The Rumpus Book Club: Blogging Citrus County #3

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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 Two of Citrus County.

First of all, I want to thank everybody who contributed to the discussion of Part One earlier this week. A lot of our discussion centered around the most dramatic event, Toby’s kidnapping of Kaley, and whether it seemed motivated or not — and if it did seem motivated, then why did he do it? A lot of people were surprised or half-surprised by it, including myself, but many people found it motivated. John Francisconi commented that he thinks Toby “probably did it out of a self-need to do something certifiably evil,” and Andréa Ford commented:

Regarding Toby’s motivation for taking Kaley, it seems like this bit sums it up nicely: “He felt powerful. He’d thrown the county into a commotion, had given everyone something important to do. He’d dealt a blow to the wonderful Shelby Register, the only person in the whole county worth injuring. He’d probably made her a different girl. She wouldn’t be so sure of herself now. She’d be lost like everyone else.”

Toby is arrogant and completely self-centered, but in the pathetic, lonely way that bullies are. And he’s a sociopath. So this is the infatuated little boy who teases the girl he likes because he doesn’t know what else to do, except Toby takes it to a new, completely disturbing level.

I have to admit that I didn’t think of this last aspect, that Toby is actually infatuated with Shelby from the beginning and doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact even to himself, at least at the point when he kidnaps Kaley. But now that Andréa points it out, I think there’s definitely evidence for that motivation. And it seems pretty clear that by the end of Part Two, after Shelby gives him a handjob in the back of the bus, Toby is either starting to fall for her or beginning to acknowledge that he has feelings for her, depending on your point of view regarding the foregoing. As a matter of fact, I think that is the primary story arc in this section, Toby beginning to fall in love with Shelby.

Which leads me to a further reflection. I flipped forward into Part Three a little to get a sense of how strong Toby’s feelings get, and I think this kidnapping is ultimately going to be tragic — not because anything worse happens to Kaley, but because the kidnapping itself, the fact that Toby carried it out, will make it impossible for there to be any kind of love between the two.

Another part of our discussion was about Mr. Hibma, and how great he is, and for me Mr. Hibma is really the highlight of of Part Two. I’m beginning to suspect that Mr. Hibma is actually meant to be the reader’s stand-in, the closest thing that Brandon has to an objective point of view in this novel made up of very close third-person perspectives. He’s not from the place and he won’t be staying much longer, he’s intelligent and very perceptive, it seems pretty unlikely that he will end up doing anything especially bad (or heroic, either), and he basically has a clear view of all the characters he has contact with. And his weaknesses are very easy to relate to.

Sarah’s remark about the dialogue — “Since when do kids all talk in Cody Diablo dialogue? All that snappy repartee and archness kind of puts me off” — I think gets at the heart of what I was saying earlier, about my personal dislike of precocious kid characters in novels and films. Maybe what I most dislike about these characters is not their smarts, but the ironic lines that get put in their mouths, which, in all fairness to Cody Diablo, goes back way further in film than Juno (I’m looking at least as far as you, Max Fischer). On the other hand, archness per se doesn’t bother me much. I love Wes Anderson, and the other night I watched la Pointe Courte for the first time, which I really enjoyed — the dialogue in that film is arch and artificial to a very exaggerated degree. So I’m still not sure about this. Is anybody else annoyed by this kind of thing?

To be honest, the only thing that really annoyed me in Part Two was the thread about Iceland, for reasons that are completely extra-textual. If you’re not aware of this already, you now know that McSweeney’s has a thing for Iceland — the quarterly was printed in Iceland for years, Issue 15 was dedicated to Iceland, and it just keeps coming up. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure that Iceland is a truly magical place, with its gray skies and elves and everything, and I love McSweeney’s a lot — I’ve admired the house from the beginning and I own most of their catalog and I volunteer there today — but Iceland, cropping up here as a theme, felt a bit calculated to appeal to notional “McSweeney’s readers,” and every mention of the place pulled me straight out of the text.

Apart from that detail, I’m liking the book at the conclusion of Part Two much more than I did earlier. Part of it is the relationship between Shelby and her father — she is really supporting him the best she can, I think, and for me the two scenes where she reaches out to him, despite the conflicts she’s feeling, were really moving. Overall, it’s the richness of the character development that is making this book work for me. As I’ve said, an abundance of action and event is not particularly important to me as a reader, and I enjoy what’s going on here in Part Two, where the only dramatic event in the novel so far, Kaley’s kidnapping, is casting a shadow over everything that happens, and it’s a shadow that darkens and grows longer as the book goes on.

So what do you think?

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Quick links: Reader John Francisconi’s thoughts on Part Two, and Blogging Citrus County #2.


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →