Amazon Exclusive: M.T. Anderson Reviews You Killed Wesley Payne M.T. Anderson lives outside Boston. His satirical novel Feed was a Finalist for the National Book Award and was winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His Gothic historical novel, Octavian Nothing, Volume 1, won the National Book Award. The Boston Globe recently named his fantasy thriller The Suburb Behind the Stars one of the 10 Best Children's Books of 2010.
“Clique. Click. Bang.”
Dalton Rev shows up at his new school dressed to detect in a crisp white shirt and a sharp tie--though in this post-Chandler noir-scape, this doesn’t earn him respect so much as a shouted “Nice tie, asshat!”
Dalton Rev is on a mission, paid to find whoever murdered Wesley Payne, a popular boy who ended life hung upside down, like St. Anthony in chinos. To finger the perp, Rev navigates the tricky politics of cliques gone rabid, each with a sly moniker and a secret racket to boot: the Ginny Slims, the Face Bois, the Balls, the Plaths, the Rope-a-Dope Misanthropes, and one mealy-mouthed tail in a suit and Veritas wingtips.
As the school registrar warns young Rev, “There’s a calm before the storm, but the storm is definitely coming.”
“What’s that?” he snaps back. “Haiku?”
“Rockers or jocks. A new fish like you would be smart to pick a side.”
The side Dalton Rev picks is homicide, and the plot launches merrily into detention-room mayhem.
You Killed Wesley Payne is pure delight to read, and clearly was a delight to write. Beaudoin plays the language like bee-bop. The fun is vertiginous. On the one hand, there’s a strong tang of period pulp (“Where’s the opera?” is slang for “What’s your hurry?”; “Take a sniff,” like the old, ubiquitous “Take a powder,” means “Leave quickly”); on the other hand, there are the idioms of new mean streets: blowshite and uddersuck. For someone who calls himself a Private Dick, language can be tricky.
The dialogue is as funny as Rex Stout, and just as sharp and slap-happy as Hammett. The mystery is tangled--at times, bewilderingly so--but that’s hardly important, given the high-velocity acrobatics of these fiercely funny kids, riffing retreads of old stereotypes turned new. You may not care, in the end, who killed Wesley Payne, but you’ll want to make sure that Dalton Rev himself, vulnerable and harsh, wins the day and isn’t de-quicked and deep-sixed by his mysterious antagonist. Like Brick, but Nerf, this high school noir is sure to entertain.
Author Q&A with Sean Beaudoin
Q: If you had 30 seconds to convince someone to buy You Killed Wesley Payne, what would you say?
A: “Don’t panic, but I’ve just sprayed the back of your neck with a deadly Russian isotope that will, within minutes of entering your bloodstream, liquefy your spine. Fortunately, right over there on that bookshelf, is a big stack of You Killed Wesley Payne. If you buy anywhere between fourteen and eighteen copies in the next two minutes, I will give you the antidote. And then I will autograph your new book collection. For free.”
Q: Do you outline or write straight from your imagination?
A: I outline, and then sort of deviate from it widely. The characters tend to make their own decisions and want to go in new directions. It’s like being a bus driver. Sometimes you just have to pull over and let them off, even if it’s not in front of their house.
Q: How long was the journey from the idea to the physical book?
A: I could have run marathons, traveled the world, learned to cook like a Szechuan master, been married and divorced twice, and invented the Internet in the time it took to decide on the cover art.
Actually, it was about three years from the time that the name Dalton Rev popped into my head, uninvited, to the morning when a box of stylishly glossy hardbounds arrived on my doorstep.
Q: How did you come up with all the slang in this book?
A: One of my great regrets is having studied film, instead of now being a balding adjunct linguistics professor with zero possibility of tenure. I just love playing with words. Coming up with the slang was fun and easy. The hard part was toning it down and not overusing it. Actually, I had to throw away pages and pages of the stuff. Mostly because it was way too funny and marketable. My publisher’s lawyers were worried we’d get sued if You Killed Wesley Payne was so freaking hilarious that people stopped buying any other books.
