailed and more complex truths.  In “talking it over,” they reinvent it, quite deliberately, in order to create musunderstandings in each other and in readers.  The ending involves a deliberate act of staging.

The central characters are the stolid bankerly Stuart, his more artistic friend Oliver, and Gillian, who moves from Stuart to Oliver.  Stuart is not quite so completely stolid and dull as Oliver imagines, and Oliver manages to keep things secret from Stuart also–they are neither as caricature a representative of the dulls vs. the artsies as they each imagine the other to be.  (Thus, Stuart claims that “I’ve always thought you are who you are and you shouldn’t pretend to be anything else.  But Oliver used to correct me and explain that you are whoever it is you’re pretending to be” (19)  Neither of these turns out to be true–Stuart does pretend (by leaving things out for both Stuart and readers) and Oliver is more (or perhaps sometimes, less) than he pretends to be.

And on the other hand, they both work hard to maintain those images for each other.  The last section of the involves Oliver, who throughout the novel actually struck me as an egocentric, wit-obsessed, cruel human being, quite unattractive and quite objectionable, getting the girl–perhaps a wish-fulfilment fantasy for the witty Julian Barneses of the world? On the other hand, however, maybe he;s lost the girl at the very end–or she has lost him.  And Stuart really is quite dull.  In the end, I guess, you have to feel sorry for the mysterious Gilliam for allowing either of them into her life.  And why she does so remains more or less blank: she prefers to keep it that way, it seems.  Indeed, a key expectation not ever met here is that she’ll end up explaining it all, offering insights into the other two that help to account for why things work out as they do.  But in fact, she says little about that, and ends up seeming merely passive, and easily led, and then she creates disaster, perhaps, when she does act   That also makes the story about the relationship between the two men, with Gillian thrown in as a sort of prize for them to fight over.  It’s about how they need to be opposite to maintain each other’s sense of self, and how that leads them into a peculiar competitiveness that governs all their behaviour–with perhaps, Gilian as the unwilling (or willing?) victim? Also, she loves a Stuart who is what he created for Oliver?  Or does she love the real man beyond that, and hate when he turns into the caricature? (Or, as she claims still love him–love them both?)   Annd I can ask the same questions about how she feels about Oliver–how does the caricature version impinge on her feelings for him, before and after she fall in love with him?

Gillian’s work as a picture restorer seems operative here–she removes a veneer to find a different picture underneath: does that happen in her relationships with the two men?  On the other hand, Oliver, as usual has an opinion about this: “”There is no real picture under there waiting to be revealed” (122))  and later, Gilliam makes a related significant comment: “”Stuart had his idea of what I was like, he’d decided upon it, and he didn’t want to hear anything different” (175).  So this is where life escapes from the confines of story, where what you’ve invented as your life isn’t adequate to account for expanded or changed facts. Stuart, ironically (?), is the one stuck in an imaginary reality that Oliver and Gillian move beyond?  Oliver turns out to be open to more possibilities, less stuck in a pretence.  The irony is that the stolid normal guy is the one stuck in an invented image.  He is less capable of the vulnerability of openness to other stories than the poseur who believes in posing.

The ending involves a stages scene (staged by Gillian for the benefit of a concealed Stuart who doesn’t know she’s staging it) that goes very wrong, and we’re left hanging as to the consequences.  Is Gillian finally on her own, without either of the two men?  Has she created a reality by pretending to it?  Or did her staging in fact work as she’d intended?

All of that merely suggests that I’m somewhat confused by, and about, this novel.  All I know for sure is that the alternating narratives (and the fact that they’re addressed consciously to an audience) are a key operative part of everything, and a way of moving towards a clearer understanding.  Structure, then, and focalization, are a key to meaning–what the novel is about is how different stories by and about people can be compared in order to understand more.

Why does Gillian’s mother suddenly appear as a narrator, 145 pages in?  Because the events of her life–a husband who leaves her for a school girl–might have made Giulian seek the apparent safety of Stuart?  that would imply a  fairly trivial and over-obvious explanation for her, a cheap way of filling in then novel’s blanks.  And then on old girlfriend of Stuart appears (183), and some pages later, Stuart and Oliver, as narrators now in a narrative space rather than the people they narrate about in a story space, gang up and push her out of the novel.  All this offers a  sense of allowing for messy possibilities beyond the rigidity of the three alternators, an openness to more stories than just the ones we appeared to have already settled on?  A sudden change of a regular pattern like this would never, I think, appear in a children’s or YA novel, where pattern and regularity tend to be everything, even in the midst of innovation and complexity.

