Tuesday, July 07, 2009

King Dork -- Frank Portman

King Dork is hilarious, but it's kind of hard to describe. The narrator, Tom Henderson, the King Dork of the title, professes to hate The Catcher in the Rye, but his tale has a lot in common with Holden Caulfield's, at least in its narration. Both Holden and Tom tend to digress quite a bit, and the digressions and the narrative voices are what make the books so entertaining.

Tom is a high-school loner, just trying to survive among the psychotic "normal" students. He's still trying to adjust to the death of his cop father six years earlier, too, and when he discovers a stash of old books that belonged to his dad (including Catcher), he starts to investigate his death. There's a secret code, lots of research, and all kinds of connections to the present. Along the way, there's also lots of casual sex, drinking, and drug use. High school sure wasn't like this when I was a kid. Or maybe it was and I just missed out.

I did wonder about a few things. Though the book's supposedly set a few years ago, you'd think it was set much earlier. Nobody has a cell phone. When Tom's in the hospital, he has to go out into the hallway and use a pay phone to make a call, irritating all the other patients who are waiting to use it. Tom and Sam do their research in a library, using the microfilm machine. Retro in the extreme. Music plays a big part in the book (Frank Portman's a musician, the leader of The Mr. T Experience), but there's hardly a mention of anything after the '80s. Instead we get allusions to Trout Mask Replica, the Kinks, and plenty of others from that era.

But who cares? It's fun reading all the way, there's a mystery to solve, and there's even some closing advice for teenage boys (get in a band). Check it out.

10 comments:

  1. I wonder how long it sat on a hard drive.

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  2. I had a feeling you'd like this one.

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  3. Karin M11:50 AM

    I wonder how long it sat in a drawer.

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  4. I wonder how long it sat around as well, but it's such a fantastic book, I'm glad it finally saw the light of day. I picked this up after Bookslut's blog said of it, "I love this book as much as I hated high school." I couldn't say it any better myself.

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  5. bob v.1:41 PM

    The audiobook is great too.

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  6. Gerard2:08 PM

    I read a lot of YA novels with sex and booze. I never had a high school experience like that.

    Yeah, I spent most of my high school years watching television in the basement or reading in my room.

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  7. I think we all did, Gerard.

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  8. I've been away from active involvement with the punk rock scene for a while...haven't heard of/from the Mr. T Experience for years. Perhaps it took getting off the road to polish the book started in the '80s. (MTE were pretty damned funny, too.)

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  9. Gerard, Patti--I hung on th fringes of the spoiled kids cliques, at the high school Obama and I attended. I mostly watched other people get high and get laid, uaually not too well or happily, which seemed to me to be missing the point.

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  10. Perhaps this exposure was a chunk of why I've never been able to take Bret Easton Ellis seriously. Trivial expressions of deeper pain treated as if they were the real tragedy (writing this to the soundtrack of the folks putting Jackson's kid onstage to express her misery to goofball strangers).

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