Edward Zanni is one of the best young actors in America. He wants only one thing out of life: to go to Julliard, the most exclusive acting school in the country. The year is 1982, he’s a senior in high school, and he and his drama-club friends are on a mission to send Edward to college - and also to get laid, but not necessarily in that order.
Ed’s rich dad has refused to pay for “some silly acting school.” Edward is ineligible for financial aid and incapable of working. So, he turns to his cast of unlikely friends (the jock, the ex-cheerleader, the geek, the foreign student) and together they set out to make some hardcore cash through embezzlement, money laundering, and blackmail. Wacky hijinks ensue.
The situation gets stickier when Edward loses interest in his cheerleader girlfriend and develops a crush on the star quarterback of the football team. Meanwhile, the cheerleader has a few surprises up her skirt, their geeky friend can’t get laid, and the foreign student is mysteriously asexual. Kinky hijinks ensue.
Being high school drama kids, everything is fabulous and over the top -- they prank, party, and pop-culture-reference like crazy. While the cast of unlikely friends sounds sitcomy (it is), Acito pulls it off with clever dialogue and description that is never boring or pretentious, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
The sex scenes are sexy. This is one of the biggest literary compliments I can bestow. Too often, sex scenes are unbearable, unintentionally hilarious, or disgusting. Acito’s sex scenes are hot. More than that, they actually drive the plot instead of being pointless erotic decoration.
Marc Acito has been compared to David Sedaris, and there are definitely similarities: the wit, the East Coast, the homosexuals, and the pace of the writing. The main dissimilarity, and also the main criticism of Acito’s work, is that he lacks Sedaris’s depth and insight. You might call How I Paid for College a “good read” -- a backhanded compliment meaning the book was readable, entertaining, and hilarious, but the sort of book you put down and forget about. Then again, anyone who has tried their hand at writing knows that readability is no small achievement, and without it you are nothing as an author.
This is Acito’s first novel, and for a first it’s damn good. Maybe the depth and insight part will come with time, or maybe we should just let ourselves enjoy “a good read” and stop worrying so much.