Anyway last time, Miles survived an assassination attempt. You guys thought this was going to be a realistic coming-of-age-story, right? Well, it is, except for that part. Seriously, that’s an outlier. And in the comments last time some of you went after the level of realism (or lack thereof) we’ve encountered so far. TO WIT:
“Since John basically wrote down everything that happened to him, a lot of the book feels anachronistic. No one would tolerate this level of very-public and easily-caught hazing, nor would there be this much smoking (although maybe my high school was just too suburban). There's just some things which happen in the book that feel very 80s high school-ish, not very early 2000s.”-Katie Of Pluto
“In fact almost the whole book seems to be a nostalgia-trip, with a very passive acceptance of events- I mean seriously, the reason Miles gave for transferring was pretty pathetic, and the characteristics required to transfer on such weak reasons never really show through during the book. But whatever!!!”-Xocolatl
First of all: I think you guys are maybe buying in a little too much to the idea that this book is WORD FOR WORD John Green’s life. From what I have read, that is more myth than reality. I mean, for one thing Miles seems to be an only child, and it kind of feels like Green’s brother is a big part of his life am I right? (Also high school in the 80s, Katie? I think you’re aging the man a little too much.)
Second of all: I agree with you all about the modernity-dissonance,* but I also remind you: shit takes place in ALABAMA. Now, I have never BEEN to Alabama, but still I guarantee you they’re maxing out at '96 down there right now.
(*I feel like most forms of narrative media took a few years to catch up to the growth of technology in the aughts. Like, 2005-2010 was the era in which movies mostly hoped you would forget that smart phones existed. They were still producing scripts that had been written ten years ago, you know? I remember Jason Reitman saying that they deliberately set Juno in a world without cell phones, basically because it was just easier. OK, haha. And now movies/TV have caught up, but they’re almost a little too proud of it. Or the product-placement money from Apple is just TOO GOOD to turn down.)
SO. In the following pages Chip and Alaska discover what happened (they thought it was going to be an innocent, non-duct-taped dunk in the lake) and are outraged, but their solution is to play a prank. Maybe my (intense) fear of water is coloring my reaction here, but that does not seem like a proportional response. If I were Chip, I would ask Miles to ID one of the guys and then I would shoot him in the kneecaps. Incidentally if there’s ever a movie version of LFA I’d want Chip to be played by Jeremy Renner’s character from The Town, somehow. Anyway, our narrator resolves to sleep fully clothed from now on (but not with like, a life vest?) which is one of those things that you think will pay off later but just doesn’t. It’s just emotional scar window-dressing.
“126 Days Before”
The next morning, The Colonel discovers that the guys who nabbed Miles also urinated in his (The Colonel’s) shoes. “Well, now it’s war,” he says. It wasn’t war before? With the attempted murdering? Anyway, Miles goes blithely to class and recalls the school’s handbook, which defined the dress code as “casual modesty,” which is obviously my new band-name. He notes with seeming disdain the way girls interpret this to mean “half asleep in cotton pajama shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.” Uh, that's fucking hot! (Also, the half-asleep critique is rich coming from a guy who set his alarm for 8 minutes before class started.)
Alaska is in his French class (in France, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is called Le Royal With Manic Pixie Cheese) but she doesn’t even look at him. Not that that stops our hero from obsessing over her half-smirk, as if she’d “mastered the right half of the Mona Lisa’s inimitable smile.” So like, Mona Lisa after a stroke. Sorry. Miles’s first few classes are pretty hard, so he’s relieved to head to a World Religion class, which he assumes will be a walk in the park, or church I guess. TWIST: It’s A DIFFICULT CLASS AS WELL!
We meet “The Old Man,” who is an old man, who teaches the class. And he is one of Those Teachers. We have all had Those Teachers, the ones who impact your life and education in a truly captial-s Significant sort of way; I’ve had lots of those teachers. I’ve had so many of Those Teachers, at this point, that Miles’s discovery that school can be interesting is actually sort of insulting! But anyway. The Old Man says things like “You may be smart, but I have been smart longer,” and also stuff like this:
“What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?”
Miles thinks of the labyrinth, duh, and then the Old Man becomes a vessel through which John Green can drop various FACTZ on us. Like so:
I’d never been religious, but he told us that religion is important whether or not WE believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.
Well, THAT’s tenuous. And then Miles tells us about how much he hates discussion classes and other activities, and how much he prefers just being LECTURED AT. I don’t always disagree, but still it’s like one step forward, two steps back in terms of creating a positive attitude about education over here, eh? ANYWAY Miles goes home and takes a nap, and is woken up by Alaska, who disses our new favorite teacher and then tells him that he needs to toughen up (and this is after she’s learned about how attempted murder-y the attack on Miles was). Talk about one step forward and two (or like four or five at this point) steps back!
"122 Days Before"
Miles comes home from classes and finds The Colonel hunched over and ironing board, freaking out because he has a date with his girlfriend and her parents (fun date!) and his only dress shirt is badly wrinkled. The Colonel relates asking Alaska for help and being told “you’re not going to impose the patriarchal paradigm on me!” It’s unclear why exactly the the iron doesn’t do any good--Miles asks if you’re just supposed to press it against the shirt and yeah, you are--but it doesn’t, so the two of them smoke in the bathroom with the shower on, hoping to smoke/steam the shirt into shape instead. That fails too, and we meet the Colonel’s girlfriend, who is pretty and is wearing a blue sundress and looks like a “bitchy” movie star. I like a book that can mention the patriarchal paradigm on one page and call someone a bitch on the next. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic here! I want to stand up for the word “bitch.” It’s a great word! And a good magazine. And a decent song.
Sara gets angry about The Colonel’s wrinkled shirt and he tells her he doesn’t want to go anywhere with her, and she storms out and he screams. Real talk: this is not an unfamiliar high school experience for me. And a few minutes later, when Sara calls the pay phone outside and Chip is ready for the phone call, like it has happened before, I was like I FEEL U BRO. But I am also at this point/age where I am like enjoy that drama, kid! Remember when everything was so heightened and like, you FELT things? Yeah, me neither.
And then The Colonel comes back into the dorm and pulls a gallon of milk from the minifridge, which he explains is actually “five parts milk and one part vodka.”
“I call it ambrosia. Drink of the gods. You can barely smell the vodka in the milk, so the Eagle can’t catch me unless he actually takes a sip.”
Hahaha worth it? That sounds like the most disgusting thing ever, and this is coming from a guy who mixed ginger brandy with PBR a few weeks ago. Anyway a litte ways into his phlegmy ambrosia haze, Chip explains that Sara and the other rich kids think he (the Colonel) is the one who ratted out Alaska’s roommate last year. Hence the pissing in the shoes and the attempted murdering (and the date with her parents?). God, am I the only one worried that someone's going to slip piano wire around Miles’s neck in the next chapter? What the fuck is this place?