Author: Rodes Fishburne

Delacorte Press, 2008

Best ebook deal: Available at the library

Going to See the Elephant would be a pretty good young adult novel, if the main character were ten years younger and there weren’t quite so many instances of the word “motherfucker.”

If you’re looking for a quick, harmless read which won’t tax you, you might give this book a shot. If you’re looking for more than 9th-grade level complexity, or something that might affect you, this book is not for you.

Charitable write-ups of Elephant have called it magic realism; in fact, it’s simply lazy realism. Magic realists must know acutely the boundaries of the real, and step past them carefully and willingly. They use invention to expand the boundaries of our world.

Fishburne does not expand the boundaries of the real world, he ignores them and instead creates a light fantasy—fantasy in the sense that everything is idyllic. Fishburne’s San Francisco is a place where actions never have serious consequences, and all of the people are simple to understand, and easy to categorize.

For example, Slater Brown, the main character, is a 25-year-old wannabe writer, which means that he carries hundreds of pounds of books with him to San Francisco, and he quotes literature incessantly. He’s also painfully, cartoonishly naive, though that doesn’t stop him from getting everything he wants.

Callio de Quincy, Slater’s girlfriend, is perfect. She’s the most beautiful girl in San Francisco, and also the smartest and most athletic. Wherever she goes, dozens of young men hit on her; she turns them all down except Slater, whom she immediately falls in love with.

Milo Magnet is the evil genius, or he would be if he meant to be evil. He can—brace yourself—control the weather; though the calamity this eventually causes is unintentional.

Actually, most everything plotwise in this book is unintentional. Slater gets a job at a newspaper, The Morning Trumpet, and passively cons his way into keeping it. He courts Callio effortlessly, and succeeds in everything, and then succeeds some more. There’s little conflict, and little danger that any of the characters (or the reader) will be so much as upset, let alone angry or sad.

Here’s a test that might tell you if you’ll like this book: when the Morning Trumpet gets rich (the year is in question, but it’s at least 2000), they decide “they would consider buying computers but only Maynard stipulated, if a good case could be made for why they would be helpful.” If you found that a lovely detail, read the book.

I found it to be lazy writing; an author taking a shortcut. He wants to tell you that this paper was broke and old-fashioned, but does not want to think of a complex or realistic way to do so. From that perspective, this author takes a lot of shortcuts, and ultimately, those shortcuts form the fabric of the novel.

If you found the computer line unpalatable, you’ll find Elephant, as I did, patronizing and condescending in its simplicity, frustrating in its inconsistency, and insulting to your common sense.

However, there is one line that everyone will like and it comes in the acknowledgments: “And thanks to the San Francisco Police Department for recovering this manuscript when it was stolen from the author’s car.”

Now that sounds like a good story.

Similar books:

Fun, light read set in San Francisco: The Ultimate Rush, by Joe Quirk

Good books about young writers: The Frog King, by Adam Davies; Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney