Wednesday, September 07, 2011


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The Savage Girl, Alex Shakar, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, 275 pp

If a candidate for a PhD in marketing were to write a novel as his thesis, The Savage Girl might fit the bill. Therein lies the trouble with this clever novel. Clearly Alex Shakar had done his research and measured the pulse driving marketing at the turn of the millennium, but his characters are hard to fathom.

Maybe all people involved in marketing become soulless robots who look at consumers as witless marks to be conned into buying crap. Perhaps that was the point?

Ivy Van Urden was on a fast track to becoming a supermodel until her relationship with powerful marketing genius Chas Lacouture triggered a psychotic break. Her sister Ursula, aspiring fine artist, arrives in town to look after Ivy and winds up working for Lacouture's trendspotting firm, Tomorrow, Ltd. Soon enough, Ursula's artistic sense combines with her high IQ and she creates and sells a campaign for a weight reducing water based on the "savage girl" she spotted among the homeless of Middle City.

Not long after that, the elements of this prescient tale combine in toxic and preposterous ways. Ivy gets released from the mental hospital when her insurance runs out and becomes the model for the Savage Girl. But she is no saner than when the breakdown occurred, so it all spirals further downward. I don't believe I have read a thriller about marketing before but now I have.

It sounds thrilling right? And it is. Deep thoughts about "postirony" and the dichotomy inherent in creating want weave through societal commentary alongside non-stop action. But Ursula, Ivy, Chas, plus the other main characters just never came alive. For me, the necessary suspension of disbelief required would not remain suspended. It took me days to read the mere 275 pages.

Somewhere past the halfway point a change occurred, possibly the pacing of the plot, possibly Ursula becoming a character I could believe in or care about, and the last 100 pages flew by. Still, though all the loose ends were tied, though the bad guys lost and the less bad guys kind of won, (there are no good guys in this novel) I didn't feel anything but dread for the future. Again, that may have been the point.

Alex Shakar's second novel, Luminarium has just been released. I have read it and it is stunning. His razor sharp intelligence is obvious in The Savage Girl; his ability to assimilate and recombine vast amounts of sociological data is in no doubt. He just needed to work on those characters and in his new novel, he put it all together. I always like reading first novels because they give clues as to where an author is going to go. It was worth reading The Savage Girl for that very reason.

(The Savage Girl is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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