|If you understand the pop culture reference in the title of Caprice Crane’s debut novel, you’re probably the target demographic for the story. Why do I continue to read and enjoy novels about twenty-something characters who are a lot closer to my daughter’s age than my own? That may be a mystery, but there’s no doubt that this one was a winner – funny, original and sweetly romantic in a very Generation Y way.
Stupid and Contagious is told in alternating first-person narrative chapters by New Yorkers Heaven Albright and Brady Gilbert. Heaven was recently fired from her public relations position, is about to be fired from her waitressing job and is convinced that she will die at age 27 like Kurt Cobain if she isn’t married by then. Brady has a psycho ex-girlfriend, a record label with no bands signed to it, and a hobby of inventing brilliant products that never get past the concept phase. When they end up living next door to each other, Heaven immediately annoys Brady by reading his mail and stealing (she calls it borrowing) $10 from a card his grandmother sent. But she also rescues him by acting overly familiar when his ex shows up unexpectedly.
Heaven and Brady’s tentative friendship becomes stronger when Brady flies to the West Coast with a dual mission: to scout out a promising band in LA and to sell the CEO of Starbucks on his latest can’t-miss invention in Seattle. Heaven impulsively decides to join him, dragging along her dog Strummer. As they work together to make Brady’s dreams come true (and to avoid major jail time), they start to look each other in a new way. But will either of them ever admit their new feelings to each other – or to themselves?
Caprice Crane is a former MTV writer, as well as the daughter of Gilligan’s Island actress Tina Louise and former talk show host Les Crane, so it would have been easy for her to get by on her heritage. Fortunately she’s a gifted writer. The book sparkles with humor, pop culture references and even a bit of insight, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen. Brady is reminiscent of a Nick Hornby hero (he bemoans the fact that he’s just one of a million “overgrown indie-rock kids with I-Pods and Q Magazine in their hands”), but he has a little more ambition and he’s less of a cad than the seminal heroes of High Fidelity and About a Boy. He’s also a good friend to hapless Phil and womanizing Zach. Plus his Great Idea isn’t half bad.
Heaven is a little harder to warm up to, starting with her silly name and moving on to her behavior, which is more annoying than endearingly quirky. Reading Brady’s mail once because it was delivered to her apartment by mistake is understandable, but doing it on a regular basis is just plain wrong. After a while, however, her loyalty and sheer good heartedness win the reader over. Her misadventures as the world’s most well-intentioned but inept waitress provide some of the book’s funniest moments, and Crane doesn’t even resort to slapstick plate-dropping to elicit the laughter.
Stupid and Contagious is accompanied by its own soundtrack, starting with the titular quote from Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” and moving on to encompass indie bands that any music snob will be able to identify. The book is peppered with quotes from 80s and 90s movies as well, making it the literary equivalent of a VH-1 episode. But pop culture references alone do not make a book – the entertaining plot and slowly developing but rewarding romance between Brady and Heaven set the story apart from other hip Chick Lit efforts.
Caprice Crane’s second novel, which will be published in 2007, is already in development as a film starring Scarlett Johansson. Looks like she’s on the fast track to success, with the talent to justify it. You could hate her for it, or you could just sit back and enjoy the results.