Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter

Michael J. White, Author . Putnam $24.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-399-15590-1

The title of White’s first novel says little about the story found within, but much about the heavily stylized narrative. High school junior George Flynn, newly transplanted to Des Moines, Iowa, spends his first night in town in a hotel while a murder takes place on the floor below his family’s room. This adds a slight edge to the regular stress of being the new kid at school, but George soon falls into familiar coming-of-age patterns, becoming infatuated with Emily Schell, the school’s leading actress, and befriending Emily’s caustic, multiple sclerosis–afflicted younger sister, Katie. By navigating Katie’s nascent crush and the slippery territory of “friendship” with Emily, George quickly discovers how he fits in Des Moines, but a tragic accident unravels his new life even as it may be leading him down the path to love. White is at his best when his characters churn through unanswered and unanswerable questions, such as the hotel murder and the events that propel the novel’s second half. Conversely, the author stumbles on the details of George’s adult life, while young George and Emily’s adventures feel constructed and artificial, as if the story’s main goal is to appear clever. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/14/2009
Release date: 02/01/2010
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