Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

It's easy to talk about a book and start with, 'This book is hard to talk about.'  The reasons stated can range from plot sensitivity to the book not making a strong enough connection with the reviewer to share anything of merit.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is difficult talk about for a very unique reason: it follows two narratives, one written by each author, each dealing with a different main character named 'Will Grayson.'

From a distance--before I actually read the book--I had many thoughts as to what the story was about and how this mechanic would work: alternate realities in which we see the same person live different lives under different circumstances; maybe how Will Grayson sees his life and how the rest of the world see Will Grayson living his life (which is close to what happens); or perhaps some psychological study.  Upon reading the novel it is much more simple than my supposition: it deals with two guys, one in Evanston the other in run down, not so nice part of Naperville (which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist considering my past visits to Naperville), both named Will Grayson and the circumstances that lead their lives to coincide.

Halfway through the book, I think to myself, 'Well this is cute,' and it's not even that I wanted something more substantial, and while I was compelled to read (I'll say it consumed me, five hours over two day; done) I did finish it slightly wondering what it was about and if the story mechanic involving a grand coincidence of meeting someone with your name and having them play a role in your life was merely underwhelming or fell short of its potential. 

The difficulty of two Will Grayson's is made easy to follow as the chapters alternate between their perspectives: one Will's story is told fluidly as you'd expect to find in a novel, the other Will (they each refer to the other in the book as 'The Other Will Grayson' or 'o.w.g.' somewhat surprisingly it's never confusing) doesn't believe in punctuation and the dialogue is presented in a slightly manic shorthand.  For my purposes there will be Will Grayson, and will grayson, respectively. 

Both Will's struggle with complications of being teenagers and who they will allow themselves to be.  Will, has very specific rules of engagement with other people that he strictly adheres to; with his conflicting desire to be with a certain girl and polarizing love of the fact that he is not in a relationship.  will, with his antidepressants, feeling of isolation and wholly repulsive feelings of lack of self worth and insecurity won't allow himself true friendship.  (In a cast of infuriating characters, will grayson was particularly hard to like.) 

The Wills unifying thread is the larger-than-life, unstoppable force of nature that is Tiny Copper: a division one, college football nose tackle who is not only physically massive but whose capacity for being gay may take the crown when it comes to fiction.  (A crown Tiny would be ecstatic to win.)  Will Grayson laments having Tiny as a friend, claiming he has no choice in the matter; that he is stuck with Tiny.  will grayson is always furious with himself for pushing people away and never allows anyone to be as close a friend as Will Grayson and Tiny are, and will grayson does this for reasons that were never made fully convincing to me.

Tiny is loud and obnoxious and a bit of a bully (meant in the best of positive, friendliest of ways).  The story is supposed to be about both Wills learning that they need other people in their lives and yet the book is undoubtedly about Tiny.  Which, of course, makes one question the title. 

In my past reading experience with Green, he has proven very comfortable using a secondary character to narrate the story of someone else's life. (Quentin from Paper Towns told the story but Margo was certainly the main character, just as The Fault in Our Stars was Augustus' story as told by Hazel)  This is my first experience reading Levithan but he displays his more intimate, brooding, slightly self-destructive will grayson with equal aplomb as Green's reluctant extrovert. 

A cruel trick by a questionable friend bring the Wills together and it's Tiny who manages to enhances, and--on the scale of high school drama--ruin each of their lives.  There's a rapid rise of maturity displayed by both Wills at the book's conclusion concerning forgiveness and acceptance that didn't ring true to me, especially considering their previous behavior.  By the end, Will gets the girl (no surprise) and will confronts a lot of problems and internal turmoil.  The novel lacked a climax for either character that felt like it would lead their characters to truly change or grow, and in a bad way the larger-than-life, flawed-but-awesome Tiny remains the same from start to finish.

I don't really know what Will Grayson, Will Grayson was about but it was incredibly fun: a word that concretely means nothing in today's vernacular and yet one that I can not ascribe to the vast majority of what is possibly 'better than this' fiction out there.  There's tension, conflict, forward motion, even resolution all despite the story being relatively weak.  I doubt this is either author's best work but it's easy to get caught up in the specifics of the story, speculate about characters, and even if the conclusion doesn't resonate as strongly as it could have, don't be surprise if you don't notice due to the fact that you'll be having such a good time reading.

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