Another off-kilter book by Joyce Carol Oates. I love her, I really do. Several of her works are my very favorites, but I feel like I’m striking out with her at Half Price Books these days. There is nothing particularly sexy about this book, for one. It follows a sixteen year old swim star through high school, he is supposed to be the sex symbol around school–though, unwillingly. He’s shy and not too bright. A likable enough character I suppose. Where things get dicey is with his English teacher, Mr. Tracy. Mr. Tracy attends all the swim meets and takes pictures. He is a popular, young teacher. One day he offers swim star a ride home and tells him he can call him by his first name. This, in combination with undeserved higher grades and Mr. Tracy already knowing the way to his house, makes swim star very uncomfortable. The whole thing remains awkward for the rest of the semester and he finds himself in another English class next term.

Now the real awkwardness begins when Mr. Tracy fails the SUPERSTAR swim guy right off the team, which sets the swim mob into revenge mode. Our swim star doesn’t participate in this, but is wise to it as the others start planting child porn and all sorts of gross muck in association with Mr. Tracy to the authorities. It becomes clear there is going to be a trial and Mr. Tracy begs our swimstar to be a character witness, but he refuses as he doesn’t want to get involved in the whole mess even though he knows all the allegations are false. He’s in high school and he likes being popular, after all. The more this goes on the more it appears to others that there has been something going on between him and Mr. Tracy.

In the end, it seems that Mr. Tracy was just a likely homosexual teacher who was targeted because he didn’t let some of the athletes coast through his class. It’s strange to think of faculty being bullied, but this is, essentially, a case of extreme bullying of a teacher. Mr. Tracy commits suicide. Swim star is racked with guilt.

It sounds like a more engaging plot than it actually felt like because all the tension is around the car ride where nothing actually happens, leaving Mr. Tracey’s suicide somewhat anti-climactic.

Though, it is very JCO in the psychological insight of the characters and the writing style. It wasn’t a bad book, I really enjoy her writing. It’s just plot wise… I didn’t enjoy the story. It felt like being stuck in a perpetually awkward situation where I just wanted to tell certain characters to quit acting like weirdos and/or douchebags.

Meh. Three stars.


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