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Pratchett, Terry.  Nation.  London: Doubleday, 2008.

Nation is most interesting (in the context of my alternating narratives project) as a very messy version of the alternating narrative novel.  There are, yes, two central characters whose points of view alternate throughout the book.  They are, yes, representative of apparently opposite groups or cultures.  They do, yes, turn out to be surprisingly similar under their apparent difference, and they do, yes, find themselves united as a new community against people who represent the two older communities they are supposed to be members of.  Thus far, all as is might be expected in a conventional alternating narrative novel for young people, complete with the expectable themes about the importance of tolerance for otherness and the sanctity of individual character and individual empathy beyond the stultification of conformity.

But all that happens in the midst of other, less formulaic things happening.  There is, every once in a while, another focalized character or narrative section involving characters other than the central two–and that seems to happen whenever the novelist needs it to in order to move the plot forward or make something happen that couldn’t happen within the narrower confines of a strict adherence to the alternating pattern.  And there are also many elements introduced that seem to move far beyond the expectable thematic territory mapped out by the basic alternating narrative structure: a kind of free-flowing thematic ebullience that introduces the forgotten history of the island group as a once-world-dominating culture, perhaps as a way of raising questions about what’s primitive and what’s valuable; and also, a lengthy exploration of what faith means and what the consequences of losing it are; and also again, a theory of alternative universes that both accounts for the book’s divergences from known geography and becomes itself a thematic exploration of ideas of choice.  And so on.  It’s clear that Pratchett’s conception of what this book might be about is a lot more complicated than its more immediately obvious structural elements might imply–and that he has a liberating lack of concern for moving away from those elements when the drift of the book moves him that way.  It’s bravely anarchic, then–except not really, for I’m convinced it all makes sense and fits together in a subtler way. that creates a less obvious and more complicated pattern.  And in being that and doing that, it reveals how constricting the alternating narrative form can be, and how tightly and restrictively so many other novels make use of it.  What appears on first glance to be daringly complex in the context of literature for young people-the use of alternating narratives or alternating focalizers–is in fact as heavily formulaic as that literature most often is, with few exceptions as bravely tending to free form as Nation does.

In terms of the basic central alternators, Nation has a lot to say about cultural difference that isn’t particularly surprising.  The two central characters are Mau, a boy who is, after a tsunami,  the last surviving member of a people who have been the inhabitant on an island in the South Pacific, known in the alternate universe of this novel as the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean), and Daphne, an English girl whose father is 139th in line for the throne of England until a plague kills them all and makes him king, and who ends up shipwrecked on Mau’s island.  To begin with, the two are the only living people on the island; but as the alternating sections that focalize them reveal, both have their heads full of the patterns and constrictions and demands of their cultures.  His head is full of the grandfathers’ his dewad ancestors’  voices making demands of him to do as has always been done, hers of the intricate systems of repressive etiquette and class assumptions that her education has provided her.  These two systems of repressive communal values are then seen in relation to each other, their apparent differences (and the one’s understanding of the other as foolish superstition or incomprehensible silliness) undermined in the obvious parallels between them).

As a result of the alternations, readers are able to see the two characters understanding the same situations quite different’y, and understanding each other quite incorrectly.  There’s a kind of Rashomon affect, then, as two differing versions of the same event can each be seen through in terms of a reader’s knowledge of the alternative version.  Here that’s used for comedy more often than not, especially in terms of how the non-English misunderstand Daphne’s behaviour as a representative of a culture most readers are likely to be more familiar with, and how, on the other hand, contemporary readers can appreciate the absurdity of Victorian English customs and manners as perceived by the non-English characters.

But the tsunami has separated these two from the old ways, which no longer make any sense.  They must, then, move beyond them–and in doing so, not surprisingly, find themselves capable of behaviour that previously would not have been allowed them, find themselves liking it–and find themselves developing what is for them, if not for readers accustomed to this form, a surprising amount of empathy for and understanding of each other.  And as more survivors land on the island, they begin to form a new nation whose values emerge from their new situation and represent modifications and combinations and re-inventions of the old ways–and also, to a certain extent, a Terry Patchett version of of an improvisational, free-formed utopia.   It’s interesting, in terms of patterns and variatons, that there are extreme representatives of both the repressiveness of each of the cultures (the grandfathers and an old priest for one, Daphne’s the impossibly arrogant grandmother for the other) and the most unconstrained of its members (evil sailors for one, evil cannibals for the other)–and all meet their counterparts at the end, and are conquered by the improvisational but not ever anarchic new middle ground.

