Verdict: Nathaniel Schmeling’s tale of a youth culture obsessed with computers and drugs and depression will entice only those who share this lifestyle. Otherwise mainstream readers will be repelled by any lack of accessible character.
A recent documentary about the “squeaky clean” Valley Girl rock group The Go Go’s showed that offstage things weren’t quite so “clean.” To viewers’ (including myself) surprise, it was revealed that beneath their well-scrubbed looks and pom-pom personalities lurked foul-mouthed cocaine-sniffers. In today’s youth culture there is no such irony; for they wear their angst and drugs and casual sex on their well-tattooed sleeves. And on these “sleeves” as well as elsewhere is evidence of self-mutilation that in the parlance of the 21st century is called “cutting.”
Authors like Gillian Flynn have made a career out of portraying female protagonists with low-wattage self-esteem that is unrelieved by copious amounts of alcohol and drugs (sometimes combined as rum-soaked pot) and of course, cutting. But it is an achievement of Flynn that she is able to make these characters accessible to those who don’t share such a lifestyle or psychological attitudes; and thus readers, even those from chirpier generations (i.e., the 1980s) end up rooting for these characters simply on the basis of said characters’ ability “to hold it together” long enough to resolve some narrative issue.
Unfortunately this doesn’t occur in Nathaniel Schmeling’s hands. He uses the same staples of 21st Century youth culture—drugs, cutting, nihilism—in this tale of a drug-induced philosopher who “discovers” technological links to the Devil, and his romantic pursuit of a “cutter” whose link to her current boyfriend is that he has stuck with her through all the scarring. But the end result is that the mainstream readers Flynn is able to capture are repelled by Schmeling. It must be said that he knows this world, and thus all of the characters come across as more authentic than merely fashionable depressives. But there is a saying about writers who compose when “high”; that the only way readers in the audience can understand what was written is to be “high” themselves.
Such is the case with Schmeling. The only ones who can understand these characters are those who party with them in real life. Schmeling does try to set up a romance amidst all the cutting and drug-taking and highly-caffeinated computer surfing, but the characters are so repellent in their wanting to wallow in this world that the effect the reader takes from this story is hardly romantic.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader