Dive by Randall DeVallance
I had a high-school crush on Holden Caulfield and it never quite went away. I still tell people my favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, even though it’s a clichéd and easy answer. I enjoy movies like Igby Goes Down, simply because they portray that adolescent angst and disillusionment embodied by my first love. To this day, my boyfriends tend to be charming misanthropists. I should, by Randall DeVallance’s measure, be enthralled with the main character of his first novel, Dive.
Arthur Trezeguet, the first-person narrator, is intended to be a modern-day Holden Caulfield. This is not to say he actually reminds anyone of Holden Caulfield, but it is glaringly obvious that this was precisely what the author had in mind. If you missed the various clues connecting Arthur Trezeguet to the original angsty, sensitive, Holden, Arthur is kind enough to help you: "My English teacher told me I reminded her of Holden Caulfield… I’ve always liked Holden Caulfield. He’s sort of like a brother to me." It’s a bit of a presumptuous statement and one that is helpful in illustrating the main problem with the novel: Randall DeVallance acts as if telling the reader what to think is as effective as creating life-like characters that invite interpretation. He also seems to believe that his characters are a lot more interesting and likeable than they actually are.
Like Holden Caulfield, Arthur is a confused young man, intelligent but unlucky both in love and life. And there is where the similarities end. To make ends meet (and escape the mind-numbingly whiny girlfriend in his apartment), Arthur takes a job as a desk clerk in a seedy little motel. From this vantage point, Arthur can amuse the reader with various remarks on the parade of humans that stop by the front desk. There’s the friendly Mexican mugger, the Christ-loving prostitute and the tour bus full of Indians that haggles for a discount. As he struggles to prove to the reader that he’s a sensitive, intriguing character, Arthur relates a few genuinely amusing one-liners regarding this cast of characters. This is pretty much the extent of Arthur’s appeal -- a handful of witty observations broken up by dull, stilted dialogue.
When left with a narrator so uninspiring, one would hope the plot would be thrilling. Unfortunately, the only perceptible plot line is a flirtation with one of the hotel bar regulars, Susan. This can be considered a plot only in so much as she appears on the pages of the novel semi-regularly, drinking, smoking cigarettes and inviting meditations on the beauty of her legs. Throwing caution to the wind, Arthur and Susan somewhat suddenly form a plan to run away together. The plan fails, due to Susan’s reluctance. If you need help analyzing her behavior, the characters come to the rescue with explicit, stilted conversation. Susan informs Arthur, “I thought that being with someone younger would make me feel young and beautiful again. But it doesn’t. I feel ugly, Arthur… ugly, old, and ashamed.” It’s the climax of the novel, and while you see how it could be moving (poor Arthur, he’s so naïve, the world is so screwy -- get it? Just like Holden Caulfield) you don’t much care.
Randall DeVallance has talent, insight, and depth. These are facts that are incredibly easy to miss in his novel Dive. There is the occasional line showcasing a dry humor and the appropriately timed ironies such as the virgin prostitute (she only gives blow jobs). But he needs something -- maybe a plot or an editor or perhaps an entirely different concept for a novel. Whatever the reason, Dive is not an enjoyable or moving read.
Dive by Randall DeVallance