Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

19 May 2011

The End of Childhood Part 1

So, I am reading Lorenzo Caracaterra's memoir Sleepers (at least I think it's a memoir). This is the book that was made into the 1996 movie Sleepers with Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Billy Crudup, Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, etc. I am reading the memoir because it is about the sexual abuse that four boys endured while in a kind of juvenile prison in upstate New York.

The thing is, this book is just so bad. I can hardly bear it, to be honest. The subject matter is fine. It's terrible, in fact, but it isn't unbearable, and the rapes and beatings are described so plainly as to almost be boring. Remember all that brouhaha about James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces and how he fictionalized so much of it that he had to publicly apologize for calling his story "true." Well the difference between Sleepers and A Million Little Pieces to my mind is that AMLP is well written and Sleepers is not. Who cares which one is more "true"? Sleepers, in fact, is written so poorly that I have trouble believing the veracity of what he has to say. Carcaterra doesn't describe anything in detail, and he's trying so hard to make his book suspenseful and emotionally impacting, that he foregrounds the very constructedness of his "true" narrative.

A few examples. The book is about these boys enduring sexual abuse. I told you that. But Caracterra keeps that a secret. We don't know what the book is about. Instead, Carcaterra lets these giant, obvious, open-secret-type hints drop on a rather constant basis. The prologue contains phrases like:

He and the group he was a part of had stained the future of four boys, damaged them beyond repair.
I am the only one who can speak for them, and for the children we were.

I will do another post about this "end of childhood" business in a day or two. I am not sure I buy it. More important right now is Carcaterra's obsession with leaving us with something interesting right before the commercial break: "And for the children we were..." duh duh DUH. Consistently, he ends his (five-page) chapters with this kind of cliffhanging. Some more, intensely repetitive examples:

At first look there were no surprises to Addison. There were no surprises to any of th[e guards]. But that was a first look, and for once we had no idea what to look for.

And two pages later.

They had tried to prepare me, prepare us all. But none of them, not even King Benny, could have envisioned the full extent of the horror we would face.

And three pages later.

The four of us had been locked inside the walls of Wilkinson long enough to expect nothing but the unimaginable.


In the short distance behind us, a guard's whistle blew. Overhead, rain clouds gathered, darkening the skies, hiding the sun in their mist.

Hahaha. That one is just about impending doom, not actually cliffhanging. Okay, last one, although, there are several more in Sleepers:

But he would save his true wrath for me and Michael. We both knew that. What it would be, what it could be after all the horrors that he had already initiated, was something neither one of us could envision. All we knew was that it would happen soon and, as with everything Nokes planned, it would be something we would never be able to erase from our minds.

I know this is supposed to be scary, but it only makes me laugh. The style is just so unbearable!
Anyway. More on Sleepers soon. I have some theory brewing in my head about all these suddenly ending childhoods for which we are so quick to mourn.

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