“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
While this book seemingly hints at being an awesome love story, the book is not about that at all. It’s a novel that underlines our great search–for who we are, what defines us and even for things we didn’t know we were searching for.
Miles Halter goes to the same boarding school his Dad went to. Partly because of his fascination with last words, he sets off to this “great” (you tell me when you read it) adventure, seeking a “Great Perhaps”. The latter is actually Francois Rabelais’ last words, as you will read in the book.
Typically young adult-ish, Miles, stumbles into The Colonel, a person who is neither a bad influence nor a good one. The Colonel even gives Miles a new name–Pudge. The Colonel’s the typical teenager, further exemplified by his infatuation with getting piss drunk, smoking, playing pranks and getting into trouble. The Colonel befriends Pudge, and the latter becomes a sidekick of some sort. Pudge realizes it too, but like the good kid (or maybe indifferent or apathetic is the best term) he is, allows himself to be one.
“The Colonel ran ahead of me, gleeful at his ejection, and I jogged after him, trailing in his wake. I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.” – Pudge
Through The Colonel, Miles meets Alaska, “that” girl who seems to be more than a friend, but never a lover. Then Miles meet Takumi, then Lara. Then there is The Eagle. The character of Alaska Young is that gorgeous time-bomb we are all too familiar with. When I think of Alaska, I can’t help but imagine Cassie of The Skins fame. We all know someone who is just like Alaska Young. Beautiful but destructive. Eloquent but manic. I like her but hate her all at the same time. Her weakness is her strength and vice-versa.
“Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” – Alaska
The novel offers teenage angst at its grandest. But amid the nonstop booze nights written throughout the entire book, bits of teenage wisdom pushes through. You know how when we were teenagers, we always knew we were wiser than what people perceive us to be. That we were wiser than we actually thought we were?
“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”
I didn’t expect that death would arrive to stir up their lives. That Alaska Young, the girl who seemed to pull everyone together, died. But as the story progressed, you would know that it was the only way for the great big realization to be written in–you know what I mean? Death was, apparently, the only way out of their great labyrinth. Alaska’s death was never resolved. Perhaps she met an accident. Perhaps she committed suicide. As a reader, you can come up with reasons to believe that it was either of the two. Pudge and The Colonel tried, but never found the answer.
You might not like the characters and all there messed-up gloriousness, but somehow the stereotypical characters make the novel’s theme believable and honest–that some things in life simply can’t be answered. No matter how rational, logical or reasonable our question is, we will live with a “Great Perhaps” one way or another.