Last time, I mean, not much happened. What do you want from me? This book is about feelings and shit. I’ve got the previous entries in the sidebar now, if you’re still playing catch up.
“110 Days Before”
Y’all are noting that we’re counting down to something, right? Sorry for not pointing that out before. But you got it right? You get it.
In the Old Man’s class, Miles half-listens to a lecture about the Buddhist notion of interconnectedness and half-allows his attention to wander out the window. He looks at the distant trees “clothing the hill” and sorta gets what Siddhartha was talking about. “I couldn’t see the trees for the forest,” he says. Oh. Sometimes I feel like this guy is just setting up bowling pins to knock them down for no other reason than to show us he can. DO YOU WANT A MEDAL, MILES?
But the Old Man catches him zoning out and immediately boots him from class. Yeah, for some people their connection to Those Teachers is inextricably linked to the way Those Teachers brutally punished them. Fucking sadists, man. (My father is an English teacher--I had him in the 8th grade. The former students who talk the most frequently and fondly about him for years afterward are inevitably the ones he gives the most shit to. Usually because they’re fairly smart troublemakers who appreciate, in a way, being steered in the proper direction. As for me, I was the Good Kid who was so mortified to ever be disciplined that I still resent the teachers who dared do so over a decade ago. Different strokes!) And Miles is probably about to go have some meaningful bummer time but Alaska stands up, tells the Old Man that his policies are “bullshit,” and follows Miles out. Rock.
She tells Miles they’re going to look for four leaf clovers until class is over. MPDG, emphasis on the P. But while Alaska examines a clover patch, our narrator just examines her tits. Oh, and occasionally her “long, dirty fingernails.” I get that it’s supposed to be like another adorable fact about her, but how long and dirty are we talking?
And Alaska notes where Miles is looking, and doesn’t seem totally repulsed by his leering eyes (MPDG, emphasis on the SLUT). Class ends and The Colonel and Takumi show up and they all decide to go to “the smoking hole.” No, it’s not a gay bar, it’s a place where everyone goes to smoke. On page 41, Green describes the area, and I wrote something in the margins apparently indicating that this was a pretty good description of a natural setting. Now, I can’t figure out what I liked.* He just talks about trees. And then they smoke some cigarettes.
(*But here's a great description of a place, from DFW's "Up, Simba.")
I keep wanting to say something more about the smoking, but I guess I just like how willfully transgressive it seems to be? There’s never a particular REASON for anyone to smoke--for Alaska it becomes indicative of her self-destructive impulses, but that symbolism doesn’t really extend to Chip and Miles (And Takumi doesn’t smoke. In a way that indicates his status as only like, a nominal member of the quickly-forming Alaska-Miles-Chip gang. His status is also indicated by the fact that he’s not written about very much!)--but it’s mentioned all the time. I’d like to think it’s less the nostalgia-tripping y’all have complained about in the past and more of a “fuck you” to prudish PTA types who freak out over the smoking or sex or swearing (or anti-Christian magic or whatever) being exposed to children instead of A. extending the benefit of the doubt to their own damned children and B. concerning themselves with more than the surface-level content of any given book or movie.
(I recently watched both the American and Swedish film adaptations of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Not only is the American version superior in terms of basic storytelling, it’s also superior in that it’s almost totally unflinching about smoking, nudity, and both consensual and non-consensual sex. Moreso than the Swedes, even. MORESO THAN THE SWEDES! That so rarely happens that you have to appreciate whenever it does. Whether you liked the movie or not, it did not give A SINGLE FUCK about upsetting people with delicate sensibilities (and that unflinching attitude just got the movie banned in India). And what is ironic is that a lot of those prudish, easily offended types we’re talking about just LOVE procedural shows like CSI and NCIS and Criminal Minds and however many dozens of others, which all give the impression of being transgressive, or are just transgressive in very strategic callow ways. Sorry, I hate procedural shows so much!)
Takumi starts talking about the girl who got expelled, and Alaska silences him with a pretty good one-liner. “You gotta stop stealing other people’s problems and get some of your own,” she says. BOOM. See how that is just a good line and not a clever inversion of a stock phrase that gives the illusion of depth through wordplay*? I like this one. But now I’m picturing Alaska as Tom Waits, sort of.
(*Not that I’m not guilty of the same shit, but whatever this is a BLOG.)
And then she makes another pass at Miles, telling him he’s “adorable” and then quickly mentioning her boyfriend again. Almost as if she’s waiting for someone to give her verbal permission to cheat. Go ahead, Alaska! And then Takumi raps. Go away, Takumi!
“Right here, by the river, you want me to kick it? / If you smoke was a Popsicle, I’d surely lick it / My rhymin’ is old school, sort of like the ancient Romans / The Colonel’s beats is sad like Arther Miller’s Willy Loman”
OK, as a teenager I did a lot of lame shit, including rapping. And yeah, there’s a mortifying realism to reading the wack rhymes that John Green lays down here (and props to him for including the slashes to indicate line breaks) but still, OY GEVALT. I read this part (and a future, extended rap battle that goes on much, much longer) while straining my neck away from the page, trying to get away from it, somehow. I love me some Death of a Salesman references, though.
(I once wrote like ten pages of a sitcom about a family of Scientologists--L. Ron Hubbard comes back from the dead to visit his ex-girlfriend, finds out he fathered her first son and decides to move into the basement. Also they have a maid who is a ghost. And there was a running joke about everyone earnestly asking a Church employee named Bill Loman if he was related to Willy Loman from the play. Yeah, that sitcom would never have made it to air.)
And then Alaska reaches the apex of Manic Pixie Dreaminess. Only 44 pages in! That must be a record (Holy shit, we’re only 44 pages in? Don’t worry, we’ll speed up when we get to the middle of the book. There will not be any deep analysis of the pranks, I can tell you right now.)
Alaska finished her cigarette and flicked it into the river.
“Why do you smoke so damn fast?” I asked.
She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”
I rest my manic, pixie case.