So Shelly – Ty Roth (2011, Delacorte Press)
Ahhhh…I had such huge expectations for this novel. HUGE. It’s my fault, I know – but it didn’t quite measure up.
Allow me to explain.
Ty Roth’s concept is so clever it makes me want to cry for sheer joy (or grit my teeth in jealousy, one or the other): he’s taken the biographies of the Romantic poets John Keats, Percy Shelley (as well as his wife Mary), and George Gordon, Lord Byron and fictionalized them in a dramatic high school soap opera/tragedy, set in modern times. See, it’s brilliant, isn’t it? We have the modern John Keats, a poor boy with no future (he’s prescribed himself an early death, just as the poet did), who languishes in the spotlight next to the extremely gifted, outrageously selfish playboy Gordon Byron. Caught between the two of them is Shelly, the girl that Keats desires, even as she yearns for Byron’s completely unrequited love. Oh, and did I mention that at the START of the novel, Shelly is dead? As Keats and Byron race to perform Shelly’s last requests, the sorry, sordid state of the lives of all three of the characters and their ill-fated love triangle (or whatever it is) are revealed. It’s really, really ugly – and even though I understand that the poet Byron was purportedly a man that yielded frequently to his – shall we say? – appetites, I wasn’t prepared to see a high school kid do the same thing. His escapades steadily escalate (and mirror the life of the poet) – and while it’s all so very NASTY, it’s also very hard to look away. (“How To Drive A Plot 101”). Shelly and Keats swirl and rotate within Gordon’s orbit, none of them quite touching, and as Gordon’s celebrity increases, Shelly’s life begins to completely unravel. Keats, meanwhile, observes and occasionally pines and writes their story.
And it should be good. I actually really love Keats’ voice – he’s sardonic, witty, and full of statistics about death (which I feel is seriously attractive and necessary in a modern incarnation of a Romantic poet). And the story has awesome bones. But for some reason I just couldn’t deal with the melodrama and the seediness – I know I’m a few years removed from the age of the characters in this story, but seriously….
See? My fault, entirely. Give it a read and let me know what you think.