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Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep: A Novel (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Curtis Sittenfeld

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4,2551321,166 (3.56)129
Title:Prep: A Novel
Authors:Curtis Sittenfeld
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2005), Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005)

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Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
Rarely have I disliked a novel with such violence. I think the main reason for this was disappointment. I often read books that I know I'm going to hate (e.g. anything by Stephenie Meyer or Emily Giffin), and I know I'm going to hate them because their themes get my back up. Sometimes it's good to hate. With 'Prep' though, I was expecting to fall in love. Give me teenagers at boarding school, especially when the main character is the outsider, and I'm won over. 'Friendly fire', 'Harry Potter', 'The catcher in the rye' are just a few of the books that have a special place in my heart thanks to their treatment of the 'teen in institutionalised education' theme.

So I read the blurb at the back of 'Prep' and thought, 'I'm going to love this, or at the very least enjoy it'. Sadly it wasn't to be. A hundred pages in I realised I was not enjoying that book at all and that on the contrary it was infuriating me. I kept going, hoping it would get better but it just got worse. When I finally finished it I would happily have ripped it in two, except I don't do that to books. Blame it on my librarian training.

What do I pin the blame on? Or where do I start? I don't know, probably with Lee herself. It takes magnificent skill from a writer to make you follow an unlikeable narrator/main character with interest. Daphne du Maurier does a superb job of it 'My cousin Rachel', and Alan Hollinghurst truly impressed me with Nick in 'The line of beauty'. Although not a narrator, Nick is the perspective we have to go with in that novel, and I think his example is relevant here as like Lee he is the odd one out trying (and failing) to carve his place in a social class way above his own. Well, clearly Curtis Sittenfeld is no Hollinghurst, not even a little bit. A little bit would have been better than what she gave us with Lee.

Lee has nothing to say, yet she manages to fill more than 400 pages with thorough explorations of her uninteresting navel. NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS. She is cold, selfish, unappreciative, self-obsessed, SO FUCKING SHALLOW. There is literaly nothing to her. She might go unnoticed but what is there to notice? All she talks about is herself and how others affect her/how she appears to others, it's her her her all the time. If at least there were a few interesting observations, descriptions of what she likes... But it seems all she can talk about is nothing, a whole lot of nothing. I was hoping that at some point there would be some mention of what she's studying and how she finds her subjects, how she sees her life evolving from school, but the only thing she seems to care about is how she looks to others, what they think of her and how she can be popular. She is such a nasty jealous person as well, horrible to her family and to the friends who inexplicably stick with her... I found it exhausting and infuriating. The only moment I felt any satisfaction was when her father slapped her.

The style sank this sorry mess even further in my opinion. A good writer would have made the reader see Lee exactly for what she is but still want to read about her. If anything Sittenfeld's style seriously put me off. Any attempts at depth fell flat - for example the bit where Lee is reprimanded by her English teacher for not showing enough passion and she thinks to herself that she feels everything too intensely. Well, sorry Curtis but none of that intensity actually reached the page. Lee's existential musings never sounded genuine or insightful, just self-involved, petty and narrow. The succession of cliches sometimes made my jaw hang open in disbelief. The one that stays with me is the bit about Sin-Jun being an obvious lesbian because she has short hair and ear piercings. Seriously? We're still there, are we? Sorry, I thought this was the 21st century. My mistake. There were plenty more cliches too, it wasn't an isolated incident. There's no excuse for that when you're trying to be all literary and deep. Speaking of, the literary devices in there were so heavy and clunky I cringed. The amount of 'in fact' used to no effect, the endless questions of 'am I like this?', 'is this that?', 'why this?' became so tiresome I wanted to scream, the fact that every single time there seemed to be something happening the narrative cut to another pointless anecdote or flashback or musing frustrated me no end...

The best thing about this book? It ended. I won't be reading any of Curtis Sittenfeld's other novels.
(cross-posted to Goodreads) ( )
  anna_battista | Nov 7, 2015 |
Read this years ago. I remember loving it. :) ( )
  laura.w.douglas | Feb 7, 2015 |
Read this years ago. I remember loving it. :) ( )
  laura.w.douglas | Feb 7, 2015 |
When I was a child I used to page through books at the library looking for narrators or heroines I thought were similar to me and was distressed that I never found them quite shy enough or fat enough or sufficiently self-loathing. Now I'm glad I didn't. Lee Fiora might be that narrator I was looking for--plain, unremarkable, silent, friendless--but if I had identified with her as a kid, I don't know whether I would have grown up.

In Prep, our heroine, a middle-class girl from Indiana, goes to an elite New England boarding school called Ault and faces the iniquities of high school--the clueless teachers, the super-hard algebra homework, the girls with long blonde hair, the cool kids, and the cool boy who fucks her in the middle of the night but doesn't talk to her during the day. At this school, the cool kids are cool and rich, and even most of the uncool kids are rich, and the minorities are rich, and Lee is, like, the only middle class person there. And she's not cool. She has a really bad time.

