George Rabasa is a writer of literary heft with a gift for vivid, accurate description. That said, "Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb" is a hard book to warm to. Its narrator, Adam Webb, suffers from literary ubiquity. In and out of a local mental institution (which he calls the 'tute), Adam is the latest in a long line, starting with Holden Caulfield, of sane adolescents responding in various adorable ways to an insane world. Having experience with mental illness myself, I can say that it is no more rebellious, romantic or existentially plausible than kidney failure.
Adam's family, whom he torments by wearing women's clothes and mashing up his food, is likewise amiably eccentric. It's not until he meets Pia that things become slowly, inexorably chilling. This is a story that starts out as a zippy piece of young adult fiction and morphs into a memorable tale of obsession, right up there with "The Collector" and "Endless Love."
When Adam meets Pia, a pyromaniac whose vintage clothes match her "dark persona," she thinks the law is after her for burning her house down. Her father has gone truly mad, and her mother has gone to Texas. Adam sees in Pia a self-destructive doomed goddess whom he must worship. Again, this character is not new. Beautiful, doomed women appear everywhere, from Springsteen and Lou Reed songs to French films like "Betty Blue." Often, they die, so that the male artist may realize his full potential. No one, until Rabasa, however, has explored the dark side of this mythology.
Adam doesn't want to rescue Pia, he wants to worship her. To that end, he destroys her mother's e-mails, hides her in his parents' house, and, through means more devious than outright aggressive, keeps her a prisoner, stealing his brother's car and spiriting her north to an abandoned cabin, where things go from unsettling to downright scary.
In one unforgettable scene, he makes Pia pose, turning her head again and again to look like a powerful, cruel goddess. In an ecstasy of masochism, he pleads, "Do you want to hurt me, Pia, because you have the right to." He persuades her that she has nowhere to go, that she is abandoned and alone except for him. He will do anything to make her happy, anything but let her go.
This book is marketed as a love story. "No doubt each of us has our own slightly twisted (first love) story to tell," says the copy. But this isn't quite true. This is a story not about love, which is good for you and teaches you about life even when it ends badly. This is a story about obsession. It's a horror tale. Nothing proves that as well as the last few pages when a now 27-year-old Adam looks at his books and remarks that his reading tastes -- "Bhagavad Gita," "Das Kapital" -- haven't changed since he was 13. A young man that bright should have read Joseph Conrad by now. Then he would know what to say about being a grown man who has not read anything new since he was 13: "The horror. The horror."
Which is finally what Rabasa has written -- a horror story that won't let you sleep.
Emily Carter is the author of "Glory Goes and Gets Some." She lives in Connecticut.