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Childs play Twelveby Nick McDonellAtlantic Books 999 pp244The title of Nick McDonells first novel does not in fact refer to the authors age though you could be forgiven for thinking so When a book comes so pre-feted it can be difficult to shut out the roar of the publicity - the authors extreme youth he wrote it at 17 the endorsements from Richard Price and Hunter S Thompson splashed over the jacket the comparisons with Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney the fawning of literary New York - but McDonell is an authentic talent and long after the storms of hype have died away his novel will endure as a snapshot of his generation as surely as Less Than Zero did of the EightiesMcDonell wisely limits the scope of his novel to the world he inhabits and if this provokes the rather obvious complaint that the concerns of 17-year-olds are generally narrow McDonell at times displays an enviable ability to observe his generation from a sympathetic distance His characters are the teenage sons and daughters of Manhattans super-rich left to rattle around their cavernous Upper East Side townhouses one Christmas by dysfunctional absent parents mooching through their sterile days and nights demanding to be entertained by sex drugs or violenceThe girls are post-surgically beautiful and bored longing to be famous the boys hanker after the perceived glamour of the citys lowlife self-consciously appropriating the dialect and gestures of black kids from Harlems housing projects Through this group of loosely connected and largely unappealing characters moves White Mike a drug dealer taking a year out between high school and Harvard That Mike was inspired to his present occupation by Ricky in American Beauty offers an insight into the inner lives of these adult-childrenThe glittering surfaces mask a legacy of loneliness and pain a generation of kids abandoned to housekeepers and nannies as children and as teenagers shunted off to shrinks by parents who would rather pay
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