Book: A Boy’s Pretensions
Author: Anthony Giardina
Published: 1988 (Simon and Scheuster)
Let’s get one thing out of the way; this book is not The Graduate, and I am very glad it’s not. I think it might want to be, at least at some level, but it’s got so much more going for it – the acute existential agony of trying to talk to your parents about leaving home when you know it’s all a selfish act that they’ll say they’re happy about because it’s what’s best for you, the restless aimlessness of love that you can’t untangle from lust, the heavy sense of dread of locking yourself into a moral decision that you know will make you miserable – while still resting on the general framework of young man is conflicted but he doesn’t know why and tries to find solice in older woman who only makes him more agitated.
This kid has to come home from college when his dad has a heart attack and can’t run the family laundrymat anymore. He’s an only child, an only son, but he’s gotten his first taste of freedom at school. And oh yeah he has the hots for his poetry teacher, who is married but agrees to advise his private project on Anne Bradstreet.
So, he sort of flip-flops between worlds, not doing well in either, until he finally gets to bed with the lady but then his dad calls him home for real this time, so after a lot of soul-searching and declarations (I love how the teacher calls him out on most of his romantic bullshit, especially when he’s all “I want to give you a baby!” and she’s all, “No twenty-year-old really wants a baby”) he goes back home for good.
Kind of a bum ending, but it felt true to life, like life wants him to see exactly how much his philosophizing means in the real world, and it’s full of more human emotion between the stilted lines of dialogue (oh, the visits from the relatives who are close enough to judge but not close enough to really know him! How they say so much when they’re talking about brown pajamas and meaning why doesn’t he help his poor old dad already!) than any of the shrill shrieking I read in The Graduate.
I’m sorry but I hated that book. It took away all my sympathy for Benjamin in the first few pages, and it never gave that back. I liked this dude, and I understood him, even as he made sort of stupid, grandiose mistakes that ultimately didn’t mean anything.
This one goes back to the library too, but not onto my Amazon list. It’s a good read and there’s emotional truth in there, but not enough for me to want to read it again.