Something interesting happens when you know how a story will begin and end before you start reading it. It’s similar to going to a Broadway revival when you’ve seen the original with the hope of enjoying something familiar, while at the same time watching to see how a new set of players will interpret the work. You look past the plot and pay more attention to character, to the nuances of the language, to how the writer takes a familiar trope and turns it into something unimagined.
Such was the case when I began The Novel to Be Named Under the Cut (NBNUC). The first page starts with a trope within a trope, the transcript of an online chat with fairy….Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you something about me as a reader–I’m both an old reader (intolerant of form for form’s sake), and a young reader (I have reader’s ADD). Stories written in present tense bug me unless the voice really calls for it. Poems spaced so they take on the shapes of cars, boats, or lampshades really turn me off. Novels that use IM or chat formatting for dialogue leave me cold, especially when the online conversation really is just a conversation. Formatting that gets in the way of the story is only typesetting.
I also won’t read more than a few pages to get hooked. Something has to grab me, and I’m not picky about what. Voice, character, plot devices, setting. If any of them draw me, I’ll keep reading. If they don’t, I won’t. I’ll then pass the book off to the true readers in the house, and if it’s good, they’ll make me read it anyway.
So when I started NBNUC, I was delighted to find that I loved it for the very same reasons I might not have read it. The online chat transcript is brilliant and blindingly funny on many levels, with a depth of characterization that is masterful. We meet several teens whose lives have been changed, transformed, even. One is a frog with a typing disorder, another is a mermaid in love, a third a grizzly bear, and the fourth is the hero of our story.
The online chats are spaced strategically throughout the rest of the novel, serving as a counter-point to the traditional third-person narrative the author uses to deliver the narrative. Our hero is no hero. He’s an ass with a beautiful face and a dark heart. He embodies wealth privilege and lives a shallow existence filled with self-hate and loathing for others, until a final act of cruelty changes his life forever. He must then make amends by learning to love both another person and himself so that other will love him back.
You know where this is going.
The novel is BEASTLY by Alex Flinn.
And it is fabulous.
We all know the fairy tale of the beautiful boy transformed by a witch so that his outer self takes on the hateful form of his inner self. What Flinn adds to the character, besides the hilarious chat interludes that have running plots and jokes themselves, is a change in the subtle definition of the beast. Sure, he’s ugly on the outside because he was ugly on the inside. But the Beast is also powerful, strong, invulnerable, and capable of things the human boy couldn’t even imagine. Except for the whole looking like a pumped up Chewbacca thing, he is physically superior to the human. The Beast’s instincts must be controlled by the human intellect, and it is this control that makes our boy learn how to be human. It is as easy to do physical harm as the Beast as it was to do emotional harm when he was a handsome young man.
Plus, when the boy reverts to human? The girl wants the Beast back. I always thought she should.
In a nutshell, that’s what I liked about the novel: Alex Flinn’s craft as a writer, for being able to add nuance to the familiar and to make form a powerful part of the function of the story.
BEASTLY is a great read. It makes you laugh, makes you think, and makes you feel. What more could you ask for?
PS. Poor Froggie. I can only hope that he finds his kiss. And takes a keyboarding class.