Monday, May 9, 2016

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Full disclosure before I review Jesse Andrews’ new novel, The Haters: I am myself a reformed hater, albeit one who suffers from occasional relapses. The hating by the characters in Andrews’ novel is mostly of the musical kind, but I also drank the literary haterade. In my defense, doing so was somewhat required of an English major, at least when I was an undergraduate (which was post-admission of women, pre-availability of the Internet to anyone but hardcore physics/chemistry majors in the basement of the science building whose existence on campus I knew of only as myth).

The former hater in me would begin this review by asserting with a certain weariness that Andrews’ second novel is nowhere near as good as his first, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I knew and loved WAY before the rest of you did, and certainly WAY before it became a film and (sigh) they published a version with “Now A Major Motion Picture!” on it. Haters know that all artists who achieve any level of fame are inherently corrupted, and all subsequent work can only be hated on.

The Haters is about Wes and Corey, best friends and music geeks, who meet Ash, guitar goddess, at a summer jazz camp none of them particularly like. The trio bond over their mutual love (and hate) for music and the fact that, as high school boys, Wes and Corey are more than a little girl-crazy. Ash is their manic pixie guitar goddess, and she sparks them to embark on an epic and hastily planned road trip through the South trying to find places to let their band perform. (First performance? At an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.)

Andrews, as he showed in his first novel, writes teenage boys well and hilariously. Well, hilariously from my viewpoint.  Me and Earl was a divisive book, and I imagine The Haters will be too. Wes and Corey manspread their extended manpart jokes throughout the novel; if that sounds crass and distasteful to you, The Haters will engender your hatred. If that sounds crass and amusing, this book is for you.

Wes, as our narrator, occasionally pulls back the curtain of humor he uses for protection to show us the loneliness and insecurity behind it.  And Corey, well, I mean, he’s the drummer. All drummers have issues. Spinal Tap knew it. The Muppets knew it. It’s a truth about life, and through their misadventures in relationships and gigging, all three characters in The Haters understand some more important truths about life and manage to grow a little by the end. And, no, that’s not a dick joke, but I guarantee you Wes and Corey would have made it into one.

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