21st-century mayhem abounds in Sara Levine's comic debut novel about a self-absorbed young woman who annoys everyone.
All kinds of treatment programs are available for all kinds of addictions -- alcohol, sex, shopping and drugs each have their own support groups and multiple-step programs. What tempts the young protagonist of "Treasure Island!!!" is not a spending spree at Target or a night of binge drinking, though, but the adventure fiction of the classic novel "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson. An unusual addiction indeed, and a surprisingly hilarious premise for a coming-of-age novel such as this.
The narrator of "Treasure Island!!!" is a 25-year-old woman, nameless to the reader, who describes herself as the polar opposite of Jim Hawkins, boy hero of the original "Treasure Island." She laments, "If life were a sea adventure, I knew: I wouldn't be sailor, pirate or cabin boy but more likely a barnacle clinging to the side of the boat." She makes a list of Jim Hawkins' "Core Values" (according to her) and vows to live her life by them: Boldness, Resolution, Independence and Horn-Blowing.
When she reads the list to her best friend, the response is decidedly 21st-century. "Rena put her hand on my arm gently, as if expecting to get burned. 'Are you taking your Zoloft?' she asked."
And so it goes, as the narrator, increasingly wrapped up in her own search for adventure, leaves a trail of annoyed and often angry friends, relatives and co-workers in her wake. After her short-lived job at the local Pet Library, the narrator returns home (with her ill-gotten and ill-fated parrot, Richard) to live with her parents and her sister, Adrianna. While she envisions herself as the self-anointed "plain speaker" of the family, she makes them all miserable as her growing narcissistic nature makes it impossible for her to see beyond her own immediate needs.
"Treasure Island!!!" does feel a bit madcap at times, but it is exactly that quality, that unruliness, that makes it such an engaging read. Levine's subtle insight about the egocentric nature of our society is knife-sharp, and when at one point the narrator's ability to hear honest dialogue is questioned, she responds, "I like my candor. There's a big, fat difference."
"Treasure Island!!!" is the first title in the new Tonga Books imprint (headed by Alice Sebold, author of "The Lovely Bones," and published by Europa Editions), and is a promising harbinger of more quality titles to come.
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.