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I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

I never wanted to read this book. When I first found out about it, I was like: Major high school geek declares his love for the head cheerleader in his valedictorian speech and then spends the rest of grad night running away from her meathead boyfriend whilst trying to get in her panties? Yawn. Then I read this rave on Pajiba and I really didn't want to read it. A retread of John Hughes comedies, but in novel form twenty years later without the nostalgia factor and also with 500% more bodily fluids? NO THANKS.

Then my cousin called me a couple of days ago and informed me that the movie (by all accounts not good, even for those who liked the book)--and, thus, the book--was set at the high school she just graduated from, in the town I grew up in (I went to a different high school, one that is mentioned several times over the course of the narrative). I'm all about that; I have established myself as quite the fan of you-are-kinda-there reading. So I booked it to my local B&N and after many misdirected attempts to locate it in the YA section, where it belongs, I found it in a non-movie poster paperback form. Perfect.

The book is, indeed, set in Buffalo Grove, at Buffalo Grove High School, which ensured I got all the regional jokes. Fabulous. I Love You, Beth Cooper follows the trajectory of one long night in the life of Denis "The Penis" Cooverman--graduation night, in fact. It's the best night of Denis' life. As he says to Beth Cooper late in the book, "All of my high school memories are from tonight."

Poor bastard. Seriously, Denis' graduation night is just short of a massacre--he emerges from it broken, bloody, bruised, mosquito-bitten, and waterlogged, with healthy amounts of humiliation and patent ridiculousness thrown in for good measure. Just in case you can't visualize it properly, the helpful folks at Ecco threw in chapter illustrations charting the decimation of Denis' unremarkable face for good measure.

The facts are these: Denis Cooverman, BGHS valedictorian, virgin, and all-around geek, takes the opportunity in his valedictory address to give his fellow classmates a hearty "fuck you" by accusing them of latent homosexuality (and this to his best friend, Richard "Rich" "You Know He Has Another Nickname" Munsch, which, puerile, yes, to be sure), vapidity, idiocy, having been sexually abused as a child, and disordered eating, among other things.

Oh, and he also tells Beth Cooper he loves her. Who is Beth Cooper, you ask? Why, she's the head cheerleader! OF COURSE. Because no other girl is worth lusting after. Denis sat behind Beth in class all through high school, and though she has nearly no idea who he is, and they've never really spoken, he's in love with her. Naturally.

Beth Cooper is an interesting conundrum. She's definitely a bitch, but there's a good-heartedness to her that would be way more apparent if it wasn't so often eclipsed by her insipid selfishness. Her most admirable trait is both her awareness of and willingness to acknowledge the fact that her glory days are behind her, that not being very smart or driven she basically has no future. Of course, like all things, not having a future is a choice, which she doesn't seem to get and probably never will. Too bad for her. Denis, for his part, is going to Northwestern.

In a moment of insanity, Denis invites Beth to his house for a "party"--basically, he and Rich sitting in the basement staring at a bottle of champagne. But they actually come! On a lark, of course, but Denis, who actually does lack total self-awareness, doesn't get that until later. By then, he's been beaten to a pulp many, many times (an unbelievable amount of times) by Beth's jacked, coked-up Army boyfriend Kevin and his goons and broken about 10 laws. Whoops. Here's to the nights, you guys--here is to the nights.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's funny, especially at the beginning and at the end. The author is a writer for The Simpsons and he is genuinely amusing, at times EL OH EL hilarious. On the other hand, there is absolutely no emotional hook for me here. This book is for boys who spent all of their high school years "being in love" with someone they didn't even know or, to be honest, want to know. There are a lot of those stories out there, and I just don't find them very interesting.

I think that's what bothered me the most about I Love You, Beth Cooper--Denis is absolutely stunned to find out that Beth is an actual human being apart from his perfect fantasies of her, but he doesn't even see that for what it really is. Instead, he's too busy being stunned by this exotic creature who smokes cigarettes (OMG!!!11!) and drives like a bat out of hell and wears panties that say "Hello!" on them. Uh, that does not a woman (or even a girl) make, Denis. Beth's flaws are forced and contrived, while Denis' redeeming qualities are basically nonexistant. He's a boring pedant who can't wrap his brain around reality; he's a coward and a narcissist, and he blew his one moment of courage on his high school valedictory speech. Blerg.

I don't know, you guys. The incessant beatings Denis (and, thus, the reader) is forced to endure are really boring and worthless, and the events of the novel grow increasingly unrealistic as time goes on--there is a very over-the-top Simpsons-esque quality to the humor, which feels out of place in the setting, which I acknowledge might be the I-actually-grew-up-in-that-town thing kicking in but I doubt it. But I feel uncomfortable outright panning it, because there were some moments in which I truly enjoyed I Love You, Beth Cooper. The most effective scene for me was the one where Denis realizes that Beth and her friends showed up at his miserable excuse for a party as a goof. Duh, right? But for Denis, that is the worst, and I genuinely felt for the guy.

Nevertheless, at the end of the book I just kind of looked like my friend Hayden here:

Mostly bewildered.

If you do decide to pick this one up, get the paperback--the supplemental materials at the end of it are the funniest part of the whole book. Also, if you're a fan of audio books, I have an audio version of I Love You, Beth Cooper that I will never, ever use, not being much of an audio book fan myself--email me at ohdreads [at] gmail [dot] com and it's yours. First come, first served; US residents only, sorry.

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  1. Blogger chris | 2:30 PM |  

    I wish I could go back in time and read this book before I saw the trailer for the movie and/or knew that Hayden Panettiere was in it.

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