ONE PILL MAKES YOU SMALLER
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Channeling Alice in Wonderland (and, naturally, the 1970s Jefferson Airplane song, "White Rabbit"), Dierbeck shoots down the rabbit hole of '70s misbehavior with this psychedelic debut, crafting a weird and inspired paean to lost innocence. Eleven-year-old Alice Duncan is, in her own opinion, a freak: "a kid's head grafted on a woman's body." Hit on by her classmates (and their fathers), she is forced to fend for herself while her half-sister, Aunt Esmé, experiments with all manner of pills and powders in their apartment on East 67th Street in New York City. Abandoned by her father, Dean, a once-respected artist who has checked himself into a mental institution, and her mother, Rain, now cavorting around Italy with her lover, Alice finds solace in her inventive collages of rock stars and pop icons, finally begging her father to come up with the money to send her to art camp for the summer. Esmé, who wants to head for L.A. to be with rocker Crash Omaha, happily ships her off to an arts program at the Balthus Institute in Dodgson, N.C. (where "about ninety-eight percent of your acquaintances are going to be junkies. The other ten percent will be acid heads"). Alice lies about her age and falls in with a dangerous crowd, including Esmé's primary drug supplier, J.D., a 30-something predator once dismissed from Columbia University, who deals her a dose of reality as he sees it and introduces her to words like "corrupt," "seduce" and "rape," which had never before been a part of her lexicon. This unsettling and disorienting—but also deliciously pop—account of deplorable actions and shattered innocence is a tour de force, a meshing of the myths of the counterculture with the fantastic universe of Lewis Carroll. It's a genuinely original, compulsively readable first novel, sure to stir up controversy. (Sept.)
Forecast:Fun and smart and faintly scandalous—Dierbeck's debut might as well be labeled EAT ME. Comparisons to Lolita are deserved, for once, and reviewers will have a field day with all the sly references to Alice in Wonderland.