Our Yank by Donovan O’Malley
Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
Our Yank is the story of 17-year-old American Andy, who moves to England to study Art at Oxford University. Andy is a bit of a neurotic, obsessively and detrimentally consumed by the tension between America and Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He moves into a homegrown hostel, run by a quirky elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’ s disease and who, it would seem, lodges only the strangest of sorts at her hostel home. Andy must learn to break out of his shell, engage with the world around him, and get over the all-consuming terror of total world annihilation which haunts his day-to-day life. At first, he avoids confronting his illness by locking himself away and engaging in one random sexual experience after another, with members of both sex, until his psychological fear leads to true physical illness and he is admitted to the hospital after near-suicide.
3 – Characters well developed.
The characters in Our Yank are bizarre, to say the least. They are rather shallow, but this is largely the result of the author’s primary experience as a playwright. That being said, he is indeed a gifted story-teller and comedian. The book is cynically and darkly funny – taking advantage of life’s idiosyncrasies to expose elements of human nature that are strange, often shied from, but always present. The characters themselves are written in such a way as to bring these oddities to life, each one a minor caricature or grotesque of a larger personality “type,” which is often the case in theater dramas or comedies. It works to the story’s advantage, overall, though it does leave a desire for a bit more depth and connection – between characters and their experiences, as well as characters and the reader.
2 – Prose/Style in need of Development but works.
The book is fluid and easy to read, with a certain sophistication; however, its prose and style are its main weakness. Again, this disconnect may come from the translation from play to novel, as the language and description does not always develop as thoroughly as it could or flow as freely as the story might otherwise allow. There is a comedic tension throughout the book, which the prose does reflect, but one major distraction was the back-and-forth between first-person and third-person narration. This could be an effective literary device in plays, where the narrator or chorus must omnisciently relay explanations and character emotions or intent, but in the novel form, it tends to come across as haphazard and discordant.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this novel was its underlying themes. Andy’s neurosis is clearly in the foreground, but the underlying nervousness and national fear is also being represented through him. The (mis)representation of America and other nations through the eyes of the British, too, is interesting and amusing at times. Also, the coming-of-age story itself – the casual exploration with sex, alcohol, and independence- is well written, as it is integral to the story without ever overshadowing the books alternate purposes. All-in-all, the book is rather enjoyable and additional reading from this author is recommended.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Transatlantic Literature, 1960s, Coming-of-Age, Neurosis, Sexuality, Bisexuality, Cultural Studies