Arts & Entertainment: Sunday, October 15, 2000

‘Ready, Okay!’ takes on school shooting spree

By Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

Someone had to do this. Ever since the Columbine High tragedy, I have been waiting for an author brave enough or shameless enough to write an adolescent novel that culminates in a campus shooting spree.

Though there is nothing intrinsically exploitative about crafting fiction from headlines, television movies have made it seem so, and thus this is risky territory that has been left conspicuously untilled.

Adam Cadre, with the engaging naivete of the young, has written the first serious novel I know of that is built around a Columbine High-style slaughter, and I have given nothing away here because the first sentence of his novel is, “The day I turned sixteen I had no idea that in four months nearly everyone I cared about would be dead.”

The whole book is about foreshadowing, and Cadre is well aware of this.

The narrator states, “I like black comedy as much as anyone, but the thing is, you really do have to put the comedy part in along with the black. Otherwise, it’s not clever, it’s just, just . . .

“Foreshadowing.”

Indeed.

And Cadre does put the comedy in along with the black. This is a novel that could be easily hated, especially in the hypersensitive Northwest, where Cadre recently moved from Southern California, but Cadre handles his material with fearlessness.

This is “Less Than Zero” as written by a “Garp”-era John Irving – smart, precocious and funny. There are some flaws in this overly long first novel, but the characters are real and involving enough that the author’s few missteps can be easily overlooked.

The narrator is a 16-year-old mixed-race high-school loser, a “deeg.” His name is Allen Mockery (Cadre has a Joseph Heller-like affection for goofy names). Allen has four siblings: his twin sister Echo, who doesn’t like to talk, 13-year-old Molly, who doesn’t like to wear clothes, baby brother Jerem, a reclusive computer hacker, and older brother Kreig, an inexplicably angry headcase. Their parents are dead, replaced by Uncle Bobbo, who is 36 years old and less mature than the children.

Allen’s school cohorts quote Nietzsche and F. Scott Fitzgerald, name-drop Heidegger and Kierkegaard, steal from Coleridge, and say things like, “Ah, the irony! The layers upon layers of meta-commentary.”

They sound more like the cinema majors I knew at the University of Southern California than high-school students, but Cadre, who is 26 years old, is closer to high school than I am. And while the language of the characters seems occasionally inflated, their emotions ring consistently true to adolescence.

Carver Fringie, the captain of the water polo team, explains his success with the girls at school: “People often ask me, `Hey, Carver, how is it that you get so many chicks?’ And the answer is really simple. Getting chicks is not difficult. Once they sense that you can hurt them, they will flock around you despite themselves.”

There is no plot here to speak of, so the dramatic tension arises from foreshadowing, and the complications of everyone having a crush on the wrong person – just like life.

Allen likes Peggy, who likes almost every boy except Allen, while September likes Allen, who’s oblivious to this, while Echo likes Carver, and so on.

Then most of them die.

What Allen takes away from their deaths is not clear.

“You can’t count up a handful of clues and come up with a neat little Reason for why people are the way they are. . . . You can’t understand Kreig until you understand our parents, and you can’t understand them until you understand their parents; you can’t understand Kreig until you understand Echo and Molly and Jerem and me . . . and you can’t understand any of us until you understand biology and psychology, and sociology, and economics, and astronomy. . . . To even come close to understanding a single life you’ve got to understand the entire universe.”

Well, no, not really.

But Cadre is young and ambitious, and if he continues to focus on novels he will likely have a significant career and will come to understand a few lives at least.

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Mark Lindquist