Warning: seafaring metaphors abound in this book review!
Looking for a summer read? Go no further than Treasure Island!!! No, not the one by RLS,
although it drives the narrative. The series of exclamation points in this new title were put there by its author, Sara Levine.
In the first paragraph, the unreliable narrator grabs your lapels, backs you into a corner, and warns you that she’ll be sharing hilarious and unsavory moments of her and her family’s life while you watch the shipwreck in horror, bodies piling up on the rocks as wave after relentless wave crashes along the shore.
Also consider this: a large parrot named Little Richard speaking in commercial TV code—“It’s big! It’s hot! It’s back!”—figures prominently in the story.
“In the aftermath of my adventure, I decided to write down the whole thing, starting with my discovery of Treasure Island and keeping nothing back, not even the names of the friends and family members whose problems plagued me; and so even though I’d love to go into the other room and stab someone with a kitchen knife, I take up my pen—a nifty micro-ball which had been incorrectly capped and would have dried out had I not, at the crucial moment, found it and restored its seal.”
The narrator lauds how she saves the day for her friends and family at crucial moments, while we, the readers, witness the trail of wreckage this would-be adventure-craving swashbuckler leaves behind in the wake of her listing ship. Don’t bother throwing her a life ring.
Just watch this woman as she bails frantically, barely keeping her fantasy afloat.
The last time I felt so enthralled by such a deluded, but personable voice, I was reading Adam Haslett’s short story, “Notes to My Biographer,” in the collection you are not a stranger here.
The big difference? Haslett’s story is heartbreaking; Levine’s novel is pure entertainment. The jacket copy for Treasure Island!!! describes it as “intelligent, perverse, funny, relentlessly self-extricating, and merciless in its vivisection of family dynamics in today’s America.” I would give that copy a rubber stamp.
Want another example? Think Lorrie Moore without the poignancy; Levine does not channel the Lorrie Moore that makes you laugh and cry. But for sheer entertainment value, Levine’s Treasure Island!!! is a perfect read for the beach.
5 thoughts on “Treasure Island!!!”
I am intrigued by your review of Levine’s book — but I tend to recoil from any title that contains three exclamation points.
Please reassure me that the rest of the book doesn’t yell so damn loud.
Hhmmmm. I’m pondering an answer. I would say that it’s not so much yelling (Stella!!!)— although there are plenty of single exclamation points and occasional yelling sprinkled throughout the text—as frantic mania (sentences that wind themselves around your ankles like octopus tentacles threatening to pull you under). Readers only hear the manic side of the story from the narrator, but the author reveals the opposite pole via other characters’ actions (including the parrot) at various times throughout. Think of it this way: the narrator is bailing like crazy while other characters row steadily onward–for the most part. At times a bit ribald (fitting for pirates, eh?), the book’s pacing gave me the sense that I was running on a treadmill with no Emergency Power Off switch. But the humor made the running effortless. Lots of thematic and plot-oriented references to the original Treasure Island, if you’re a fan.
I just took another look at the Haslett story I mentioned in the post above. Here are the first few sentences: “Two things to get straight from the beginning: I hate doctors and have never joined a support group in my life. At seventy-three, I’m not about to change. The mental health establishment can go screw itself on a barren hilltop in the rain before I touch their snake oil or listen to the visionless chatter of men half my age.”
Haslett’s story was first published in Zoetrope All-Story and then featured on NPR.
I picked this up a couple weeks back after seeing your review. This girl is unbelievable. She gives new meaning to the phrase “Oh no she didn’t…” Since finishing the book I’ve been kicking around ideas for a comment. Then last night my brother’s new girlfriend was visiting. She’s from Georgia. Over dinner the subject of Sherman’s March to the Sea came up. Bingo. That’s what we have – a Sherman’s March through the lives of all friends, family & pets in her path! Although as a criminal defense attorney by trade, I was left wondering if she would really “sail off” like that in the end.
Please pardon my delayed response. I haven’t been online since we left for Costa Rica on June 30.
Nice analogy. I can see the flames of Atlanta from the rainforest. But I’ll have to take a look at the ending again when we return, so I can respond to your other comment. Stay tuned!