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Larry Doyle: I Love You, Beth Cooper


I Love You, Beth Cooper

Author: Larry Doyle
Publisher: Ecco

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Each chapter of Larry Doyle's comic high-school novel I Love You, Beth Cooper opens with a quote from a different teen movie, from Rebel Without A Cause to Ghost World; all of them are intended to evoke the simple, honest life lessons and wacky hijinks of the stories that help make adolescence bearable. The problem with I Love You, Beth Cooper is that it often reads more like a treatment for one of those movies than like a proper book. Doyle is a comedy writer by trade, best known for his stint with The Simpsons, and his prose is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, as when he writes of one particularly skanky girl, "She smelled like masturbation." But his understanding of high-school dynamics apparently begins and ends with a thorough knowledge of John Hughes movies.

Still, give Doyle credit for updating the setting. I Love You, Beth Cooper is set in present-day suburban Illinois on graduation night, shortly after virginal debate-club captain Denis Cooverman has used his valedictorian speech to proclaim his devotion to the school's head cheerleader. In Doyle's suburbia, kids assemble meaningful mixlists on their iPods, with a precise combination of kitschy '80s pop and contemporary emo, while their parents sneak off into the woods to get drunk, make out, and listen to classic rock. The adults are living a high-school movie of their own, 20 years late. And it might've been worthwhile for Doyle to explore that side of the story, rather than reviving the overly familiar milieu of bully jocks and hopeless geeks.

Instead, he sticks with Denis and his maybe-gay best friend Rich, as they get swept into the circle of Beth Cooper and her cheerleader friends for one night of reckless partying, all while being pursued by Beth's 'roided-up soldier boyfriend. The Denis-gets-beat-up-a-lot subplot of I Love You, Beth Cooper—illustrated throughout the book by a series of Evan Dorkin drawings—gets tiresome quickly, and distracts from the one really bright idea that Doyle swipes from his teen-flick-creator idols. Most of this book is about Denis discovering—à la Rushmore—that it's hard for him to hold up Beth as his sexual ideal once she's right there in front of him, smoking and talking about handjobs. There's nothing new about the revelation that people are people, whatever their social caste, but at least Doyle gets exactly why The Breakfast Club remains popular with people who weren't even born when it premièred.