Friday, July 25, 2014

In Deep: competition and other unhealthy impulses

Book + beer + boat = my kind of summer day

A couple weeks ago, my wonderfully talented friend Terra Elan McVoy invited me to join some other author friends of hers in celebrating the launch of her new book, In Deep, by sharing our own stories of when we got ourselves into something way in over our heads. As I mulled over the book, which is about a high school girl getting way too ensnared by her need to compete in every aspect of her life, it reminded me of the highlight of my own crappy teenage behavior, so I wrote about that for Terra here (it's the second entry on the page).

In Deep is an interesting, challenging book, and I felt it was important to talk about the ways in which I related to it. Other people might respond negatively to the book because the main character, Brynn, is "unlikable," but this book to me is an example of an unlikable main character who really works. Let's be clear here: Brynn is a little jerk. She cheats on her boyfriend without a moment's hesitation, and she does it with the guy her best friend is dating. She spends a lot of the book blowing off her schoolwork and blaming other people for her problems. A sweet, appealing character she is not. But what she is, is real, and honest, and complicated. She is also pathologically competitive, which is a trait that I personally happen to find fascinating (I put a pathologically competitive character in my own book who also happens to be a swimmer--as I said to Terra, I think that of all the elite athletes in the world, people who compete for wins where the margin is literally hundredths of a second have got to be the most intense of all). And I can relate to that competitiveness. Especially when I think back to how I behaved when I was sixteen: I was a hell of a lot more selfish then. I wanted to win at everything, including boys. And then I started to grow up and become a better human being--just like Brynn does in this book, in a really believable and heartbreaking way.

All in all, I think the character that Terra built in In Deep is fascinating. Brynn is a young girl obsessed with proving her strength, both physical and mental, and maintaining that strength at all costs. Through her, we see a glimpse of the extraordinary discipline and mental toughness that elite athletes have to possess, and the ways in which that same toughness can turn corrosive if it's not channeled the right way. Brynn is not somebody I'd particularly want to be buddies with, no, but I cared what happened to her, and got drawn into her story just the same. This book is a terrific study in exploring some of the more unsavory parts of human nature, and showing how they can ruin us if we let them.