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Book Review: Young God

By (May 17, 2014) One Comment

Young Godyoung god cover

by Katherine Faw Morris

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014


Young God, the debut novel of Katherine Faw Morris, is 193 pages long. It has five chapters, and in those five chapters there are 135 sections, none longer than two pages, many consisting of only one sentence; the spiky high of each segment is still fizzing when the next segment appears, so it’s never necessary at any point to pay attention – in fact, the reader is implicitly discouraged from doing so. The book tells the story of 13-year-old Nikki, who lives in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina and is quickly ushered into the world of sex, drugs, and alcohol by her brutal father Coy Hawkins, and it tells that story in bursts of prose that are telegraphic. This is one entire section:

When they turn onto the service road all the lights flare back, super bright.

“It ain’t just sitting in parking lots,” Coy Hawkins says.

Nikki stares at him.

Katherine Faw Morris in her author photo looks like an 18-year-old Hollywood star, and she’s written a very short novel utterly devoid of sentiment, surcease, or subordinate clauses. We follow Nikki through one of the bleakest comings-of-age ever published in English-language fiction, but we follow that story without for a moment caring about it, because only prose can make us care about anything in fiction, and Morris foregoes prose in favor of courting the Twitwitted Tao Lin acolytes who equate dead-eyed monotone with postmodern economy. Like Lin, she can occasionally write a sharp passage:

The dawn is foggy. It shrouds everything in damp white cotton. It makes this place look sweet and fat. Like nothing bad ever happens. Out of the pickup window Nikki watches the bottom road roll by, lying.

But the sharp passages are rare enough in a book that’s mostly numb stumbling; Young God is hobbled by the fact that it’s told from the point of view of a nihilistic young moron for the reading pleasure (or whatever) of other nihilistic young morons. The results far too often parody themselves:

On the north highway Renee lets her right hand dip through the air. Her right wrist is bulky in a brace. Out of the corner of her eye Nikki watches her. She thinks Renee is prettier than Angel but not as pretty as her. Renee’s hair is blue, but only the underneath part.

The quick glimpses of something like talent scattered here and there in Young God are made doubly frustrating by the certain conviction that here at the beginning of her writing career, Morris has dedicated that talent to debased and boring gods of 21st century anomie. Provided she doesn’t join the cast of the next hot-young-thing TV series, she’s likely to produce novel after novel that have as their central unifying tenet a hatred of novels. If she’s as impressionable as she is young (and a good many novelist start off with just that combination), she’s probably taken some bad instruction to get to this point. Here’s hoping she rectifies that.