Wednesday, 26 October 2011

REVIEW: Swim the Fly by Don Calame

Swim the Fly by Don Calame

Every summer best friends Matt, Sean and Coop set themselves a challenge. This year that challenge is to see a naked girl - a real, live naked girl. It doesn't prove an easy task; in fact it proves to be a cross-dressing, pant-filling, closet-perving, near-impossible task. For Matt the summer will be doubly tough, as he's landed himself with the suicidal job of swimming the butterfly for the school swim team in an effort to impress class hottie Kelly West. Problem is he's never swum it before and isn't actually that good at swimming. This is a HILARIOUS story of friendship, naked ladies and laxatives that will be loved by teenagers (boy or girl, actual teenagers or shh-I'm-25 teenagers).

This book is a snorter (meaning it will make you snort with laughter in public, obviously). It is like American Pie crossed with the Inbetweeners in a book. It seems like such an obvious idea after reading the book (like all obvious ideas seem when you didn't think of them), but not just any writer could have managed it. It needed the comedy genius brain of Don Calame to make teen boy humour work on the page.

This kind of humour is one that will resonate with those that fell into that Inbetweener gap of cool and uncool (so, most people). When I was 15 and more than a bit uncool (I could often be found wearing a Limp Bizkit hoody and, once, at a parents' evening, wore a dog collar), aside from hanging around in car parks waiting to see if our tallest friend managed to get any WKDs, I watched films like American Pie and Road Trip. Now that kind of comic disgustingness (with friendship at the heart, but shhh) can be found in the Inbetweeners, which captures even more the way boys relate to each other. Will, Simon, Jay and Neil's lives resemble real life (to me anyway) far more than the Pie boys. For example, Will's mum is a bit of a Stifler's mom, but the furthest any of the boys gets with her is to send her obscene texts from Will's phone. 

Swim the Fly plays in your head like a film when you read it, but it has the more realistic feel of everyday life that you get through spending time with Matt, Coop and Sean when they are just hanging out, mostly taking the piss out of each other. There are hilarious characters (like Ulf and the horny Grandad, which sounds like a different kind of film) and gross-out set pieces that are immediately visible in a movie-like way, but Matt, Coop and Sean, and their friendship, are very real. 

Before writing novels, Don Calame was a screenwriter and this really shows in the book. The characters' voices and dialogue are spot on and you hear them in your head. They reveal themselves through speech, rather than through paragraphs explaining their thoughts. Coop, like Jay or Stifler, spouts a constant and inventive stream of slang for genitals and masturbation, whereas Sean is quieter and more serious and gets the 'that's what she said' joke wrong. The three boys' dialogue, constantly taking the piss out of each other and rarely ever being serious, just sounds exactly right. 

Then there's Ulf, Matt's big German swimming coach, with his literal grasp of English ('this cup of tea is not mine'). A scene that I think captures this sense of filmyness is one between Matt and his Grandpa, where Grandpa is making Matt pretend to be the widow he has his eye on. The hilariousness is brought out purely through the back and forth exchange and the pauses, as a horrified Matt is chatted up by his own Grandpa.

Calame has created a cast of unforgettable characters. Not just the more obviously comic ones - big, serious Ulf, Grandpa and the monstrous Ms Luntz - but the three boys themselves. My favourite was definitely Coop and I am thrilled that the sequel, Beat the Band, is his story. There is something that shouldn't-be-but-it-is attractive about someone that says lots of loud, disgusting, and very funny things. 15-year-old-me would definitely have fancied Coop, even though he would probably have embarrassed me in front of everyone by being horrible, because you know that deep down, like Inbetweener Jay, he is actually not as confident as he appears. Main guy Matt has a more normal appeal - he is the skinny, average one who wants girls to notice him but thinks he'll be elbowed out of the way by hulking sportsmen, and probably will be elbowed out of the way by hulking sportsmen until he finds a nice girl. 

But far more important than my thoughts on characters and words and all that, is that you will LAUGH. Loud and long and clear (and probably with an embarrassing squeak at the end). You will see the world through the eyes of a teenage boy (always interesting for a girl) and you *might* see a real, live naked girl (you'll have to read it to find out that one). I would quite like to write the girl version of this book, where a group of girls try and see a naked boy. I imagine it to be similar, but with more giggling. 

There are also some important lessons in this book, as Don Calame will explain:


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