I felt quite a sense of reading accomplishment when I finished page 661 of “Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray. It’s the longest of the novels on this year’s American Library Association’s Notable Books list.
I’ve ranted elsewhere about the unnecessary length of some of the books on this year’s list. I’m still evaluating this one, both overall and in terms of its length…I can’t seem to come to a final sense of it.
It’s a novel set in a contemporary Irish boys boarding school. The novel begins when a student named Skippy indeed dies during a doughnut-eating contest. It backs up to place Skippy in that critical event, and then does a little follow-up afterward.
Here’s the blurb for “Skippy Dies” from the Notable Books list website, “Filled with warmth and humor, this coming-of-age novel set in a Dublin boys school is a sprawling homage to adolescence, string theory, donuts, and unrequited love.” That makes this sound like fun reading, but while it had some hilarious scenes, overall this is a sad sad story. It’s full of young people who can’t figure out how to be true to themselves AND connected to others. I’m wondering now if I took it all too seriously.
In brief–Skippy falls in love with a girl who’s in love with a violent boy who takes advantage of her sexually in return for providing her with drugs. Skippy’s part of the swim team, but hates the team even though he’s always enjoyed swimming. One of the priests at the school is fighting his own crush on Skippy. Spoiler alert–the swim coach takes sexual advantage of him. His mother is seriously ill and his father isn’t coping well. The girl ends up acting as if she likes Skippy to deflect her parents’ concern about her involvement with the other boy, He uses his phone to make a sexually graphic video of her that he sends to several students. In Skippy’s upset over her, he takes an overdose of the unprescribed drugs his swim coach provided him. And then, he’s off to the donut shop.
I didn’t sense enough warmth and humor to overcome the tragedy in all of that.
I’m not saying it isn’t a good book. It is. But please don’t dive into this without realizing that at its core is a sense of emotional and physical danger. The ways in which people try to band together to address the danger is one source of hope here.
In conclusion, I’m thinking about to whom I’ll recommend this. I can think of a few reading friends who are fairly cynical and will find the school’s principal a perfect example of what’s not right in education. They might also enjoy the forays into the places where scientific thought seems to border magic realism. I would love the chance to have some conversation with others who’ve read this, so that I can develop a more firm opinion of “Skippy Dies.”