Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

#50 in my 50 book challenge for the year was Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, about a midwestern girl who attends an exclusive east-coast prep school on scholarship. Sittenfeld recently wrote a mean-spirited review of Melissa Bank’s The Wonder Spot, which I thought was a sweet, well-written book. When a friend gave me her copy of Prep, I decided to judge for myself whether Sittenfeld had written a good book, and whether it was better than Bank’s.

The answer was no, on both counts. Prep reminded me in tone of Alexander Payne’s film About Schmidt. It dwelt on the awkward, the ugly and the embarrassing in human nature with scarce redemption to balance the pain. My friend had noted, “the main character is a little self-involved. Sometimes I wanted to slap her upside the head and tell her to get over herself.” My friend is much kinder than I am. I found the main character, Lee Fiora, so self-involved that she was almost completely unsympathetic, and I spent most of the book’s 400+ pages wanting to shake some sense into her. Lee was an uncomfortable mix–hyper-observant of others, yet uninsightful about herself. Her actions consistently hurt those around her. Four hundred pages lacking in self-awareness, growth, and plot did not make for an enjoyable or rewarding reading experience. Prep read like an uncomfortably realistic high-school girl’s journal, with the boring, overwrought and turgid bits left in.

Prep, though, is not without merit. Sittenfeld’s prose was overall good, and she had some excellent insights into issues of class, as cwhen Lee notes how she sometimes wears her non-scholarship roommates clothes: “And I could have offered her something of mine, but she didn’t wear my clothes, which was not a fact we discussed.” (P. 252)

A weird thing that bothered me was that Sittenfeld used semi-colons so liberally that I suspect many of them had to be edited out. Most pages had a semi-colon and frequent em-dashes, and as a former copyeditor I found these punctuation marks to be distractingly frequent.

A weird thing I liked, though, was the cover, which has a pink and green grosgrain belt that is realistically crinkly to the touch.

2 Responses to “Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld”

  1. Nina Says:

    I could not agree more about Prep. I just finished this book and then took a look at the author’s website, which, of course, is full of good reviews of the book from reputable places like The New York Times, The New Yorker etc. I was in disbelief so I googled for more reviews and came across yours. What you said about it being like an unedited high school journal completely rang true.

    So, after reading the Prep review I looked at some of your other musings and I had a great time. Aside from our similar take on Prep we have a lot in common. I’m writing this as my son is napping from my desk in none other than the Twin Cities. I moved here for my husband’s job five years ago. One of my favorite books of all time is also Speak. It was actually seeing your mention of Speak that inspired me to write here in the first place. I was an English teacher at a middle school in town before I had the baby so I’m very familiar with Speak and other YA novels. I always urge my friends to read it, but they can’t get over the YA label. I also love to write, but I have not taken it as seriously as you have. I admire you, and your blog is really fun to read. Thanks! Nina (my real name)

  2. girldetective Says:

    Welcome, Nina, and I’m glad you found me! Your note is ironic, since you share the name of the person who gave me a copy of Prep. I find one of the most affirming things about the internet in general and blogs specifically is the ability to find others with similar opinions, so I don’t have to sit here going, am I the only one who thinks this? But the funny thing is how many Twin Citians there are in the mix, too!