(Furthermore, this thematic focus on improvisational moves past repressive patterning, etc., nicely justifies the messiness of the novel’s structure along with its use of conventional alternatng narrative, so that its both imprivational and somewhat traditional.  it is itself a version of the central values of the new nation it describes, and repsents a similar compromise between two extremes of order and anarchy.)

Meanwhile, Mau and Daphne find themselves a new team together against the prejudices and constrictions of each of their backgrounds, and so there’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet thing happening also–and one that ends, surprisingly here in the context of a novel for young adults, in the traditional fashion: the loves are ot together.  She must return home to help her father rule his people, he must stay to rule his, so that their duty to their individual communities (and more importantly, to the new values they have forged together and want to keep afloat), trumps their feelings for each other.

I’m not sure what to think about the long history of Mau’s people that’s uncovered in their descent into the cave of dead ancestors.  It works to reinforce the equality of his supposedly primitive people and her supposedly more civilized people; but it does so by giving them a history of scientific rational knowledge and world travel that makes them sound a lot like the European colonizers of actual history, as if to imply that that sort of knowledge and that sort of world-encompassing culture is indeed a superior one.  On the other hand, it happened and is now over, its superiority forgotten as the current European one will be also?

One way or the other, this is a rich, ambiguous, funny, serious, thought-provoking novel, a pleasure to read and a pleasure to think about and still feel uncertain about because there’s still more yet to think about.

Mayne, William.  Drift.  1985.  Bath: Lythway-Chivers Press, 1986.

From the perspective of twenty years later, this is a dangerously and foolishly brave book.  The last third of it is from the perspective of a character who is both female and aboriginal–in 1985, clearly, Mayne had no qualms whatsoever about either writing from the viewpoint of a female or writing from the viewpoint of a person of a racial background different from his own.  Furthermore, he insists on the otherness of this character:  Tawena’s narrative is all about how the other narrator, Rafe, whose narrative occupies in the first two-thirds of the book, is stupidly unaware of how the world operates, how to survive in the woods, what anything around him means, etc.  She knows and he doesn’t–and we, as readers who presumably share the language and something like the heritage of Rafe, are then seriously othered by her, ignorant of what she knows to be true and what the novel seems to support as being true (by allowing her to survive in the wilds she knows so well while Rafe barely manages to keep alive), forced to acknowledge her as starkly different from who we are and what are own prejudices of the world might be.  Also, her speech is always recorded as painfully broken English, even though we are told she has lived most of her life in the white man’s village,which also others her.  She comes across as distinctly non-human–stupid about things like grammar and personal hygiene that we are taught to value (Rafe objects to her smelling of the fat she disgustingly eats)–but on the other hand, more than human, wiser and more in tune with the world she lives in, a force of nature and a force who can operate in tune with nature, unlike the unfortunate, stupid European boy who doesn’t know how.  Ironically, in seeming more and better than him, and because he is clearly more like the readers the book invites and implies, she comes across as less human.  This is a version of the stereotype of the noble savage, which undercuts the shared humanity of aboriginal people by insisting on their superiority to merely normal European mortals.

That Mayne’s aboriginals lack humanity is reinforced by the fact that they are never identified as anything other than “Indian” throughout the book–there belong to no specific nation, and no specific locale is identified, and even Tawena thinks of herself as generically “Indian.”  There might be geographical clues of something more specific : a high falls the characters walk behind, for instance, and a large lake, and a snowy winter; and there are references to Maneto, a supernatural being, and to apparently native names like “Sagastao,” which might be related to the traditional Algonquin culture, at least, a Google search suggests, as depicted in books by Egerton Ryerson Young, who was a missionary to Canadian native groups in the nineteenth century, and who surely represented a dangerously biased and old-fashioned sort of authority even twenty years ago when Mayne published this novel.  Young referred to Maneto and Sagastao by these unusual spellings in his books.  After a quick search, I can’t find any reference to the idea, key as an explanation as to why Tawena behaves as she dies, that Tawena has not had her cheeks cut in the traditional way because she was not born in a time when there were too many girls and her mother allowed her to live rather than killing her as she was supposed to.  (Tawena might have been the name of a male Indian chief in what’s now Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century, and is the name of a Fiji island, so it seems at least suitably exotic.) In any case, Mayne may have done some rather inadequate and out-of-date research, but he is very vague about it in the resulting book.  He seems more significantly to have invented his own version of aboriginality here than to have recorded anything authentic.

