Stuff I’m Reading: Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas

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07/29/2008 9:00 AM |

Rats Saw God is a Y.A. novel written in 1996 by one Rob Thomas, later to achieve immortality as the creator of the greatest show ever in the history of television, Veronica Mars. This book doesn’t have the teen detective show’s genius metaphor-literalizing hook (adolesence as process of discovery; high school as battlefield), though the narrator/protagonist does have something of Veronica’s earnestly wiseass outsider voice (the diary as hard-boiled voice-over; now I just really want to watch the first season of Veronica Mars again). Rather, it’s a pretty standard coming-of-age narrative about teenage self-definition, the ups and downs of adolescent coupledom and the scars of divorce. The pleasure’s in the execution: I’m interested in the ways grown-up writers, for the page and the screen, tend to idealize adolesence by involving their characters in especially tellable stories (sometimes heightened dramatic arcs; sometimes fun anecdotes); and by granting them the taste they wish they had. Thomas sort of combines the two methods, spinning some serious yarn out of the narrator’s involvement in, amazingly, his high school’s Dada group. Good, too-clever-by-half times are had by all. Thomas is great with proper nouns, getting (often hilariously) at his early-90s zeitgeist, and judiciously identifying his characters, in their glories and follies, by their subcultural signifiers. Rats Saw God is also pretty reasonable, as Veronica Mars would be (to the extent that it could, on the CW), about underage drinkining and how it is fun and social, not destructive or a sign of depression (though he does fall into the latter trap with drugs). This is pretty much a fun book to hang out with over the course of a Saturday; like an episode of Veronica Mars, or any other sharp-witted but nostalgic TV show about high school, it’s over too quickly, though I wonder if that isn’t the point.

(I promise the next one of these will be about like Spring Snow or something.)