Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
St. Martin's • $25.99 • ISBN 9781250020833
On sale August 20
When a book is likened to A Confederacy of Dunces—one of the most brilliant, hilarious books ever written, in my opinion—I inevitably experience an initial spark of excitement, which is promptly dampened by a fog of pessimism. It was with this ambivalence that I recently cracked open Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt.
Jerene is the polished matriarch of the Johnston family in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her husband, Duke, is a descendant of an infamous Confederate general; her brother, Gaston, is a successful crack novelist bitter at not being among the literary elite; her sister, Dillard, is practically a recluse. And then there are Jerene's four children. Jerilyn is the focus of the beginning of the novel. It's 2003, and she's a freshman at Chapel Hill, hell-bent on breaking out from her studious, reserved high school persona and joining—against her mother's wishes—the wildest sorority on campus with the very retro intention of finding a husband before graduating.
All of this is leading up to a scandal of some sort that I can't wait to get to. In the meantime, I've been disrupting the silence in a couple of coffeeshops with my snickering. The humor is wicked, sharp and subversive—which is just the way I like it.
Here's an excerpt offering insight into Jerilyn's aching desire to get accepted into Sigma Kappa Nu, which her roommate aptly describes as all about "drugs, booze, and boys!"
[Jerilyn] would turn the page on decorum-blighted Jerilyn Johnston. She knew that the PG-13 summer-movie sorority stereotype of the wild, hot girls, barely contained in clothes for all the suds and water that came their way, and the male-model-hot fraternity stud, beer in one hand, cell phone in the other, hooking up with the girls like a harem—she knew all that was a cartoon image of sorority life, but it was precisely the movie stereotype she was curious about; she now wanted to immerse herself in this too shallow pool. And if a frat brother was a cad, two-timing her with another sister, if there was face-slapping and tears and throwing herself into his frat brother roommate's arms . . . wasn't that all Life? Excitement, drama, action? For once, someone should say, That Jerilyn Johnston! Back at Carolina, she was a wild one! And everyone knows these frat boys eventually knuckle under, pass the bar, say yes to being in their dad's law firm, partner in eight years. God, it was all going according to plan!
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading Lookaway, Lookaway? What are you reading this week?