How I Became Stupid

But no one thinks of pitying intelligent people: "He watches human behavior, that must make him very unhappy"; "My niece is very intelligent, but she's a really nice girl. She's hoping to grow out of it"; "For a while there, I was afraid you might become intelligent."

I'd seen this book in the store but didn't read it until after my friend Lori reviewed it on her site. The basic premise is that Antoine, a brilliant but jaded twenty-five-year-old, decides that the reason he's so miserable is because he's so smart. He can't eat french fries "without thinking of the bloodstained history of the potato, the human sacrifices that the Aztec civilization made in its name, and the appalling suffering it visited on the Irish." He only bought clothes that didn't exploit Asian children in sweatshops, and refused to buy any product that advertised (calling it an assault on freedom).

The solution? He would become stupid, and thus better fit into society and be able to enjoy life instead of analyzing it. But first, he attempts alcoholism ("an illness that is recognized by society") and then considers suicide (leading to a darkly funny suicide course a little reminiscent of "Fight Club"). He finally manages to become stupid, gets a normal job, and becomes a consumer.

It's a small book and is mostly quite funny, but I do have a few gripes. First, his best friend Aaslee had a strange childhood and only speaks in verse. Or so we're told, because Page never actually writes out any of his dialogue; he only describes it. ("In a magnificent sonnet, Aas told Antoine..." and so on.) It seems a real cop-out. Also, the ending (when, as expected, Antoine quits being stupid and discovers the joys of being himself) is rather abrupt and feels incomplete, not including the inexplicable premature ghost bit. It's as if Page had this great idea for the premise of the book but then ran out of steam and tacked on a hurried ending so he could quit.

It's a little bit of a spin on books like Stargirl or Fahrenheit 451, where the one true intelligent (and off-beat) character is the only person who's truly happy; instead, Antoine is the one who's miserable. Page's depiction of the "normal" life of a consumer is pretty scathing. If only he had someplace better to go with his story.

Fed to jonathan's brain | October 15, 2006 | Comments (0)


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