As an alternating narrative, Drift is interesting in that it offers a report of events as Rafe, the European boy experiences them for the first two-thirds or so of the book.   At to that point, nothing alternates, and readers have only his understanding of how the Indian girl is behaving, why she takes him out of the village to see a bear, how they end up in an ice-fishing shack and then drifting in the lake, how he is captured by two Indian women and made to spend the long winter with them.  Indeed, for a long time he thinks Tawena is dead.  It’s only when she is suddenly introduced after the Indian women return him home and we get her version of the preceding events that we learn she has faked the death, arranged things so that the Indian women would look after him without knowing about her (she would be anathema to them without the cheek-cuts, it seems) and bring him home.

A set-up like this does two things very clearly.  First, it’s clearly a version of the Rashomon phenomenon.  After Tawena’s viewpoint is suddenly introduced and Rafe’s is then dropped, it becomes clear that what readers had no choice up to this point but to accept as true is only one version of the events–and an inadequate one at that.  As a neophyte in the wild and in the control of two women whose language and culture and values he does not understand, Rafe, it turns out, has misunderstood almost everything, from why the women are keeping him (he thinks they will sell him as a slave, but they just plan to return him home in return for a reward) to Tawena’s fake death.  He has been completely unaware that she has been accompanying him secretly for most of the trip and watching out for him, and while she acknowledges that he has learned something of the ways of the wilds, she certainly never shares his own sense that he has become expert in them.  For her, he is always and eternally a white man and basically incapable.

And that suggests the other thing that happens here, and that sort of undercuts the Rashomon-like feeling.  Because Tawena’s version follows Rafe’s and corrects it, his ends up seeming less true than hers.  There is no equality of inaccuracy here,  and finally, no sense of truth being sadly unavaliable.  She understands way more than he does of what happens to him, and he understands way less of her than she does.  There an ironic undermining at work, then, and the main thrust of the novel as a whole is to subvert Rafe’s viewpoint, and thus, subvert European ideas of wisdom and superiority.  Once more, aborginality is truer and better–and at the end, when Rafe’s mother refuses to accept that Tawena has saved him and warns her son against associating with these always dangerous aliens, the ironic undercutting is severe–and even more sever when Rafe has trouble recognizing Tawena when she returns his knife at the end–she is not so fat, and all Indians look alike?–and at the end of the novel, we are told, he is not sure whether or not he ever sees her again.  So his blindness and ignorance is confirmed–and while she interprets an encounter with what seems clearly described for knowing readers as a tornado as a meeting with the Wendagoo, spirit of mischief and devourer of human flesh, that seems a relatively minor blindness for readers to see through.  Rafe is the only truly dumb one.

For a writer of European background like Mayne writing for what must surely be conceived of as an audience of primarily children who might be more likely to relate to Rafe than to Tawena, that seems to represent a substantial degree of self-loathing and encouragement of readers’ self-loathing.  There’s something surprisingly Swiftian going on here, something darkly satiric–and something that makes use of a fairly pseudo form of aborginality primarily to critique non-aborginals, without any commitment to authenticity or to the possibility of an actual aboriginal audience.  Daring, but, as I said, dangerous and foolish and deserving of much criticism.  Completely imaginary Houyhnhnms seem a wiser choice to accomplish what Swift did and Maybe appears to have wanted to accomplish here.

Drift, like so many other children’s books by non-aborginals with alternating narratives, alternates an aboriginal characrer and a white one, makes the dispute between their cultures central, and makes its version of aboriginality nobler and more desirable than mainstream European values.

Myracle, Lauren.  ttyl. 2004.  New York:  Amulet, 2006.