Q: If you had to live the life of one of the characters in the book, who would you most want to be and why?
A: Probably Kurt Tarot. I’ve always wanted to be the lead singer in a band. Also, I’ve always wanted to have sharpened teeth and wear ankle-length leather non-ironically.
Q: Seriously, did you kill Wesley Payne?
A: Don’t call me Seriously. And the answer is that we all killed Wesley Payne in our own way. So if the SWAT team knocks politely on your door tomorrow morning, you may not want to open it.
Q: What kind of research did you do before you started writing?
A: I watched a million movies, read massive towers of pulp novels, and somehow managed to live through high school without the inevitable destruction of my every hope and dream.
Q: So, should we ban your book, or should everyone buy it right this instant and make it a runaway bestseller?
A: There is no question that you should immediately ban You Killed Wesley Payne. You should toss it into the street. You should stack it on the horizon like cordwood and douse it with kerosene. You should refuse to admit it exists, decline like Bartleby to type its name, and call on your Congressman to begin an investigation. You should pulp, shred, tag, deface, belittle, mutilate, and spindle it. All at top volume.
Q: Why write YA?
A: That’s how you get to do the most interesting interviews. YA rocks. Stories about sad professors who live in Upper East Side apartment buildings don’t rock. In fact, I have a huge YA tattoo that takes up the entire area between my shoulder blades. Most people seem to think it stands for You Asshat. But it doesn’t. It totally doesn’t.
Q: What five words best describe you?
A: Hunger. Velocity. Tall. Fascinated. Bassline.
Q: What do you hope people will say about you when you’re gone?
A: I’m fine with them saying whatever they were going to say anyway, without hoping for a particular slant on it. When I’m gone, and in the process of being reincarnated as a very spunky Jack Russell Terrier, I plan on my Sean legacy not being that much of a concern. Toss me a tennis ball, scratch my stomach, put some Chuck Wagon in a bowl, and we’re good.
Q: What's next for you as a writer?
A: A well-deserved twelve hour break. And then we start ramping up for my next book, Wise Young Truck, which is finished and waiting patiently to be loved. Although after the focus groups and marketing people get done with it, it may be called something else entirely. Like Cool Vampire Karate Phat-Magic. Or Love Teen Rich Break-Up Shopping Tears. Keep an eye out for it (them).
*Starred Review* The cliques rule the rackets in Salt River High. The two top outfits, the Balls (football players, wearers of no-irony crew cuts) and Pinker Casket (thrash rockers, most appropriate for funerals or virgin sacrifices), are hurtling toward a turf war, and all the assorted mid-level cliques (and even the crooked Fack Cult T) are constantly looking for an angle to ride to prominence. At the center of the maelstrom is a body, Wesley Payne, a former member of the Euclidians (nerds, fingertip sniffers), who was found wrapped in duct tape, hanging upside-down from the goalposts. Teenage private dick Dalton Rev arrives to sort out the murder, locate a missing hundred grand, and if everything rolls his way, ride off into the sunset with the adorable Macy Payne, Wesley’s sister. Beaudoin plays a Chandler hand with a Tarantino smirk in this ultra-clever high-school noir, dropping invented brand labels on everything from energy-drink ingredients (Flavor Flavah) to the Almighty (Oh my Bob!). Ever checking his moves against what his crime-novel hero, Lexington Cole, would do, Dalton himself is so straight hard-boiled, it’s screwy: Dalton played it cool. He played it frozen. He was in full Deano at the Copa mode. But in the end, none of the stylistic pastiche and slick patter would matter if they weren’t hitched to such a propulsive mystery, with enough double-crosses and blindsiding reveals to give you vertigo. Moreover, the opening Clique Chart might just be the funniest four pages you’ll read all year. Grades 9-12. --Ian Chipman