June 30, 2008 | Comments ()

By Miscellaneous | Books | June 30, 2008 |


The nineties gave us many intriguing (if not wholly embarrassing) cultural phenomena: grunge, Harry Potter, and Seinfeld are a few of the better examples, although the list could go on for pages. Perhaps the least important of these is the rave scene which emerged in New York. Headed by such figures as Michael Alig (immortalized by James St. James in Disco Bloodbath and by Macaulay Culkin in Party Monster) and his legion of “clubkids,” ravers were known for their loud techno music, extravagant costumes, and lots and lots of drugs.

Monica Ferrell’s debut novel, The Answer is Always Yes, returns us to that hazy heyday with a coming-of age tale that relates the rise to fame (and subsequent fall from greatness) of Matthew Acciaccatura. This social outcast from New Jersey begins his freshman year at NYU desperately wishing to shed the skin of his nerdy past.

Armed with notes on how to behave and speak, Matthew envisions his true, cooler self emerging at NYU. In short, he believes he will soon become what he was always meant to be: entirely, abundantly popular. Unfortunately, things are never that easy. From his first moments on campus, his loser past haunts him. He cannot navigate the social waters so easily traversed by his peers. His roommates immediately mock him, as though automatically sensing his inferiority.

It isn’t long, however, before things change, but not because of Matt’s lists of cool slang or his hipster clothes (which are, by the way, totally and depressingly wrong). Rather, it is the outcast in him that propels his rise to stardom. Upon attending a local club one night, Matt is discovered by the owner, who sees in Matt the hunger so necessary for success. Matt becomes a club promoter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Oddly enough, despite his inherent geekiness and social inability, Matt is a natural at promoting, and it isn’t long before the popularity he has always desired is finally his. Of course, promoting is at odds with the two true friends he has made along the way, a conflict the reader can see from miles away.

The plot was, at times, a bit predictable, especially because we know from the onset that Matt’s success is doomed, but The Answer is Always Yes is notable not only for the way Ferrell charts Matt’s rise and fall but also for the way she injects Dr. Hans Mannheim, who annotates the text of Matt’s story with his own footnotes.

Dr. Mannheim, we are told at the beginning, is in prison for the murder of Terry Ford, although the exact details of this crime are withheld. Mannheim, a German sociologist studying misfits, has become with obsessed with Matt’s story. As his footnotes add further depth to Matt’s story, we also get a glimpse into Mannheim’s own troubled life and doomed marriage to Lisanne.

That Dr. Mannheim and Matt are somehow intertwined we know from the beginning, but the exact nature of their connection is not revealed until the end. Their eventual collision leaves something to be desired: the end happens a bit too quickly, feels a bit forced, and seems more than a little contrived. The reader almost feels cheated when Dr. Mannheim narrates the end; after all, we’ve spent so much time inside Matt’s quirky little head that it seems wrong not to get his point of view on such an important moment in the novel.

The real highlight of the novel is Ferrell’s hypnotic prose. Her dialogue is snappy without seeming artificial, and her descriptions are on-point without becoming heavy-handed. The scenes in which Matt makes a fool of himself (and there are quite a few) feature great comedic timing, and Mannheim’s maudlin musings are both comic and melodic.

That said, The Answer is Always Yes doesn’t offer much that hasn’t been done before, but as long as you’re not expecting too much from it, you should enjoy this novel. It’s a fun, light read that provides a pleasant way to pass a summer afternoon. Even if The Answer is Always Yes doesn’t stand the test of time, Monica Ferrell has proven herself as one to watch.


Jennifer McKeown reads way too much and blogs about her experiences over at Bibliolatry.

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Prisoner of the Golden Cage

The Answer is Always Yes by Monica Ferrell / Jennifer McKeown

Books | June 30, 2008 | Comments ()




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