If Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi seems markedly different this season of Jersey Shore, it’s with good reason. Seemingly overnight, the reality-television supernova has made a stunning transformation from famously ditzy, malapropism-prone, seemingly illiterate space cadet into published author.
I haven’t caught the debut of the new season of Jersey Shore yet, but I suspect we’ll be seeing a new Snooki this year, a woman of letters who has traded in her signature pouf for a prim librarian bun, and her sparkly shades for reading glasses. While her housemates stumble blearily from one drunken bacchanal to another, Snooki will undoubtedly stay home with a quill pen and nothing but the exquisite agony and eternal challenge of a blank page waiting to be filled with words, beautiful, beautiful words, to keep her company. At 23, Snooks is ready to let go of childish things and commit herself wholly to the refinement of her authorial voice. Don’t be surprised if hunky Michael Chabon replaces the quintessential juicehead gorilla as Snooki’s ideal man. (She’ll have to steal him away from Ayelet Waldman first!)
A Shore Thing, Polizzi’s maiden foray into the world of literature, is the most chaste smutty book ever written. It’s a novel in a frenzied state of perpetual arousal, not unlike the cast of Jersey Shore. Everyone thinks about sex, talks about sex, thinks up creepy ways to trick people into having sex, plays bizarre psychosexual games, and oozes sex from every pore of their being. But for hundreds of pages, no one actually has sex.
That’s because A Shore Thing is a book for 12-year-old girls for whom the idea of having sex with a hot, ripped beach-buff is exciting in the abstract, but vaguely terrifying when reduced to specifics. (You’re really expected to put that gross, slimy thing inside you?) The seemingly incongruous sexlessness of A Shore Thing is partly attributable to its underlying social conservatism.
The novel’s vacationing protagonists want nothing more than to head to the Jersey Shore for some hot, casual, anonymous, no-strings-attached sex with juicehead gorillas, but hot-damned if they don’t end up finding the men of their dreams and entering serious relationships at the end of a long, not-so-hot summer. And hot-damned if the men in question aren’t salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar, Italian-American guys with smoking bods who love their families and selflessly serve their communities.
A Shore Thing’s protagonist is Gia, a diminutive pickle-lover renowned for her revealing wardrobe, signature pouf hairstyle, glowing orange tan, wacky spoonerisms, fuzzy bunny slippers, and irrepressible lust for life. Gia’s partner in crime, Bella, is an idealized, more ambitious version of Snooki’s Jersey Shore castmate JWoww: a knockout 21-year-old with fake tits, a brown belt, a sexual history that includes but a single solitary soul, and plans to attend NYU after a summer of debauchery.
The drama begins when Gia and Bella hit up a club and Gia unknowingly ends up grinding with the boyfriend of her high-school arch-nemesis Linda Patterson. Once upon a time, Linda and Gia ruled the cheerleading squad until a prank involving a climactic group display of thongs at a big game (a plot point far too stupid to go into here) made Linda hate Gia with an intensity most folks reserve for child molesters and Nazis.
Linda calls Gia a whore and physically abuses her hapless boyfriend/sentient plot point Rocky for flirting with Gia. Yet the next time Gia sees Linda, she unthinkingly accepts Linda’s offer of a Jell-O shot as a peace offering. Linda’s scheme is to hide a powerful laxative in the shot so Gia will experience explosive public diarrhea in the middle of a nightclub, which Linda will film for posterity and post on YouTube so Gia will be the laughingstock of the Jersey Shore. In A Shore Thing’s alternate universe, the Snooki-like protagonist is already locally famous for appearing in a YouTube video in which she trips over a sand shark, another plot point far too stupid to go into.
That may sound idiotic in the abstract, but it’s even stupider and more puerile in practice. A Shore Thing’s overstuffed plot leans heavily on misunderstandings, implausible coincidences, and characters whose intelligence and savvy varies wildly from scene to scene. For example, Linda succeeds in getting Gia to take the shot with the laxatives, but before Gia can humiliate herself, Rocky scoops her up and bulldozes his way into the men’s room (it’s less crowded) and nobly stands by the door while she wrestles with explosive diarrhea.
Here’s a taste of the novel’s prose:
Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. And stinky.
The DJ said, “Whoa, girl, what’d you eat?”
Oh, Jeez. Another one threatened to escape. The devil had possessed her guts! Had the microphone picked up her fart? Gia was hit by another major gut twist. She glanced at Bella. Her eyes must have been desperate.
En route to the bathroom, Gia experiences the magic of being groped by strangers. And loves it!
Meanwhile, like 10 guys grabbed her boobies. If she weren’t about to paint the room brown, she would have loved it. A few grabbed at her butt, too. “Not the ass!” A too tight squeeze and she might explode.
Rocky turns out to be an idiot meathead lunk with a heart of gold. Later in the novel, he tells Gia about Linda’s evil scheme, because—well, see for yourself:
“Linda and Janey spiked your Jell-O shots with laxatives.” [Rocky said]
Gia froze mid-shimmy. “What?”
