Wednesday, May 14, 2008

50 Book Challenge #25: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Is there anything more pathetic than a stupid nerd? Even our largely anti-intellectual society grudgingly makes room for the geeky genius. His awkwardness is offset by his keen intelligence. He has role models in the sciences, letters, and film. His academic triumphs balance out those of the jocks on the sports field. But the outcast of outcasts is the stupid nerd. A failure at the very things that are emblematic of his adolescent tribe, the dumb nerd is every man's goat.

Oscar Wao is a painfully drawn example of just such a figure. I generally enjoy any novel with footnotes, especially one that trades on knowledge of geek pursuits, but this was less pleasurable of a read than it might have been. The point of view is at first indistinct, then varied, then disappointing. Relatedly, the style is slangy and informal in a way that some may find grating. The narrator's characterization seemed inconsistent, but perhaps I underestimate the likelihood that an empty-headed youth with no evidence of intelligence or drive could become a college instructor. All this is separate from the oddly-formed central character of Oscar, whose personality is achingly real but whose final actions are melodramatic in the extreme. Recommended with reservations (check it out from a library).

UPDATE: Phoebe had this to say:
Growing up, I remember that the strange or funny-looking kid in class was always commonly assumed to be brilliant, even if no one had any evidence of this, even if the kid got bad grades and never said anything sharp in or out of class. It's hard to accept that beauty and brains are not distributed equally by a fair-minded higher power ... [b]ut parents and teachers want children to respect their classmates, and so they imply that there's always an inside balancing out whatever is not going so great on the outside. This would all be well and good, except that it causes the attractive and intelligent (or moderately well-put-together and intelligent) not to be taken seriously.
I've never been particularly pedantic about the terminology, but one might argue that a stupid nerd is a contradiction in terms. Is Oscar a geek? Maybe a dork?

UPDATE 2: A somewhat baffling and meandering rejection of the entire idea of "stupid nerds." Gratuitous and vague insults toward this blog are also included.
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