Today I'm wearing two hats: As a reviewer and as a social commentator, per Mama Kat's instructions: Describe a job you would absolutely never want to do.
I wanted to like this book. I really did.
Hummingbirds, by Joshua Gaylord, created a buzz in my teacher's soul. On the surface, the freshman novelist seems to have written a roman à clef ~ a true-life story hiding behind a façade of fiction. Gaylord, you see, teaches high school English at an East Side prep school in New York; Gaylord's protagonist, Leo Binhammer, does the same.
It is there, Dear Readers, that I hope the similarities end. The novel's characters ~ students and teachers at the "exclusive" Carmine-Casey School for Girls (an East Side NYC enclave) ~ weave an intricate web of relationships so interdependent that they occasionally become downright creepy.
Dixie Doyle, Gaylord's alpha-female, is spoiled and self-centered, as only these types of young women can be. But unlike the "popular" girls at Our Humble High School, where I teach, Dixie is pretty static, and under Gaylord's control, comes off as a one-dimensional nitwit. Dixie's nemesis, Liz Warren, is a cliché from the get-go. The "brainy" Liz earns A's on her papers but not much warmth in my head nor my heart.
The dual protagonists in this novel ~ English teachers Binhammer and Ted Hughes (named, on purpose I suppose, after the tragic poet Sylvia Plath's misogynist husband) ~ not only teach their protégés, but apparently lust after them, as well. I have to admit that after I read the author's take on Binhammer's Coed Naked classroom fantasies (my characterization, not his), I had to put the book down for a good long while.
Not all is lost, however, if you read this novel. Gaylord does have a way with words. I have to say that I enjoyed the lilt of the author's prose. I hope, though, that his next effort can reach a little bit farther. Texture, I've always believed, can heal the fractures that sometimes develop in a work of fiction.
I've often thought that I could turn my 16 years in a high school classroom into some kind of a book ~ a novel, a collection of essays, a what have you. There's so much raw material in this microcosm of the "real world" that I believe even the Mean Girls who roam our halls could garner the reader's sympathy. I'm a little sad, then, that this hasn't happened in Hummingbirds.
Yes, I realize high school ~ and all the attendant characters therein ~ is a stereotype unto itself. Those who rule the school are often at the apex of their lives ~ in other words, it's all downhill from senior year on out. And we always root for the smart nerds to win. But a secondary education is so much more than that ~ a social petri dish that is just waiting to grow some fascinating characters. With Hummingbirds, I'm afraid that hasn't happened.