Skippy Dies: A Novel
Faber and Faber, 2010. 672 pages. $28 (Hardcover)
If the first 200 pages were as wonderful as the last 200 pages, it wouldn’t have taken me three months to read this great book. Skippy dies in the first chapter (no need for a spoiler alert, it’s in the title) and the rest of a novel explores why he died and why it matters.
Skippy Dies certainly deserved (deserves?) to have been longlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize. Murray captures the tone of adolescence in the 21st century much like Salinger did for boys in the 20th. That said, I feel it is my duty as a persnickety reader to voice my complaints. Readers who hate adverbs and speech tags other than “said” (like me) will be annoyed by the novel’s prose, which could be described as lush or verbose, depending on your point of view. Let this serve as a warning not to start reading this novel in the middle of editing your own as it will likely end in heartache and frustration.
Once you get past this, or get used to it, the novel becomes a slang-loaded, jocular take on growing up. The pacing is slow, but there are enough Big Scenes to keep it interesting. For me, the last third of the novel made the book. I don’t want to give anything away (because you will need to read 400 pages for it to even make sense). To put it simply, the tragedy of Skippy’s death packs a punch that will leave you breathless. The publishers released an alternative edition of Skippy Dies that breaks the novel into old-school 3 volumes (nostalgia!). If I were feeling cynical, I would say read only the third volume. But for those of you wishing Catcher in the Rye was 400 pages longer, I would recommend the full book.