This novel purports to be the transcripts of IM conversations among three 10th grade girls, who are best friends.  I say “purports” because, when I picked it up, I thought I’d be undergoing an experience in linguistic strangeness.  I’ve never IMed, and I understood it used a whole special jargon of short forms–as the title implies (I had to look it up to find out it means “talk to you later”). But it turned out i was wrong–apart from a few cute IM terms here and there, most of the conversation is written out in complete grammatical sentences–and accurately spelled, too, except for one conversation in which one of the girls has had a drink.  It’s hard to believe these three young girl could be such perfect typists–but I guess you have to sacrifice verisimilitude for comprehensibility.

The novel doesn’t really qualify as an example of alternating narratives, because the conversations it reports all involve the girls interacting, usually in pairs and sometimes in a chatroom all together.  In some ways it works more like a play than a novel, except that unlike a theatre audience, readers know only what the girls write and have little evidence in the way of facial expressions, etc., to help make their actual feelings or meanings clear.  In this way, the IMs recorded here are accurately like the real ones on the internet.  They purport to represent real people and feelings, but readers are mostly left with the need to trust; the writings may not represent real feelings, or even the actual writers that they purport to emerge from.

ttyl plays around with that ability to misrepresent and the resulting feelings of readerly insecurity now and then.  There’s one place where one of the girls pretends to be her own mother to successfully freak out the friend with whom she’s sharing confidences, and there another where one of the girls worries about how “real” they may or may not be:  “it made me start wondering how much other ppl r just images they made up, like maybe ppl lie about all kinds of things–how would we ever know?” (68).  There’s also, not often but every now and then, reminders that these IMs are not the whole story–that these girls have also interacted at school or on their phones, or even that they are simultaneously having IM conversations with other friends that readers don’t get in on.  If this is the truth about them and their relationships, it;s only the partial truth.

Nevertheless, the overall effect seems to subvert the possibilities for uncertainty.  What emerges for readers is a very clear sense of who these girls are.  They all agree on each other’s inherent characteristics, for instance, and so apparently, as they report, do their parents and other friends, so despite claims to uncertainty there is no question about who they really are and what really matters to them.  And readers who notice such things can fairly easily see that they are all in parallel situations, that each of the three have allowed another person not in the group to manipulate them and try to take advantage of them, in ways that they need to see through and move beyond–something they each eventually do with the help of the other two.   One falls for a boy who is playing around with another girl at the same time, one gets involved with a fairly young and religious-minded teacher who nevertheless seems willing to take sexual advantage of her, and the third wants to be friends with an in-group girl who happily takes advantage of her.   This is so obviously thematic and schematic that it’s hard to feel any uncertainty about it–the book is ever so clearly about characters who are readily understood, who accurately understand each other, and whom readers who are paying attention can have little doubt about understanding.

It interesting, then, that almost all books that represent writing by characters and especially written exchanges between character, play on questions of truth–but that often in writing for young people as happens here, the possibilities of uncertainty tend to be subverted by the structural and thematic conventions of the genre.  As in P.J. Peterson and Ivy Ruckman’s rob&sara.com and to some extent in Chris Anastassiades and Sam Carroll’s Noah and Saskia, which also both involve computer conversations, where people hold back information but turn out to be nice trustworthy people nevertheless, their writing accurately representing their sincerity despite the distortions of factual truth, etc. in it.  Writing is a way to lie but also, paradoxically  and more importantly, an expression of inner truth, a soul laid bare.   There’s an optimism about that that leads to the happy endings we expect of children’s and YA fiction.

The other thing that a book like this makes clear is how questions of truthfulness are key to the whole phenomenon of alternating narratives, which centrally has to do with revealing through comparison how different people represent themselves differently to themselves and each other.  All texts with alternating narratives, then, and especially those involving alternating focalizations through the points of view of different characters (as tends to happen even in IM conversations), have the potential to turn into versions of Rashomon.

Kerry Mallan discusses ttyl in “Space, Power and Knowledge: The Regulatory Fictions of Online Communities” International Research in Children’s Literature 1.1 (Jul 2008): 66-81, available online.  Mallan says, “This paper extends Donna Haraway’s notion of ‘regulatory fictions’ to young people’s participation in online communities. I argue that online communities produce a range of discursive practices and expectations, which attempt to constitute young people in particular ways. By combining recent empirical work on young people’s participation in online communities with the representation of Internet culture in young adult literature, this paper examines how participation, both real and represented, involves young people in a negotiation of complex networks of space, power, and knowledge. The discussion highlights how these networks are shaped by regulatory practices, protocols, and politics. The paper posits that new technologies are contributing to the emergence of a new social paradigm, one that offers young people possibilities for construction of multiple identities and social networks. The empirical work derives from a current Australian Research Council grant. The primary texts examined are Destroying Avalon (2006) by Kate McCaffrey and ttyl (2004) by Lauren Myracle.”

