April 2, 2006
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Prep

by Curtis Sittenfeld

I think that everything, or at least part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mixup.

That's the start of Curtis Sittenfeld's wonderful Prep. It's a singular, graceful, and intelligent book, a fine portrait of growing up that doesn't have the answers and that is suffused with generous affection for characters good and bad. Prep is not about coming of age, though it is (in part) about growing up; it's a nice change to have a book about kids that isn't only about their sexuality. Sittenfeld's kids change gradually, almost imperceptibly, as they go about the all-important business of organizing their cliques and performing their rituals and working up the courage to speak to one another. Change is observed as much in Fiona Lee's classmates as in the protagonist herself; first-year roomate and lifetime social climber Dede

She was a follower, literally a follower -- I often saw her scurrying behind two or three other girls. The strenousness of her efforts made me feel embarrassed for her.

grows (in the shadows of the book, for Fiona and Dede never have interest in each other) just as much as Fiona, and more slow. The first consciously Iowa-seminar novel I've read and enjoyed, I think, since Mona In The Promised Land, and this book is both bigger and more sustained.