Twelve by Nick McDonnell

Aha! Stumbling around my local Borders as I was, looking for something to while away the dead spots during a family Christmas my eye was drawn to a stark modern cover design with blurb that pressed all the right buttons. “Stunning debut” it said (10 points); “he’s in danger of doing for his generation what I did for mine (Hunter S Thompson)” it said (15 points); “the bright lights of acid and the ferocity of speed” it said (another 15 points). Twelve is a novel that completely satisfied my criteria for random book selection. You can see why I took it home.

Set in New York over the 5 days leading up to New Year it’s the story of a bunch of late teens looking for a party. It spans the classes from the ghettos of the Bronx to the brownstones on Park Avenue, telling the story of a group of kids all loosely connected by the same desire for a big New Year’s bash and all destined to end up at the same house for the big night.

It uses the neat narrative trick of telling the story from many character’s point of view. White Mike is our main protagonist – a small time dealer in weed and coke who never touches his own supply. Other characters include the rich geek who’s brother used to be a coke addict, the unencumbered prom queen and the drug addled mess of self consciousness that is the party girl. Each one tells their story over the 5 days, and each one gives us an insight into their own peculiar brand of teenage angst.

You can tell from that precis that this is going to be a difficult novel to carry off; there’s not an awful lot to work with, let alone a lot of originality, and unfortunately Twelve doesn’t manage it. This is another one of those desperate to shock novels. Apparently we should be shocked that kids in their late teens smoke weed. We should be shocked that they take cocaine. We should be shocked that drugs make up so much of their lives, and that they overstep boundaries because of them.

So, this is mostly regurgitated pap. He’s trying to be make an East Coast version of Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and he really doesn’t succeed. On top of that it’s made all the more disappointing by the overt privilege and ego of the author. Never have I read a book before where the author so desperately wants us to think that the book is autobiographical because he’s made the character he wants us to think is him so cool.

Add to that a set of completely vacuous two dimensional characters, a plot so weak it couldn’t snap spaghetti, a fictional device clumsily created and then never actually used and a denoument that smacks of the last role playing game the author played and what you get left with is a completely disatisfying 2 hour read.

Shame on the publishers for publishing it, shame on the parents for funding the little twat through school and letting him live out his desire to be a novelist. I’m sure he got a good education. Hopefully he learned a trade. He’ll need it.