SUBMARINE by Joe Dunthorne (Viking), 290 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Cool teen characters are the rage this year. Miriam Toews's Logan is a gas in The Flying Troutmans as the kid coping with his mum's mental illness, and you'll root just as hard for Joe Dunthorne's teenaged word nerd Oliver, the hero of Submarine.
Oliver's got a ton of problems. He's in high school, for one thing, and hasn't yet figured out how not to go with the bullying pack. Plus, he's in love with Jordana, the hottest babe at school. Most important, his bi-polar dad has sunk into a depression that's putting Oliver's parents' marriage in danger.
Oliver's empathy makes him lovable. He goes into paroxysms of guilt after participating in the harassment of fat girl Zoe, to the extent that he tries writing her a manual on how to survive the bullies. He so wants to understand his dad that he scarfs back a handful of his meds and, in a particularly riotous sequence, tries to subvert his mother's affair with her New Age guru - anything to save his parents' marriage.
First novelist Dunthorne offers quirky, fascinating characters, a vivid setting - the seaside town of Swansea, Wales - and a deep understanding of what makes people change. You'll find it hard to believe that this is a first novel.
Dunthorne reads tonight (Thursday, October 23), 8 pm, at Fleck Dance Theatre, and participates in a round table Saturday (October 25), 1 pm, at Lakeside Terrace.