On one level it is just a gloomy story about a high-school girl, but Lee is such an unusual narrator that the book is unsettling in the way of nightmare dystopias and psychological thrillers. Lee narrates the story with a flat affect and simple language. There are several ways to experience this. Sometimes it seems like bad writing, sometimes a precise imitation of a real teenager, and sometimes the low, out of touch thoughts of a depressive adolescent on the way to psychopathic adulthood.

The novel is Lee's inner world, but only while she is at Ault. She herself suggests that she is a different person while there and that this other person disappears as soon as she leaves the campus to fly home. And though we get to know her thoughts and feelings very well, there are two details Sittenfeld leaves out: what she looks like and what she ends up doing after college.

While I was reading this I thought it must be a book meant for young adults. the flat tone, the uncomplicated language.
reflecting on it, though, I think this is a devastating story about a nobody. It could have been written by a russian. (but not Tolstoy because there's no redemption and not Dostoevsky because there is no morality)

Is ault, perhaps, hell? is martha her virgil?
is cross her beatrice/or paulo/or is she psyche and he eros?

she leaves her home and goes into an alternate reality
she wants to be a different person. she wants to exceed her station in life.
but unlike a greek tragedy, which would have her dying a poetically fitting death, she is just really unhappy

Her roommate says it. The most frustrating thing about Lee is she doesn't do anything to change her situation. I totally understand this. I was the same way. I have been and am the same way so often. But it's heartbreaking to see it in someone else. (and one so young! a la gigi)

Teachers tell her she's a value to the school. But why?? she never tells you anything good about herself. So you sort of have to believe that there are good things, hidden somewhere. Maybe she is lying when she says she never talks to anybody? Maybe she's a great teammate (they all have to play sports--every season--a sign that the place really may be hell). Maybe she's a joy in history class?

this is what it's like to be unremarkable....

as an adult she still sounds depressed. One of my favorite passages. at the basketball games

'sure maybe there are margaritas and no curfew. but there are also puffy white bagels under the fluorescent lights at the office...and blah blah blah" ( )
  millihelen | Jan 9, 2015 |
Wow! What a ride! I thought this was going to be your typical "boarding school" story but it went much deeper. I'm not sure I enjoyed it but it intrigued me intellectually. I'd be interested to read more by this author. ( )
  olegalCA | Dec 9, 2014 |
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For my parents, Paul and Betsy Sittenfeld;
my sisters, Tiernan and Josephine;
and my brother, P.G.
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I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 081297235X, Paperback)

Curtis Sittenfeld's poignant and occassionally angst-ridden debut novel Prep is the story of Lee Fiora, a South Bend, Indiana, teenager who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ault school, an East Coast institution where "money was everywhere on campus, but it was usually invisible." As we follow Lee through boarding school, we witness firsthand the triumphs and tragedies that shape our heroine's coming-of-age. Yet while Sittenfeld may be a skilled storyteller, her real gift lies in her ability to expertly give voice to what is often described as the most alienating period in a young person's life: high school.

True to its genre, Prep is filled with boarding school stereotypes--from the alienated gay student to the picture perfect blond girl; the achingly earnest first-year English teacher and the dreamy star basketball player who never mentions the fact that he's Jewish. Lee's status as an outsider is further affirmed after her parents drive 18 hours in their beat-up Datsun to attend Parent's Weekend, where most of the kids "got trashed and ended up skinny-dipping in the indoor pool" at their parents' fancy hotel. Yet even as the weekend deteriorates into disaster and ends with a heartbreaking slap across the face, Sittenfeld never blames or excuses anyone; rather, she simply incorporates the experience into Lee's sense of self. ("How was I supposed to understand, when I applied at the age of thirteen, that you have your whole life to leave your family?")

By the time Lee graduates from Ault, some readers may tire of her constant worrying and self-doubting obsessions. However, every time we feel close to giving up on her, Sittenfeld reels us back in and makes us root for Lee. In doing so, perhaps we are rooting for every high school student who's ever wanted nothing more than to belong. --Gisele Toueg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:07 -0400)

In the late 1980s, for reasons even she has difficulty pinpointing, fourteen-year-old Lee Fiora leaves her middle-class, close-knit, ribald family in Indiana and enrolls at Ault, an elite co-ed boarding school in Massachusetts. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of, and ultimately a participant in, their rituals and mores, although, as a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider. By the time she's a senior, Lee has found her place at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her hard-won identity within the community is shattered. Lee's experiences, complicated relationships with teachers, intense and sometimes rancorous friendships with other girls, an all-consuming preoccupation with a classmate who is less than a boyfriend and more than a crush, are both a psychologically astute portrait of one girl's coming-of-age and an embodiment of the painful and thrilling adolescence universal to us all.… (more)

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