Koss, Amy Goldman.  The Girls.  2002.  New York: Scholastic, 2002.

The five girls are a clique, built around the most popular and demanding girl, Candace.  The others always do as they believe she wants–but since she always cleverly manages to suggest what she wants rather than actually saying it, and because the girls are all so fearful of her that they work desperately to figure out exactly what her wishes are and make that happen, the results are never her fault.  The five girls tell in turn what they experienced in the past tense (there’s no clear sense of an audience, just the stories being told as stories but to no particular hearer), and as they do so,  readers get to know that their apparent community is rife with endless tensions.  Without admitting it to the others, each of the other four is fearful of the queen bee, Candace, and each thinks she is alone in her fear and confusion.  Readers, then, privy to all their separate thoughts and feelings, know more about the actual dynamics of the group than anyone in it does–another version of the soap opera dynamic, where the issue is, will they realize what we know before it is too late.  They do, of course, eventually figure it out, as readers, in the role Tana Modleski identifies as the soap opera viewer-mom who empathizes but is unable to actually interfere and say what she knows, are invited to cheer them all on.

It’s instructive that this doesn’t actually seem to work as I’ve come to expect multiple (more than three or four, say) alternating narrators.  It isn’t the most obvious version of that kind of story, where a bunch of separate individuals either come together into a community (Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolk, perhaps, or Judith Clark’s One Whole and Perfect Day), or alternately, a bunch of separate individuals are, unbeknownst to each other, already in a community and affecting each other’ lives (Fleischman’s Seek).  Instead, it’s about people who believe they are a community, but each is unaware of the individual tensions of others that pull against the enforced togetherness (although aware of her own).  In other words, it’s the opposite problem–not that individual are actually a community but don’t know it or haven’t achieved it yet, but instead, a community is actually separate individuals but don’t know it or haven’t achieved it yet.  The obvious result should be that the individual come to their senses and the community falls apart–and in a sense that does happen here.  But not quite: as the girls in turn to choose to act on their feelings, they actually form a new community–one built around reconnecting with the girl whose forced exclusion was the device that began the plot, but more a community of equals–and the former leader is excluded (or simply dropped because they knew she’ll drop them, but hey, let’s look on the bright side)–although as the ending makes clear, with a new admirer and all ready to start the same old behaviour but with a different bunch of girls.

Indeed, what’s most enterprising here is just that–that this nasty girl doesn’t actually change.  Even more more interesting, she doesn’t seem to be equipped with the self-awareness to change.  The passages presenting her thoughts are most noteworthy because she never even seems conscious of the nasty tricks she’s in the process of perpetrating.  She either completely takes them for granted and so they aren’t worthy of thought, or else she’s not even herself conscious of them.  The best she can do is think of these girls as hangers-on she has to deal with and manage, with a great deal of impatience (she is, then, a confident egoist; the others are equally self-centred but far less assured about how to go about getting what they want.  Indeed, as with so much recent YA, egocentricity seems to be a given–and that leads to intriguing manipulations around the idea of community: how d basically self-centred people form communities.  Here, the girls have to think about others just long enough to get what they really want, which is the comfort of a group that doesn’t challenge your right to be self-centred).

In any case, this book is a really fascinating case of a sort of Rashomon syndrome–this girls’ version of the events of the story is totally different from the others, because she understands herself in a way quite different from the way shared by all the other girls–and not just because her characters has a different set of obsessions that shape her views of herself and others, but because she truly sees the world, and herself acting in it, in a totally different way.   At one point, she even says of her family, “Why did no one ever see what I saw, or feel what I did?  didn’t they get it?” (34).  What matters hugely to the others doesn’t even seem to enter her mind.  What Koss manages to do most cleverly, I think, is to distinguish this girl’s self-centredness from that of all the others–make her a villain and the others sympathetic characters.  And I think it happens mainly because she has no obvious insecurity, no apparent awareness of why it’s wrong to take advantage of those weaker than yourself, and no guilt.  she is finally a kind of sociopath–as perhaps the others would be, too, if they weren’t so insecure about everything.