Tuesday, July 31, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA: Only Posers Die

I'm sending back my copy of Looking For Alaska to MagentaBitch, because her brother is "vaguely interested" in reading it. That's a worthy cause, and I'm happy someone else gets to (vaguely) read this book. Because it's good. I could see a world in which I discovered Looking For Alaska at 15 and reorganized my life around it. I can think about the cumulative impact books like The River Why and The Catcher In The Rye had on me and can see how Looking For Alaska would have been mostly the same, but perhaps a little better. Generally grossed out by the idea of community vis-a-vis YouTube though I am, I can see how being a nerdfighter, to a lot of kids, would be fucking rad.

But that doesn't mean Looking For Alaska was fun to write about. In some ways I ruined my chances at being able to blog anything by starting with Twilight, which became exponentially more insane in ways I would never have predicted. No other book SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL like Twilight does. Or, the ones that do, do so on purpose, which is a little less fun. So yeah, I quit Blogging LFA because I couldn't imagine anyone reading the things I was writing. Better to just read the book, which more or less comments on itself. But as I picked though the copy of the book MB sent me, making sure there were no sexy polaroids tucked in there or anything, I saw a few notes I'd written in the margins and realized that I could at least wrap the book up in broad strokes, for the sense of closure and all that.

So what else happens? Alaska and Pudge spend Thanksgiving break watching porn and drinking wine. Alaska says things like, "I still ruin everything. I still fuck up." And also things like "You love the girl who makes you laugh and shows you porn and drinks wine with you. You don't love the crazy, sullen bitch." And Pudge says things like "There was something to that, truth be told." There's also this section:
I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane.
Note I wrote in the margins of page 88: GET THIS SHIT TATTOOED ON YOUR FACES, NERDS
I mean it's a nice little paragraph, and it can be nostalgic for readers who have already moved past feeling like this in favor of wanting to FUCK EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME (I mean c'mon Pudge you just watched porn with this girl!) and it can be comforting to readers who aren't ready to incorporate sexuality into their feelings quite yet (i.e. losers). But what a goofy dismount! Tumblr URLesque is the best way I can describe it that final line. UGH. But overall, the whole Thanksgiving break bit is very nice, and sweet, and romantic. And then on page 89 Alaska misuses "winter of [our] discontent"* and I lost all sense that anyone could be attracted to her.
(*"Now is the winter of our discontent" means that our discontent is almost over. We've been through the spring and summer and fall of discontent, see? So when people use it to be like, "I'm so depressed," they're doing it wrong. ANYWAY.)

Note I wrote in the margins of page 93 (after underlined phrase "the highway's monotonous lullaby"): RELAX JOHN GREEN

Then everyone comes back. Lara tries to give Pudge a beej by just popping his dick in her mouth and sitting there, waiting for it to do something. Later The Colonel points out that you also aren't supposed to blow, despite the name. I had not read this book when I made my "Nerdfuckers" video, so I'm pretty sure John Green and I both used to watch the MTV Soap Undressed.
And then the gang pulls a prank. It involves sending forged letters home to the parents of their enemies, and it is needlessly complicated, and only slightly more fun than hearing a real friend describe a prank he pulled in high school. The Swan who lives by the pond bites Pudge on the ass, which turns out to be the bird's entire purpose in the book. So, yeah, I'm glad that was in there?

Later, Alaska reveals the rosetta stone of her MPDGdom: when she was a young girl, her mother suffered an aneurysm in front of her. And Alaska wasn't like those miracle toddlers or dogs you hear about--she didn't call 911. She froze, and watched her mother die. Pudge shares with us one of his darker last-word anecdotes: when William McKinley was dying, his wife became hysterical, crying and screaming that she wanted to go too. And he told her: "We are all going." According to Sarah Vowell in her book Assassination Vacation, Ida McKinley passed the rest of her days knitting socks in a chair. The McKinley museum displays her silk yarn bag, on which she'd sewed a picture of her husband's face.