“They wanted to embarrass you. Don’t ask me why. It’s jealousy, or revenge, girl bullshit. Two guys would just pound each other bloody and be done with it.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Gia, her party bubble instantly deflating. “I thought they were my friends.”
“I’m only telling you because, once, when I was in junior high, during a football game, I got hit so hard by a linebacker, I shit myself. I swore on that day that if I could help anyone in the future not poop themselves, I would.”
Alas, the Jell-O laxative shot/men’s-restroom situation causes Frankie, the impossibly perfect fireman with whom Gia falls in love, to assume that Rocky publicly carried her into the bathroom to have sex with her.
Bella, meanwhile, becomes the target of Bender Newberry III and his equally loathsome preppie-cad pal Ed Caldwell. Newberry III and Caldwell come to the Jersey Shore every summer and pick a random girl to seduce, then abandon, for sport. It’s a Guido version of In The Company Of Men, with a soupcon of the Neil Strauss pickup manual The Game thrown in for good measure.
Ed’s game is to get a hot woman’s attention, then drive her to distraction by intentionally ignoring her. This nearly works on Bella, who is depicted as both a smart, savvy, ambitious woman and an oblivious idiot who stops just short of shoving her vagina in Ed’s face in a desperate attempt to get him to acknowledge her hotness. But ultimately, Bella proves too sharp to fall for Ed’s mind games.
Thankfully, Bella has a professional mentor, boss, friend, and soulmate all wrapped up in one devastatingly handsome package in the form of Tony “Trouble” Troublino: Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino crossed with Jesus. As a handsome, ripped gym-owner, Troublino can have any woman he wants, but he’s so instantly smitten by Bella that he does things like steal her beat-up car so he can surprise her by pimping it out and returning it to her in near-new condition. It’s a testament to the novel’s raging contempt for verisimilitude that Bella never reports the car stolen, while Tony doesn’t think stealing his crush-object’s car might be a pretty counterproductive seduction technique.
Ah, but Tony’s feelings for Bella go way beyond sex: When Bella tries to fuck him, he slams on the brakes. He’s perfectly content to pound out every other girl in the world, but when it comes to Bella, he magically turns into a bulked-up Prince Charming. (Though it should be noted that he most assuredly does not approve of the deplorable practice of taking steroids.) He’s also preternaturally patient and understanding. When Bella tells him she has a good feeling about this charming, demure, intriguingly emotionally unavailable Ed Caldwell fellow, Tony replies diplomatically, “With respect, Bella, you also thought Bender was cool.” His polite rejoinder enrages Bella to the point where she hurls a beer bottle at his impeccably sculpted face. And that still isn’t enough to scare him away.
Considering the way A Shore Thing handles sex, it’s probably a good thing it’s largely devoid of explicit content. Here’s an account of Frankie the Firefighter and Gia hooking up:
Frankie moaned and pressed Gia’s body hard against his. His chest felt like a brick wall against her softness. Gia imagined herself melting, turning to mush against his rock-hard muscles.
He was granite elsewhere, too. No steroid shrinkage here, obviously. “I could hang my entire summer wardrobe on that,” she said.
“We have to lie down. Right now.” he said, his eyes shining like black diamonds.
“On the beach? I’ll get sand in my thong!”
“I’ll get it out,” he promised.
She considered it. “Well, then, okay.”
Bella and Gia end up getting double-plus revenge on Bender and Ed and Linda and her evil lieutenant Janey. They terrify Bender and Ed into promising they won’t date-rape or psychologically abuse any more women by shooting them with paint guns while they’re in a compromising position, and enact cold-blooded revenge on Linda and Janey by promising them free tans, then stenciling—or “tan-tagging”—words like “Useless Twat” on their faces.
Linda and Janey don’t take too well to the treatment, and the four women end up in the hoosegow, where, like fellow author Malcolm X before her, Snooki—I mean Gia—has a jailhouse epiphany:
Gia felt another sparkling wave of clarity wash over her. Maybe it was the sugar rush, but whatever. Life might knock her off her stilettos. She might lose more often than she won in the softball basket toss of life. But even in her bleakest hour, Gia could reach into her soul and pull out a nugget of joy. This was her special and unique talent. Having fun and raising the spirits of people around her just might be what she was born to do, how she could contribute to society in a meaningful way.
It was as if a thousand neon lights flickered on in her head.
Whew, she thought. How awesome to have figured out her life’s real purpose. She thought her purpose was to fall in love with a hot Guido. But Gia was already in love—with life itself.
Life and Gia/Snooki are indeed enjoying a passionate love affair right now, but something tells me life’s infatuation with her, along with the general public’s, is close to peaking, if it hasn’t already. Snooki’s art form is being Snooki, but her shtick’s expiration date is rapidly approaching. Heaven knows Polizzi, or rather her ghostwriter (in the acknowledgments, Polizzi thanks “Valerie Frankel, my collaborator, who helped translate my ideas onto the page,” which is almost certainly Snooki-speak for “writing my book for me for a fraction of my advance”), isn’t contributing to society in a meaningful—or even non-meaningful—way with this curdled cotton candy of a beach read.