The Basic Eight
Daniel Handler / Author, Handler / Author Thomas Dunne Books
Flannery Culp is 19, precocious, pretentious--and incarcerated. Accused of Satanism and convicted of murder, she and her seven friends (the ""Basic Eight"") have been reviled and misunderstood on the Winnie Moprah Show and similar tabloid venues. So Flannery has typed up and annotated the journals of her high school years in order to tell her real story: ""Perhaps they'll look at my name under the introduction with disdain, expecting apologies or pleas for pity. I have none here."" Handler's sharply observed, mischievous first novel consists of Flannery's diaries from the beginning of her senior year to the Halloween murder of Adam State and its aftermath. The journals detail Flan's life in her clique of upper-middle-class San Francisco school friends, who desperately emulate adulthood by throwing dinner parties and carrying liquor flasks. Kate (""the Queen Bee""), Natasha (""less like a high school student and more like an actress playing a high school student on TV""), Gabriel (""the kindest boy in the world"" and in love with Flan) and the rest begin experimenting with the hallucinogen absinthe. Squabbles once easily resolved grow deeper and darker when Natasha poisons the biology teacher who has been tormenting Flan. Should the Basic Eight turn on, and turn in, one of their own? Handler deftly keeps the mood light even as the plot careens forward, and as Flan--never a reliable narrator--becomes increasingly unhinged. The links between teen social life, tabloid culture and serious violence have been explored and exploited before, but Handler, and Flannery, know that. If they're not the first to use such material, they may well be the coolest. Handler's confident satire is not only cheeky but packed with downright lovable characters whose youthful misadventures keep the novel neatly balanced between absurdity and poignancy. (Apr.) FYI: The Basic Eight has been optioned for film by Bridget Johnson, producer of the hit film As Good As It Gets. Handler's second novel, Watch Your Mouth, will be published by St. Martin's in winter 2000.
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999