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Nothing Is Terrible: A Novel

Nothing Is Terrible: A Novel

5.0 1
by Matthew Sharpe

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Matthew Sharpe's debut collection, Stories from the Tube, was praised in the Los Angeles Times Book Review for its "wildly effective-and often touching-collisions of the banal and the surreal." Wiredcalled it "unsettling, lovely, creepy"; Forbes FYI heralded it as a "remarkable fiction debut." In Nothing Is Terrible, his first novel, Sharpe


Matthew Sharpe's debut collection, Stories from the Tube, was praised in the Los Angeles Times Book Review for its "wildly effective-and often touching-collisions of the banal and the surreal." Wiredcalled it "unsettling, lovely, creepy"; Forbes FYI heralded it as a "remarkable fiction debut." In Nothing Is Terrible, his first novel, Sharpe astonishes once again with the hallucinatory and hilarious story of a girl's unusual coming-of-age and her search for love in unlikely places.

Her name is Mary White, though she prefers to be called Paul, the name of her ill-fated twin brother. Bright, pragmatic, irreverent, and orphaned, she is being raised by her clueless aunt and uncle and fears she may be about to drown in dull suburban torpor-until she falls in love with her new sixth-grade teacher, Miss Skip Hartman. Devoted teacher and pupil run off to live in New York City, where Mary receives a very unconventional education (art dealers, drug dealers, boyfriends, epic piercings) and discovers redemptive power in even the most unorthodox kind of love, all of which she relates in the most Brontëan gentle-reader tone.

In Nothing Is Terrible, Matthew Sharpe takes the bildungsroman and turns it upside down and inside out. Like a breakneck sprint through a Manhattan house of mirrors, it offers readers a giddily literate tour of the resourceful mind of a singular young woman.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Grotesquely comic and resolutely strange, short story writer and journalist Sharpe's first novel involves an androgynous, precocious girl named Mary White, who accidentally causes her twin brother Paul's death and is redeemed in love by her blonde and beautiful sixth-grade teacher. Upon the death of their parents in a car accident, 10-year-old Mary and her brother are left in the care of their mean-tempered uncle and simple, silent aunt. Sickly Paul is the philosopher and Mary the energetic implementer of his ideas. After Mary stirs up a bees' nest and Paul dies from their stings, she is left to fend for herself in the suburban school system. She develops what she calls her "ongoing involvement with myself," becoming a small-scale tyrant and musing often on her fate. As she herself remarks to the "dear reader" in Charlotte Brontean fashion: "This Mary character is not very nice." Smitten with the difficult 11-year-old, Teacher of the Year Miss "Skip" Hartman seduces her and literally buys her from her aunt and uncle. Whisked away to Skip's Upper East Side apartment, Mary is schooled in Shakespeare, algebra and the arts of love. But becoming restless, she takes up with a coterie of aimless drug pushers and her second lover, an environmentally sensitive Central Park squatter and ex-classmate named Mittler. Through characters such as Paul and early moments of rare sincerity, Sharpe proves that he can write affectingly. However, he condescends to the reader like an uneasy comedian afraid to bore the audience, relying heavily on his deadpan delivery of grotesque detail. His Mary--unsympathetic, smug and, worst of all for a fictional character, not memorable--is no Jane Eyre. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Sharpe follows his witty collection Stories from the Tube with a zany novel of manners that stretches the imagination. A hermaphrodite named Mary White--a self-proclaimed "obnoxious, lonely, self-loathing American orphan"--relates the story of her life between the ages of 11 and 18 in the style of a Jane Austen memoir. In a wildly imaginative twist of circumstances beginning with her parents' death in a car accident, Mary and her twin brother, Paul, are raised by her uncommunicative aunt and cavalier uncle. After her brother's bizarre death, Mary is seduced by her sixth grade teacher, Skip Harman, who is subsequently fired by the school and speeds off with Mary to New York. Skip is an independently wealthy woman who surrounds herself with a cavalcade of eccentric characters who sweep into Mary's life. This debut novel of exaggerations encourages social criticism and is a clever and unpredictable tale of absurdities. Recommended for most collections.--David A. Beron , Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Christine Muhlke
In Matthew Sharpe's first novel, Nothing Is Terrible, understatement and absurdity combine to make this potentially shocking book clever -- if a little creepy -- fun...Warped and oddly touching, Nothing Is Terrible is brain candy for the bright and jaded.
The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"Did you think you had outgrown surprise?  Matthew Sharpe's hilarious new novel is guaranteed to keep you off kilter in our terrible new world where Nothing is Terrible."

