Friday, October 21, 2011

Tristan / Tantris

Okay, I'm not a big fan of contemporary romance novels. That's doubly true for contemporary teen romances. So when this book arrived in the mail I thought it must have been misaddressed. 

The author, however, is a former German major, a student of mine who went on to complete a Ph.D. in German Studies at Princeton. I knew Mette had been shaping a career as a writer and that she had a growing list of published books. But I had never read any of her work.

Tris & Izzie is Mette's title. Tristan und Isolde was Wagner's title. Tristan was the simple title of the 1211 epic poem by Gottfried von Strassburg. Okay, I thought, I'll read it, see what's she's up to. Flipping past the title page, I discovered why she sent it.

I'll be damned, I said. I'll be damned.

Right when I was wrestling with the idea that perhaps I'm not the teacher I always thought I was. Right when I've just gone to class and found that only 2 of the 6 students had read the assignment and the other 10 hadn't even come to class. Right when I most needed it in that eternal cycle of pride and doubt, here comes a book out of the blue that claims I taught at least one good class.

So I read it. Teen romance and all. Magic teen romance with giants and evil serpents and swordplay and love philtres and a two-headed dog.

If that had been it, even with the dedication, I would have replied with a luke-warm thank you very much. It was very thoughtful of you.

But that was not it. All the magic teen romance takes place in high school. And that makes all the difference. 

Izzie is 16 and loves Mark, a basketball player and nice guy. She loves his butt in tight pants and loves to kiss him. When her affections switch to Tristan, she likes his butt even better. Izzie is the antithesis of the passive magic teen princess heroine. She's a real teenager. Okay, she's also got magic. Okay, the story based loosely on Gottfried's Tristan has a happy ending (although when the black sails appeared at the end I feared tragedy).

But best of all, at least for me, was that it's just plain funny. Juxtapose a tragic epic German poem with high school and, if you write well, you've got a book that makes you laugh. What a fun day it was reading this.

A couple of examples:

Then I took a shower, put on clean, unsweaty clothes, and ate a candy bar (a sure cure for any ills). I also looked on the Internet for cures for a love philtre. Here is a list of them:

1. Death

That was pretty much it. Both of us had to die. If I just killed Tristan, I would pine over his loss, and then I would end up dying of a broken heart anyway. Jumping off bridges, taking poison, or simply refusing to eat and wasting away were some of the top choces for ending the magical power of a love philtre, according to all the old stories, and the new ones, too.

As tempting as it was to strangle Tristan with my bare hands on his bare, bare neck-- 

Let me put that a different way.

Here's another sense for Izzie's narrative voice:

Brann was right next to the giant's face now, and he was examining her carefully. Maybe he was nearsighted. Who would make glasses in that size?

The giant opened his mouth.

I thought how bad his breath must smell from up close. It was bad enough where I was, yards away. I didn't think he was a vegetarian. He looked at Branna like she was a tasty treat, a bite-size chocolate-covered ice-cream bar. He wasn't going to worry about the calories, either. Guys never do. They want to be bigger.

In short, it's a good story.

In short, I'm deeply moved by the dedication.

In short, thank you, Mette. 


* said...

:) lovely. your a lucky man.

[that's something, getting a book dedicated to oneself. i was just the other day thinking of writing about that.]

Scott Abbott said...

what kinds of thoughts were you thinking?