With a certain amount of shame, I have to admit that when I last clicked open my Netflix account, The Outsiders and Stand By Me were the two films recommended. Both are great movies. But what is embarrassing is that one's personal rental history doesn't lie: No, I don't watch important documentaries about global events, but instead seem most drawn to coming-of-age stories and all the struggles common to those narratives—anxious romances, class wars, boys grappling with simple concepts of guilt, pride, and maturity.
Paranoid Park would seem custom built for me. Set in Portland, at gritty venues like the Burnside skatepark and the railroad tracks, a guilt-ridden and emotionally confused middle-class boy narrates the story. (Over the past few months, Gus Van Sant has been producing the film version of the story here in town.) The unnamed narrator is a skateboarder at the fringes of both the popular preppy kids and the grungy skateboarders. One night, after being caught for jumping onto a freight train by a security guard, he accidentally (in self-defense) shoves the guard under an ongoing train. The man is killed and sets in motion the narrator's journey into guilt and teenage confusion.
It is a tense and urgent storyline that should make for a great film, especially in the hands of Van Sant. But, as a novel, Paranoid Park is lame. Quite simply, it is not well written.
The descriptions of Portland lack any details or insight. They read like some tourist writing postcards from the waterfront. Any real issues—like class strug-gles, or thoughts about right and wrong, or responsibilities in relationships—are glossed over and never fully developed. Sure, we hear about loyalty and love, but only in a sort of product-placement way: The issue is men-tioned by name and set out there for the viewing, but fails to serve any integral function or to develop into any sort of weighty theme. And yes, the narrator is a scared teenage boy, but that hardly means that the story's voice needs to be limited in its observations and intelligence.
I truly hope that this is a case of the movie being better than the book.