Nothing Is Terrible

Matthew Sharpe, Author
Matthew Sharpe, Author Villard Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-50197-5
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Grotesquely comic and resolutely strange, short story writer and journalist Sharpe's first novel involves an androgynous, precocious girl named Mary White, who accidentally causes her twin brother Paul's death and is redeemed in love by her blonde and beautiful sixth-grade teacher. Upon the death of their parents in a car accident, 10-year-old Mary and her brother are left in the care of their mean-tempered uncle and simple, silent aunt. Sickly Paul is the philosopher and Mary the energetic implementer of his ideas. After Mary stirs up a bees' nest and Paul dies from their stings, she is left to fend for herself in the suburban school system. She develops what she calls her ""ongoing involvement with myself,"" becoming a small-scale tyrant and musing often on her fate. As she herself remarks to the ""dear reader"" in Charlotte Brontean fashion: ""This Mary character is not very nice."" Smitten with the difficult 11-year-old, Teacher of the Year Miss ""Skip"" Hartman seduces her and literally buys her from her aunt and uncle. Whisked away to Skip's Upper East Side apartment, Mary is schooled in Shakespeare, algebra and the arts of love. But becoming restless, she takes up with a coterie of aimless drug pushers and her second lover, an environmentally sensitive Central Park squatter and ex-classmate named Mittler. Through characters such as Paul and early moments of rare sincerity, Sharpe proves that he can write affectingly. However, he condescends to the reader like an uneasy comedian afraid to bore the audience, relying heavily on his deadpan delivery of grotesque detail. His Mary--unsympathetic, smug and, worst of all for a fictional character, not memorable--is no Jane Eyre. (Mar.)
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