Today, we love Paul Murray’s “Skippy Dies”, even though it is a sprawling 650 pages, and it is about loneliness (about how the universe is actually made of loneliness), and it even though one character’s only talent is lighting his farts on fire…
The story is set at Seabrook College, a posh boarding school for particularly lucky Dublin boys. In this novel, the teenagers are real. Carl spiked the punch with Mom’s sleeping pills. Barry keeps selling Ritalin to the girls at St. Brigid’s. The girls text on bedazzled phones, give blowjobs, obsess over pop-star Bethany. The boys try to impress them by throwing flaming paper planes down on Asian clerks from the roof of donut shop.
Meanwhile, all of Murray’s adult characters are losers who eventually shuffled back to their alma matter once their other chances have burned out. At Seabrook, generations of sob stories seem to gather in the staff room, guys like Howard the Coward, Lurch the math teacher and Pere Vert, the creepy Father who teaches French. It’s depressing and perfect. Murray calls the whole process of turning old and lame “looking down the barrel of de-dreamification":
Here’s a taste:
“You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth draws on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the ice burg – that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean whey they speak of ‘life’. Now, with every day that passes, another seems to close, the one marked PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN or FIGHT EVIL ROBOT, until as the weeks go by and the doors – GET BITTEN BY SNAKE, SAVE THE WORLD FROM ASTEROID, DISMANTLE BOMB WITH SECONDS TO SPARE – keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed…”