On the surface, Nick McDonell's debut novel Twelve
(written when the well-connected former prep-schooler was 17) feels like an East Coast Less Than Zero
: the laconic style and episodic plot; the privileged ennui, drugs, and pop culture sensibility (with sprinklings of Prada, FUBU, North Face, and Nokia replacing Zero
's Armani, English Beat T-shirts, Wayfarer sunglasses, and Betamax); the Christmas break setting; even the italicized flashbacks--it's all there. But Twelve
also shares its casual, youthful arrogance with the jaded aggressiveness and jagged style of Larry Clark's Kids
McDonell has crafted a pulsing narrative that clips along at an after-hours pace, pulling the reader along like an ominous rip tide, shifting easily from the Upper East Side to Harlem to Central Park to introduce a cast of loosely connected characters. White Mike, Twelve's clean-living, Cheerios-loving, milkshake-drinking drug dealer, drives the majority of the barely-there plot. ("Mike uses a teaspoon to eat his cereal, not a big soup spoon, because he likes to have less milk in his mouth with each bite" is about as deep as it gets.) Character development is limited to an easy shorthand ("Long legs, large breasts, blond hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones.") that results in a simple surface-skimming, leaving one too many caricatures of the very youth culture McDonell is writing about. Readers will see the blood-spattered, penultimate set piece coming down Fifth Avenue from page one, but any potential shock value or drama is immediately deflated in Twelve's head-scratching hangover of a denouement. --Brad Thomas Parsons
From Publishers Weekly
"White Mike" dresses in an overcoat and lives with his dad on Manhattan's Upper East Side (his mom died of breast cancer not too long ago). The 17-year-old doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and doesn't do drugs. He dropped out of high school and now sells drugs pot and an Ecstasy-like upper called "twelve" to the city's moneyed teens. In this shocker of a first novel, McDonell who was 17 when he wrote it carries readers through White Mike's frantically spinning world, one alternately peopled with obscenely wealthy teenagers who live in gated townhouses with parents rarely in town and FUBU-clad basketball players in Harlem. In terse, controlled prose, McDonell describes five days in White Mike's life during Christmas break. He introduces a host of characters, ranging from Sara Ludlow ("the hottest girl at her school by, like, a lot") to Lionel ("a creepy dude" with "brown and yellow bloodshot eyes" who also sells drugs), writing mainly in the present tense, but sometimes flashing back in italics. His prose darts from one scene and character to the next, much like a cab zipping down city streets, halting quickly at a red light and then accelerating madly as soon as the light turns green. And although it brims with New York references e.g., the MetLife Building and Lenox Hill Hospital this is really a story about excess and its effects. The final scene, at a raging New Year's Eve party, will leave readers stunned, as well as curious as to what might come next from this precocious writer.
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