cover image That’s Not a Feeling

That’s Not a Feeling

Dan Josefson. Soho, $15.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-61695-188-7

Roaring Orchards, a boarding school in upstate New York for troubled teens, is the setting of Josefson’s debut novel, which is full of characters (both students and teachers), groups (Alternative Girls; Regular Kids), rules, and schedules. Josefson offers a map with every Roaring Orchards building labeled, a specific, defined (and confined) geography. He’s created a microcosm, led by the idiosyncratic headmaster Aubrey, a man with severe unspecified health and psychological problems who thrives on creating rules and bizarre special designations, and shepherds offbeat therapeutic activities like “psychic mending,” in which participants play a variety of individuals in a student’s life. Combine leader Aubrey with the rural microcosm and the feeling that those in charge are just as crazy as the individuals they’re in charge of, and it’s hard not to think of Animal Farm. Josefson writes with a similar ironic detachment to Orwell’s parable, but there’s no sense of authorial omniscience, just precise, detailed descriptions. Given the emotional issues of the students (and to a lesser extent the teachers), Josefson’s cool, measured prose at first comes as a surprise. But it soon becomes clear that the students—Lauren, who regularly cuts herself; Tidbit, who takes all varieties of dangerous drugs; sometimes narrator Benjamin, who has multiple suicide attempts in his past—are all emotionally disconnected from their inner turbulence and the style makes sense. A promising if not fully realized effort. (Oct.)