With or Without You
by Lauren Sanders, appearing at Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak, Friday April 29, 7 pm

I'm always a little suspicious of writers who can carry the nutjob narrative seamlessly throughout an entire book. In With or Without You, Lauren Sanders presents Lillian Speck, a simple girl whose childhood is a suburban purgatory nurtured by progressive parents out of their minds on Xanax & cocaine. Their lack of emotional support leads her into adolescence ripe with the tugs of a skewed sexual identity already set off-balance by the awkwardness of burgeoning maturity. We learn that Lillian has a million battles with acceptance, obsession, and self-image. "So what?" You ask. "So she's like every other teenager on the planet." Well, not exactly.

While we watch Lillian struggle with the complexities of possibly being queer and battling an imaginary weight problem, we learn she also has an unhealthy obsession with daytime soap opera princess Brooke Harrison. Eventually, the otherwise unassuming teen becomes a Holden Caulfield/Travis Bickle-type personality, withdrawn and clearly out-of-bounds from even the abnormal social constructs of teenage society. Sanders leads the reader back and forth between Brooke Harrison and Lillian in a spiraling game of existential badminton, hurtling towards an at-once obvious and startling collision involving a stolen pistol and the bravado that can only be evoked by a psychologically jostled teen.

Through to the slow-motion, self-fulfilling prophecy of the end chapters, Sanders stays true to her troubled protagonist and the world she inhabits, etching both with great skill and nuance. As she steers Lillian around greater New York and its outlying areas with a zeal reserved for an irate cab driver, we even see visible differences in the book's typeface of pre-incarceration Lillian and post-incarceration Lillian. These mechanical differences lend symbolic understanding of her conflicted personality. To Sanders' credit, especially in our post-Columbine/Red Lake society, there is nothing that is unbelievable about this story. She writes about Lillian's unhinged mind well enough to merit suspicion about her own sanity. Thankfully it's not my job to ascertain if you have to be crazy in order to write about true craziness