The Rumpus Book Club: Blogging Citrus County #2
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Welcome to the continuing Rumpus Book Club Blog, where a Rumpus contributor reads the book of the month and regularly blogs about his or her reactions. It’s the first move in a conversation that we want you to join. Today, Rumpus Film editor Jeremy Hatch reacts to Part One of Citrus County, and links to another blog discussing the book. Beware: major spoilers beyond the cut!
Since just about everybody seems to have had copies in hand for a few days now, and I hope you’ve found some time over the weekend to read part if not all of the book, I thought today was a good time to talk a bit about Part One. I read it on Saturday in a bit of a hallucinatory rush — just as I had hoped would happen, and just as happened with Arkansas, I got immediately absorbed in the text and didn’t even notice the passing of two or three hours. Thankfully, I remembered the sunblock.
On the first pages we meet Toby, who, as one commenter pointed out, immediately makes an unfavorable impression — he litters, and when an obnoxious child points out the fact, Toby responds by saying “Your mom doesn’t love you as much as she used to. Have you noticed?” Okay, not so nice, but not all that bad, really — I mean, it’s not like Toby has kidnapped any small children or anything. I think if anything would make Toby unlikable, it would be kidnapping a small child and tying her up in a bunker in the forest for no apparent reason. But since he doesn’t do that until the end of the first chapter, I’ll get to that in a minute. For now he’s just your average antisocial, acting-out 15-year old, the kind we probably all were, once, to some degree, or else we wouldn’t be in this book club, right? And he stays that way, just a typical bored rebellious kid, departing from our company only when he sees Shelby’s little sister Kaley playing nearby. “Her hair was glinting like a fishing lure,” he thinks of Kaley — uh oh — followed immediately by “He did it for love.” OH NO UH OH! The love remark was apropos of some other topic, but proximity can be meaningful, so when I read that line, combined with his thoughts about the bunker, my heart sank a little. Was Toby going to turn out a child molester?
Let’s leave that one up in the air for now, why don’t we. But fortunately, I think the answer is no.
In between these scenes, we meet the teacher, Mr. Hibma, and Shelby. Now am I alone here, or does Mr. Hibma he strike you as an overgrown version of Toby? With one major difference, though — both are aware that the world around them is mostly ridiculous, and both resist its demands, but Mr. Hibma is much more covert and much more successful in having things his way. He cooperates to exactly the point he must, and subverts the thing for his own purposes the moment nobody’s looking. (As he points out to Toby, courting detention is one of the least rebellious things a boy can do.) And there’s another difference — at least in Part One, Mr. Hibma doesn’t commit any actual crimes — he daydreams about violent murder, sure, but that’s not the same as committing it. Shelby’s father pretty much has him pegged: “He’s one of those cool pessimists.”
As to Shelby, well, she’s the precocious girl who has a crush on the main character. I have to admit, I’ve never been all that into precocious kids as main characters — even when I was a precocious kid, I didn’t like them much, I’m the kid who basically agreed with everything Holden Caulfield said, and still thought he was a loser — but the main problem with Shelby, for me, is that at first, she seems a touch overburdened with discrete quirky traits — going in, she has an interest in standup comedy, and things Jewish, and reading the newspaper, and several other apparently random things. I didn’t like this aspect of her character so much; it felt like too many traits, for one, and for another, it felt like an aggregation that would have worked better on a secondary character. That stuff aside, though, I like the inside of Shelby’s head — she’s a smart kid and a great noticer, and I felt like her character really opened up after Kaley’s disappearance. All of these superficial things kind of drop away and we get a better sense of how she really is.
So then, in the second chapter of Part One, Toby kidnaps Shelby’s little sister, apparently only because Shelby is too much of a “goody-goody” and he wants to take her down a few pegs, and he stashes the kid away in a bunker he has found. I wasn’t sure what to make of this act, to tell the truth — it seemed a little extreme if all he wanted to do was upset Shelby. Actually, given that Shelby has a crush on him, in order to take her down a few pegs, all he really has to do is ignore her. Toby watches the news and joins in on a few search parties, to enjoy all the consternation and activity he has provoked, and then the fun is quickly over, and he finds himself stuck caring for a toddler in an underground bunker with her bereaved sister trying to make out with him all the time. This is a situation that just can’t turn out well — though I couldn’t resist flipping forward, and learning that it doesn’t seem to turn out too badly either. Which I guess is a relief, but I kind of like novels that end as badly as possibly for everybody concerned.
Well, there’s more to talk about than I can really cover in just a thousand words, so be sure to check out the thoughts of reader John Francisoni on Part One as well — is anybody else out there blogging this read? — and I now cede the floor to you. What are you thinking so far? What have I completely failed to mention? What are you liking and disliking? Is the book working for you? Why or why not? Let’s discuss.
See also Blogging Citrus County #1.