rev. of Run/Ride by Kip Crosbyby
This is a big, expensive first novel, which in the eight weeks since its publication has drawn both praise and scorn and sold 3000 copies in the process. Detractors write it off as counterculture soap-opera: there
are parents in the book, but they're the Enemy, and look at the good guys, ranging in age from 15 to 23, aristocrats of experience no less, whose common bond -- like a teenybopper version of Hemingway's exiles -- is their stoic knowledge of the Anguish (or at least the Difficulty) and whose talisman is the motorcycle. The least conscious of them, Sandy, makes it through Harvard; the least courageous, Diana, all of 15, commits (or is driven to) suicide when her homosexual love is exposed; and the two most knowing, most initiated, most bold, crack up: Angie, the 16 year old Justine of the book, when she learns that her heterosexual awakening has pushed Diana over the edge; and Chris (or Magister), the 23 year old Pursewarden, when he overreaches himself in dealing dope, and fuddled with everyone else's problems, back to the wall, murders his connection. As for praise, and I mean to add my own below, even the least enthusiastic notes the complexity of Crosby's characters, the polish,
concision, range and tension of his prose, the seriousness and amplitude of his ambition.
Though the plot moves well, the incidents are strong, and the story of above-average people getting broken while average people get initiated a good one to tell; nevertheless the real accomplishment in the book is in the texture of its writing, in its sporadically brilliant scenes, in the nature of the characters and in the unexpected spaciousness of the world that they inhabit -- a spaciousness not determined by geography (Crosby tries that at the end, and I think by his own measure fails) but by point of view, sensibility, style, voice and multiple action.
Crosby's people are young, but I don't think we're meant to regard them with adult irony, so much as to face them head on -- if anything Crosby's postulate is that age has little to do with anything. His people matter because they choose to live hard; their sense of nobility and grace comes from danger; their pathos from getting in too deep. They have imagination, intelligence, beauty and nerve (if not fully adult wisdom) and they cast a spell with their fraternal wit, and passions, and loyalties, and customs as mannered -- in their way -- as those of a Renaissance court.
Chris and Angie are major league achievements. Like real (not anti) heros and heroines, they are meant to be beyond our understanding, and my earlier reference to Durrell suggests the manner of their treatment. Coldly aloof from the book's spell, relying only on facts and direct evidence, we may see Chris as little more than an arrogant loser who struts before younger kids to keep his ego up. He deals light dope, freeloads in a Harvard dorm, entertains wild dreams of his architectural genius and keeps diaries which are tightly written and witty, but more sophomoric in their Hesse-ian posturing than delphic. But that's not the point, or all of it anyway. What remains to be considered is what the prologue narrator and the other characters make of him -- the image that is partly real, partly the product of their glamorizing hero-worship, partly the result of Chris' very unironic self-dramatization. On that level, he's the Master of the Game, the big brother, the genius, the lover, the hero,
and his presence and influence suggests demoniac possibilities; whether or not these possibilities are "real," Crosby has succeeded in directing our attention towards them.
Angie's character is developed with less sleight of hand; she is on stage much more often, and lives less in conjecture, more on the page. A kind of underground duchess by dint of looks, presence and inclination, to herself she is also a frightened mess: "Why is everybody always lookin' at me like I was pink and they were green?" Crosby handles the irony of what other people make of her and what she can't make of herself with remarkable authority, so much so that when
her crack-up comes, he can follow her into and through it, providing us with extended and impressive slices of her tormented consciousness (cf. pp. 205, 220, 227, 233). The result of her breakdown is the loss of her haughtiness and wit, her multifaceted (if not infinite) variety, and where we are frustrated by the irresolution of Chris's outcome, I think we do experience a kind of tragic regret for the loss of her glory. In a way, and the fade-out here is excellent, her adult fate is as humdrum as Lolita's.
The third major character, Sandy, in contrast to Chris and Angie, is a letdown: he's the apprentice, the witness and inheritor, and in theory the novel seems to be about his growing up. Like Durrell's Darley, he's naive, obtuse, decent and slavish; the glories of the book can only be registered through his ordinary eye, and its affirmation -- the value of its tragedy -- can only be expressed in his attainment of selfhood. But the stages of his growth, from wide-eyed worship, to performance, to independence, are perhaps too static and distinct, and left on his own he isn't worth the pages. To lose Chris and Angie, only to end up with him (the last third of the book is his), is a disappointment that the writer did not intend.
Much remains to be noticed, but the richness of the book defies review. My unqualified advice is to BUY IT and KEEP IT. Along with Jonathan Strong, Fanny Howe, John Bart Gerald, Russell Banks, and Carter Wilson (who is now in California), Kip Crosby is surely one of the most interesting young fiction writers in the Boston area.