The narrator of Molly-Jong-Fast's debut novel Normal Girl is unsure if she has killed Jeff, the obscure object of her desire. Perhaps she did, perhaps she didn't. She was too drug-addled – in this case cocaine and alcohol – to notice.
Novels about rich urban young things with meaningless partying lives are a fictional genre all their own. Consider, for instance, Less Than Zero and Bright Lights, Big City. The requirements of the genre are the rich young thing and his/her circle, drugs, absent parents, trendy job, rehab (or death) and a moving away from a social setting which was previously one's world. Molly Jong-Fast lives up to the genre. Unlike many of the main characters in other novels of this genre, the main narrator Miranda Woke is likable and wit seems to pour out of her every sleep-deprived pore, even when she's at a funeral.
In Miranda's world, there is no real here and now. Everyone is aware of watching eyes, and if eyes are watching, one must either be trendy fabulously dressed or be "with" people who are trendy or fabulously dressed in some trendy or fabulous place. Miranda is therefore always caught up in comparisons and envy. In such an atmosphere, friendships are not only precarious and grounded in the unreal, but the death of friends may mean nothing at all -- even if the funeral parlor is packed and everyone who is anyone is surrounding the corpse. The unasked questions for Miranda are of course: Will she herself die? And who are her real friends? Did she kill Jeff?
The question of Jeff's death is what initially pulls the reader through the first part of the story. One wants to hear why she thinks she murdered Jeff. That would have been a nice dramatic road to take. When the Jeff story comes out near the end of the book, the reader feels somewhat deprived. The real story seems to be suddenly found and then just as suddenly lost. The rehab and the commitment to a normal life wasn't bad, mind you. When the truth came out that the narrator was in love with the Obscure Object of
Everyone's Affection, the story suddenly became more exciting for me. The
source of the narrator's pain was now clearly seen. We had known the narrator
only through her intellectual wit and now we were --at last-- seeing her heart. Just when I wanted to know more about this unknown character Jeff and to explore Miranda's non-relationship with the deceased, the book ended. Yet despite this, Normal Girl is a good read and a neat peek into the life of the upper East Side Jewish set.
Admittedly, this kind of "poor little lost rich girl novel" can be hard to read. After all, the main character –- a nineteen-year-old whose parents aren't on her back, who has rich friends and trendy places to go -- may not connect with the reader. But the universality of the narrator's plight makes Normal Girl a good coming-of-age novel (although the lingo might be lost on non-New Yorkers of the 21st century) about self-destructiveness. The setting and description of the many scenes in the novel are told in a quirky, witty way. The narrator's tone and vocabulary are dead-on, just the kind of things
real teens would say or think. I highly recommend this book.