Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books: Innocents, by Cathy Coote

I don’t know how Cathy Coote’s Innocents made its way onto my reading list, but whoever recommended it is a damned fool. Coots was 19 when she wrote the manuscript, and it shows. It’s precisely the kind of melodramatic smut that we would expect from a sensually precocious high-schooler who has read Lolita only once, and for content rather than form (i.e., the wrong reason).

The story is of an introverted, sixteen year-old orphan being raised by her unassuming aunt and uncle. Something of an artist, she spends her nights drawing sadist portraits of her friends at her girls’ school, attaining release from this visual masturbation. When her uncle walks in on her drawing one night, she runs away, to the home of the awkward male teacher who clearly has an interest in her. She seduces him, moves in; he quits his job and, for a time, they live as lovers, though she remains in many way a child, even consciously exacerbating her childishness to keep him ensnared.

The book is confessional, written in first person in the form of a letter from the girl to the teacher, after he has moved out (his attentions have inverted her sadism to masochism, and her games inspire him to anally rape her; she locks herself in the bathroom and cries, and, overcome with guilt, he leaves, dropping a packet of money on the door step each week). Coote writes with the appropriate hyperbolic self-criticism of a high-school girl’s diary, but the book lacks any additional layers to demonstrate that this isn’t just Coote’s own young voice. The vague characterizations and clichéd plot turns suggest that, indeed, Coote’s creative powers are weak. Frankly, this book should never have been published. I’m all for smut (and Coote’s success clearly lies in her willingness to milk the reader’s sexual desires with coy physical descriptions and steamy sex scenes), but of a literary, intelligent kind (see Portnoy's Complaint). If I wanted writing this cheap, I would buy Barely Legal.

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