I wish there was a funny anecdote to balance all of that out, but I read Vowell's book a long time ago and am only just skimming it now. Her McKinley section is mostly about how The Republican party turned from the antislavery party of Lincoln to the neo-con World-Dominion party of George W. Bush. So, you know, not exactly laugh-a-minute. But did you know that Thomas Edison popularized the electric chair as part of a campaign to smear his opponents at Westinghouse? Their AC electricity was becoming more popular than his DC, and so Edison started showing people how AC current could kill dogs and horses. Prison wardens were like "Hey! Do you think that could kill people too?" And Edison suggested that the verb form of "to kill with electricity" be "to Westinghouse" someone. DICK MOVE TO THE MAX. How does that relate to McKinley? Leon Czolgosz was the only Presidential Assassin to be executed that way. (John Wilkes Booth was shot during a standoff with Union soldiers, Charles Guiteau was hanged, and Lee Oswald was a patsy--JFK was killed by aliens.)
And then, the thing happens. The thing that we've been counting down to (after this the timeline reverses from "X days before" to "X days after"). Alaska gets drunk one night and makes out with Pudge. Somewhat creepily, the Colonel is sitting there the whole time. Very Pattinson in Little Ashes. A while after passing out, Pudge is woken by Alaska, who is hysterical and asking his help in getting her off campus undetected. Pudge does as he is told, distracting the principal so Alaska can drive off into the night for reasons unknown. And she crashes her car into a police barricade and dies.

You only sort of see it coming, and it hurts. And it is at once very MPDG (Alaska is so MPDG she can't even EXIST) and very antiMPDG (she doesn't help Miles grow or learn to appreciate life--she confuses him and teases his dick and then is gone and he's full of blind rage and guilt and horror). The entire school reels at her death, which Pudge both appreciates and resents. They learn that her BAC was very high, and Pudge and The Colonel try to reconcile their complicity in her death.

Note I wrote on page 157: AND YOU WANT TO BE ABLE TO EXCUSE PUDGE AND THE COLONEL, TOO. BUT YOU CAN'T, SHOULDN'T. AND THEN YOU THINK OF EVERY STUPID THING YOUR FRIENDS EVER DID, EVERY STUPID THING YOU EVER DID, AND HOW YOU NEVER STOPPED THEM, AND THEY NEVER STOPPED YOU.

Failing that, they fall headlong into investigating the cause of her death. Complicating the fact that she was drunk is the manner in which, the police report, she drove to her end: straight and fast. Pudge is angry at the idea that she committed suicide, and however patriarchal or terminally Western or whatever else his attitude about this is, at least it's honest. They chase down many leads and really only meet people who are just as fucked up and confused over Alaska's death as they are, and in the end realize they'll never know. The title Looking For Alaska ends up reflecting that "life's mysteries" theme of the whole book: What happened when Alaska died? What happens when anybody dies? What is the labyrinth?
After Alaska died, I was a little worried that we'd get moralized at, but we don't. Pudge doesn't quit smoking upon realizing that life is precious or any of that shit. He does find comfort in his World Religion class, and the teachings of The Old Man, and there's where your warnings that LFA was conceived as Christian Fiction started to worry me. But Pudge's faith-based realization is nondenominational; the book doesn't end with a "Coexist" sticker, but it almost does. But it's fine. Again, it's something a less-jaded version of me would have adored. And then the gang plays another prank, but you'll have to read the book to get the details on that. I don't have all day!
So there you have it, more or less. I mean, plenty of other shit happens (I know I haven't mentioned the character of Takumi at all in this summary. THAT WAS ON PURPOSE), and if anybody wants to have a specific discussion about one element or another LET'S DO, but I felt bad about never wrapping this series up and now I have. I mean part of me kind of thought it would be funny to leave it open-ended, like many of the book's unanswerable questions, but there's a level of meta-insufferability that even I'm not willing to cross. If you read this book, what did you think of it, overall?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for finishing it up. I was never going to read it but I also was vaguely interested. If anything, just to gain some more insight into the Nerdfighter thing.

Katie of Pluto said...

I think this was a very fitting ending to Blogging Looking For Alaska, although I would have kept reading if you had kept on doing it chapter-by-chapter. I really loved Looking For Alaska when I first read it, but I don't think it's one of my favourite John Green books any more. It's got a lot of parts to it that bother me. I still think it's worth reading, though.

Kim said...

For whatever other issues it had, I feel like Look For Alaska did a good job of realistically showing grief. I'm a fan of books that can do that.

Jonatan said...

I'm not sure you still read these comments, but onthe subject of "the winter of our discontent":
I just don't think you can take the line out of context. The "I'm so depressed" interpretation some times bothers me too, but I think it's actually closer to the truth. See the next line is "made glorious summer by this sun of York". So "now the winter of our discontent is made glorious summer, as in "we had a winter (of discontent) now it's sunny and therefore summer (presumably not of discontent)"
That's just my interpretation, but what do I know? I'm a bear, I suck the heads of fish.