                                                        —Lore Segal

"Fans of Steven Millhauser and Jonathan Ames will find a kindred spirit in Matthew Sharpe.  His sly wit and capacity for literary invention are fully realized by a voice that is distinguished, warm, and inviting.  Each page of Nothing is Terrible offers its own treasure and—the hallmark of a truly fine novel—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

                                                        —Dale Peck

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

At 5:00 pm on the day I began helping Myra in the garden, Tommy arrived home and removed his blue service uniform and bathed and put on a white cotton dress shirt and pink Bermuda shorts and suede athletic shoes with no socks. He could have been living in Darien, Connecticut, in that outfit, with the rolled-up sleeves that fell away gracefully from his thin forearms, and with his narrow, elegantly muscled legs sparsely covered with golden hair. He walked into the kitchen, a room still bright at 5:20 pm. Myra had mixed up a batch of powdered lemonade, which he preferred to the kind she knew how to make with real lemons and sugar and water. There was such a lovely feeling of coolness about a room Myra had cleaned and arranged in which Tommy stood wearing his Bermudas and drinking lemonade.
"You want to throw around a baseball?" he said. "Hey! You deaf? Mary. Baseball?"
"No, all the other people named Mary."
I ran and got my glove and joined Tommy in the backyard, which Myra had mown short the way he liked it.
"I'm gonna pitch first for a while. You squat down over there, and when you catch ëem, just toss ëem back lightly. If there's time before dark, you can pitch a few also."
I squatted and Tommy, holding the ball, got himself up into the sequence of preparatory attitudes of the major league pitcheróscuffing at the ground with the toe of one shoe, hands behind him, left side toward me; staring down the opponent, which, since there was no batter, was me; left foot back, arms up over and behind his head, arms coming down as the left foot came forward and up; right arm back, left foot toward me, left foot planting in the grass, left arm pointing at me, body pivoting, right arm releasing the ball in my direction. He went through some staggering, spinning motions, which I paid attention to instead of watching the ball coming at me. The ball hit me in the forehead.
"You're supposed to catch that. You all right? Yeah, you're okay. Let's try another. Toss it back."
I threw a wild one over his head that he had to run for. He came back and pitched another viciously hard one at me, which I caught, stinging my hand. I chucked another wild oneóeven farther this timeóand he ran and got it and really tried to wound me with his next pitch. We went on in that vein for an hour. I didn't care if I got hit by his pitches. The pain distracted me from my other concerns.
After an hour, Myra tiptoed into the backyard with her hands behind her back and her head slightly bowed and stood between Tommy and me, just out of the ball's pathóshe was another one who probably would not have minded if she'd been hit; would not have noticed was more like it, in her case. Though she had come to indicate in some way that we should go inside for dinner, she did not speak.
Tommy said, "Is there something we can help you with dear?"
"Dinner's ready," she said, as if dinner had come into being without agency.
The game of catch became another of that summer's routines.

When was dinner was over I rejoined Paul in the ark little cave that was our private space. In the hour after dinner he liked to keep the electric lights off so he could watch the natural daylight drain from the air and from each object in the room. Paul didn't like to speak during the darkening of the room, so I sat by him in silence, idly tickling the bottoms of his feet. Then, in the darkness, his rigorous mental conditioning of me would begin again:

"Let's say you're on a desert island with one other person--
"Let's say you're in a burning house--
"Let's say you're driving a train headed for a busload of schoolchildren--
"Let's say you reach the age of ten and stop being able to think--"
Evening came to its ritual end when Myra entered and said "Time for bath." I would then turn on the light in the room, and Myra would carry Paul to the bathroom as if he were a damsel in distress and she the brave hero, only in this case the damsel, while being bathed, always got an erection.
So now you know about Paul and Tommy and Myra and me, and the little life we all had together.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Matthew Sharpe is the author of Stories from the Tube. He has published stories in Zoetrope, Harper's, American Letters and Commentary, Witness, The Quarterly, and Fiction. He lives in New York.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Nothing Is Terrible 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sharpe stirs up a trippy anti-fairy tale and trusts his readers to navigate the darkly funny, sexy, unfamiliar landscape without a morality map. He repeatedly blurs the line between creepy and comfortable, describing a child's world that moves back and forth from nightmare to erotic fantasy. Sharpe deftly reels the reader into the narrative and then tosses him back out again, playing an edgy, risky game of cat and mouse, never letting the reader settle too comfortably into the easy-chair. The pages bubble over with humor: the brutal, mirthless kind that reminds a person anything can be funny. Nothing Is Terrible flies by quickly, but gets under your skin. Read this book and then read it again.