Monday, September 08, 2008
monday book review: the answer is always yes, by monica ferrell
In this, her first novel, poetess Monica Ferrell gives us the story of Matt Acciaccatura, a sad, lonely and much bullied kid from Teaneck, New Jersey who is desperate to be cool. Seeing college as his chance to reinvent himself and start anew, Matt spends the summer before his tenure at NYC conducting meticulous research on the fashion, conversation and mannerisms of coolness in an effort to adopt that persona. Once he arrives at NYC he discovers that most of his efforts have been in vain; nonetheless, despite the fact that he cannot seem to break into the elite world he covets, Matt does make two true friendships, and for a time - perhaps for the first time - Matt finds acceptance and a semblance of happiness.

Matt Acciaccatura's New York is that of the mid-90's - the heyday of club kids, raves and Ecstasy. Despite seeming the unlikeliest of candidates for such a position, Matt is scouted and offered a position as a club promoter at one of the hottest nightclubs in NYC: Cinema. Matt has a natural knack for his job and fast becomes "Magic Matt", one of the brightest stars of the New York club scene. But his new found success comes at a cost, as Matt's acceptance into this gilded world puts a predictable strain on his real friendships, tests his personal ethics, and ultimately leads to his downfall.

Matt's fictitious tale is told by two narrators: Ferrell, the primary storyteller; and Dr. Hans Mannheim, a German sociologist who was studying Matt before his arrest, and who marks up Ferrell's manuscript with footnotes, personal asides, and addenda. And it's here where the novel fell apart for me. Had The Answer is Always Yes been narrated by Ferrell alone, I may have considered it a success. Although it dragged in sections, Ferrell's prose is skillful, her story engaging and her characters fully formed. However, the decision to add Mannheim as a second narrator revealed her limitations as a writer in that I found his contributions to be annoyingly interruptive, painfully overwritten and largely unnecessary.

As a person who counts The Great Gatsby as one of her all-time favorite novels, I really wanted to like The Answer is Always Yes. From early on Ferrell succeeded in earning my sympathy for poor Matt Acciaccatura, who, like Jay Gatsby, mistakes celebrity and money for happiness, is frustratingly insecure, obsessed with frivolity, but who is still deserving of our affection and of our pity. Unfortunately, Ferrell's attempts at innovation ultimately ruined the experience for me in that I just couldn't forgive the poorly executed gimmick that was Dr. Hans Mannheim.

In short, Ferrell is a good writer who certainly shows potential as a novelist, however her first attempt was far from a home run. Would I consider reading future efforts? Sure. Would I recommend this, her debut? Eh...Probably not.

Monica Ferrell
382 pages, 2008

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