Saturday, June 15, 2013

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews

The "me" of the title is Greg Gaines, an angry neurotic Jewish kid with self-loathing issues (think Eminem meets an Annie Hall-era Woody Allen).  Greg has made a committed effort to be a casual acquaintance of everyone at school without allowing himself to be labeled as part of any one group.  By being stand-offish, he avoids being labeled (positively or negatively).

Earl is Greg's friend-of-sorts.  Angry in his own way and generally hostile to everyone around him, Earl's in-your-face attitude make a perfect foil for Greg's low-profile.  What brings them together is a love for art films and their own collaborations creating the world's worst remakes (which Greg also reviews for our edification).  These are films that aim to rival Werner Herzog, but (in their own words) "suck donkey dick."

The dying girl is Rachel, with whom Greg has been only passively acquainted through the years.  But when she is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg and Earl find themselves drawn into her confidence.  Much to Greg's surprise, it turns out she loves Greg's humor and Greg and Earl's home movies.

What develops isn't heart-warming (or especially deep).  As Greg constantly reminds us, he isn't the type of guy that would fall into that particular rut.  Instead, we get a story that portrays these three angry teens in a fairly honest fashion, showing how they relate to each other and develop an unexpected alliance together.

An unfair comparison for this novel would be with John Green's Fault in Our StarsMe, and Earl, and the Dying Girl is neither as nuanced nor as funny as John Green's witty look at pediatric oncology.  However, this story does have its charms.  While Greg and Earl's lewd banter can get old and tired, the riff has an unrelenting honesty to it.  Andrews rigorously and aggressively avoids sentimentality, even as he (through Greg's voice) acknowledges (and even mocks) how much the reader wants an easy out.  At times, this works and keeps the readers on their toes, but I'm a sucker for an emotional uplift and the unrelenting dreariness of this tale became oppressive.  The lack of payoff is realistic and authentic, but aesthetically unappealing to me.

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