Saturday, December 24, 2011

Treasure Island!!!, by Sara Levine

Treasure Island!!!, by Sara Levine.  Europa Editions, 2012.  172 pp.  978-1-60945-061-8.

... in which a young woman takes Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as her own personal life guide and adopts its Core Values (boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing) as her own guiding principles.

Treasure Island!!! follows the adventures of a 25-year-old woman (who has no name, as far as I can tell).  After graduating with a degree in English, our unnamed anti-heroine works a series of jobs like ice cream scooper, gift wrapper, and clerk at The Pet Library (where you actually go to borrow pets).  One day she picks up a copy of Treasure Island and finds herself transformed by the book.  She decides to adopt the book as the guide for how her life should go, and tries to model her life after Jim Hawkins' adventures on the high seas with Long John Silver.  Starting with the ill-advised decision to buy herself a parrot, the main character proceeds to wreak havoc on her life, and the lives of the people around her.

For me, the book's selling point was a main character who sounded like she could be interesting and sympathetic.  I think there are a lot of people out there in their 20s who could sympathize with a young adult college graduate whose life had not gone as expected, and I liked the idea of reading about someone who decided to bring some adventure and dreams in her otherwise dull life.  However, I think the point of this book may have been to be a sort of parody/satire of the hugely popular self-help/sappy-life-transformation-memoir genres, so instead of having a sympathetic character who changes her life for the better, we have a really hateful main character whose transformation is more like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

This is a hard book to review.  I can't over-emphasize how much I disliked the main character, but I found the book's writing and premise to be really clever and amusing.  The book is written in a first-person perspective, and is written like a memoir. The main character, while unlikable, is sort of amusing to read about, in a schadenfreude kind of way.  There's something disturbingly fascinating about the way she manages to completely ruin everything in her life, all because of an obsessive fixation on a book (and a serious misinterpretation of parts of the book) and a resistance to outside help from her loved ones.

I could spend a lot of time writing about the purpose of satire or the over-abundance of self-help memoirs, but I think for this book, the more important thing was my gut reaction to the main character... as amusing as the book was, I really really really could not get over how hateful she was.  I understand that the point was that she was supposed to be unrealistic and cartoonishly ridiculous, but for me, the utter ridiculousness of the main character kind of distracted me from everything else.  From reading other people's reviews, I gather that a lot of people were able to overlook this and focus on the really good aspects of the book, so this could really just be me.  Because the writing was clever and witty and amusing, and I liked the premise of the book, I would be willing to give the book 4 stars, but because of my personal dislike of the main character, I'm going to only give it 3 stars.  I do not think it was a bad book at all... just not my particular cup of tea.

Recommended for people who enjoy kind of twisted humor and with a high tolerance for unlikeable characters.

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