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Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled

Colin Preston Rocked And Rolled - Bert Murray Readers' Advisory informationSubject headings: first love, college life, 1980's period pieceAppeal factors: romantic comedy, coming-of-agePace: quickTone: bittersweetStoryline: single narratorWriting style: engagingFull disclosure: I wouldn’t say I “know” this author, but I’ve corresponded with him a few times, and he seems nice enough. He gave me a free copy of this book, but I don’t think that influenced my review. This is another instance where GoodReads has caused me to read and enjoy a book I otherwise wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have picked this book up in a bookstore, because the cover makes it look like yet another nostalgic-for-college romantic sex comedy, and I haven‘t seen one of those done well in, like, forever. My own undergraduate days were heavy on the studying and light on the everything else, so that genre doesn’t hold much nostalgia for me. With that in mind, I just wasn’t that interested when, in the first five pages or so, main character Colin Preston gets fellated by the hottest girl on campus, just shortly after they first meet. If this were an in-flight movie, that would be about the point I started checking out what was on the other channels. It was too early in the story to care about the characters, and if I’m going to vicariously live the sex life of somebody I don't care about, why not just dispense with the pretenses and watch hardcore pornography? I’m not trying to impress anybody.But then… reading on further, Colin Preston started to grow on me. He’s got this crazy internal monologue buzzing away constantly in the back of his mind- a barely self-aware amalgam of Id and Ego that rings true, both in its sincerity and its immaturity. Some of this material is hilarious, but in a cringeworthy way, for the memories it evokes. The first 1/3 or so of the book focuses on Colin falling hard for Jasmine (the blowjob girl mentioned above). On their second date, he’s already saying stuff like (p30):“…We started making out and her lips were like butter.” AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh. Wait… I would have totally said something lame like that too at 19. Or “She carried me away with her magic. I’d never want anybody else. I was sure of it.”(Brian looks around sheepishly) What?? Why are you looking at me? I’ve (gulp).. never been as corny or naive as that! (a single bead of sweat appears on my forehead)So, yeah. It’s an awkward age, and most social interactions from that time are embarrassing to look back on. Colin’s basically a nice kid, if slightly neurotic… nowhere nearly as cynical as Holden Caulfield, but plagued by a lot of the same insecurities about his future. I like that his maturity and immaturity manifest unevenly, because that just happens to be very true to life. One minute, he’ll be obsessing about how a poorly-executed Frisbee catch may have diminished him in Jasmine‘s eyes (puh-leeze)… but then a few minutes later, he’s the only one in his dorm who doesn’t see Chester- the weird kid down the hall- as a total loser. He befriends him, and encourages him to come out of his shell. By page 50 or so, I was on Colin‘s side. Thank God the plot moved along though, because I can only tolerate so much lighthearted hijinx before I start to get impatient, wondering where this is all going.Where it was going was to the dark side… starting with the introduction of Colin’s friend, Karl. I hate to make excessive comparisons to other books here, but I am a big fan of John Knowles’ [b:A Separate Peace|5148|A Separate Peace|John Knowles|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51PXSCEFWZL._SL75_.jpg|39755] (ASP). The dynamic between Colin and Karl is not quite as morose and brooding as that between Gene and Finny in ASP, but the parallels are unmistakable. Karl is easy-going, confident, athletic, and popular. Colin is more thoughtful and intelligent, but introverted, less secure, and less socially skilled. This is universal human experience here. Murray does a good job exploring the dynamics between these two, and any guy who’s passed through this age will recognize the primal wranglings between two dudes who are, on one hand “buds”, but who are also staking out their respective territories and competing for women. I don’t want to overstate things; I’m not putting this book on equal terms with [b:A Separate Peace|5148|A Separate Peace|John Knowles|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51PXSCEFWZL._SL75_.jpg|39755], in fact a very important difference exists between Karl and Finny: Finny was good natured. Karl, we discover, can be an asshole. Still, I thought the scene with the chess game between Colin and Karl was spot-on realistic, and most of Colin’s interactions with Karl are actually more interesting than his relationship with Jasmine. Yeah… poor Jasmine. Her character is not extensively developed, which is too bad, but it serves the purposes of the book: Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled (CPRR) is very much about Colin’s internal psychology, and readers would do well to remember that. Most of the romance between Jasmine and Colin, particularly when their relationship is in trouble, has much more to do with what’s in Colin’s mind than anything Jasmine actually says or does. Young love is very narcissistic. Developing Jasmine’s character would have been interesting, but it may have derailed what I think Murray was trying to do here. This is just very much a book about guys. Before anybody rushes to accuse CPRR of misogyny, I am pleased to inform you that the mentor figure in Colin’s life, and in some ways the most interesting character in the book, is Mrs. Vesquez. Is this a common situation? A nineteen year old kid having a woman twenty-odd years his senior as a (purely platonic) mentor? I ask because I really did have somebody like that in my life at one point, but I thought it was probably an uncommon experience. Mrs. Vesquez naturally has more depth to her (that is revealed) than Jasmine, and is probably the one character in the book the reader can unconditionally respect. Colin’s gradual maturity over the course of the book is self-propelled, but Vesquez serves as a hand extending out from the adult world, encouraging him. She’s a character it would be easy to imagine a writer getting wrong (e.g. by having her develop a sexual relationship with Colin, or conversely making her into a sort of maternal surrogate). Murray didn’t do any of that; he got Mrs. Vesquez just right.Complaint DeptSo no book is perfect, and my complaint with CPRR is the whole Beatles angle. Colin Preston is a huge Beatles fan, and he’s constantly relating his personal situations to lyrics from their songs. Don’t get me wrong: I like the Beatles too, and I recognize there are times when our favorite music can be comforting or inspirational- especially at Colin’s age, when personal tastes tend to be conflated with identity, and idealism mixes with hero-worship in odd ways. Writing this into a 19 year old character is not unrealistic, but it can get to feeling a bit overdone here, which then makes it more like a gimmick. CPRR has good characters, and I like the way Bert Murray writes dialogue, so there is no need for a gimmick; this book is better than that.A final thoughtLooking at my copy sitting on the table next to me as I type, the cover looks to me like a movie poster. With no trouble at all, I can imagine this book being made into a movie. The question is, what kind of movie? Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled is unfortunately exactly the sort of book that somebody at Touchstone would piss all over, turning it into a moronic vehicle to promote some Mouseketeer to her first skank role on the big screen, or as the next step in Justin Beiber‘s career, when he hits his 20‘s. Alternatively, a thoughtful screenwriter with some respect for the characters could turn this into a bittersweet movie that people would enjoy and remember. I’m not asking you to be a starving artist, Mr. Murray. I’m just hoping, as a reader and moviegoer, that you negotiate for some creative control, should Hollywood ever come knocking on your door.