CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 2004
"Ethan's mind went blank. He couldn't think. Not when he was looking at gorgeous Kat Matthews. Kat with the deep green eyes that seemed to sparkle. Kat with the long, silky hair that brushed along the edge of her smooth cheeks. Kat with the soft red lips, which he could still taste. Kat.
Ethan, who is 16 or 17, (he has a driver's licence), is sketching in The Edge, a coffee shop, when Kat, a girl from his school, admires his drawing and asks him out. He is ripe for the picking because his best pal is dating a girl he fancied. Kat, too, may be on the rebound as she studiously ignores the entertainer on stage who is singing to a blonde.
By Chapter Two, and the second date, the novel's theme is clear - reefer madness! Kat smokes pot. Later, she persuades Ethan to try it, suggesting that it will enhance their creativity as they team up on a video game story board. Kat is the most interesting character in the novel. Ethan's friends warn him against her. Even one of her friends remarks that, prior to Ethan, she made bad choices in boyfriends. The buddy who is dating Ethan's former love interest tells him: "Kat just doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks. She seems to do what she wants to do. And she's kind of out there sometimes." What a good description of a free spirit!
The interest in the novel lay, for me, in trying to decide whether Kat was using Ethan to make the coffee shop singer jealous, or whether she truly liked Ethan. Perhaps she saw in him "a nice guy," (as his friends describe him) a fellow artist, and a way to put Ray, the drug-dealing singer, behind her. She tells Ethan that 18-year-old Ray is "just a friend," but that she has a "history" with him that "is hard to get past sometimes."
The reader never understands Kat, though, because Ethan doesn't. The novel is presented from the third person, but limited to his perspective. Ethan is preoccupied with convincing his pals that he has moved on to a more sophisticated relationship. He dislikes his stepfather and fears that his real father, who has a new infant son by his second wife, is no longer interested in him. The glimpses of parents' busy lives and the hints by youth that they feel lonely, hectored and ignored, are the explanations offered in this novel for teen drug use.
Early on, in one of the rare humorous sections, Ethan's Nancy Reaganish- "Just say no" - approach is revealed in an exchange with Kat. She tells him that she smoked pot on their first date to relax because she was nervous about meeting him. Ethan says, "But why did you need the drugs? I was nervous too but I just sprayed on some extra deodorant." Ethan tries pot to please Kat and to become more creative. But ideas generated under the influence are silly in the broad light of day, and the pair become less productive. Interestingly, pot does not lead to sex in this novel, just to haziness, panic attacks and neglect of household chores. The author engages in stereotyping in making the major user (and dealer) a musician. Ray has the potential to be an interesting villain, but the author is aiming for a cautionary tale than a novel with rounded characters. Ray remains a shadowy figure who phones Kat, turns up at her door, makes Ethan jealous, but only appears "on stage" twice. Near the end, he tries to frame Ethan when the police show up during a drug transaction. The officers say that "he is "not a small time guy" but "a major figure around here."
Perhaps in a work of this length one can only hint at character complexity. The Edge is stylistically smooth, except for the frequent use of "like" as a substitute for "what if." Author H.G. Sotzek has created a workmanlike, useful moral tale that will please parents and teachers, but not a great novel for young people that will stand the test of time. The novel tells the reader what NOT to do, but suggests no positive solutions for frustrated artistic and social ambition. Ethan's experience is presented as an accident on the road to a conventional life, rather than as a failure to fully know someone fascinating.
Ruth Latta writes a books column for Ottawa's Forever Young. Her novel, Tea With Delilah, was published recently by Baico Publishing.
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