Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson
Published by Harper, Perennial, 2004
Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I may return to this one in a few years.
Reviewed by Indiana
Slight spoilers ahead
You know that theater kid who really thinks they shine? The one who just knows they’re destined for Hollywood, or Broadway, at the very least.
Well, that sort of personality has been forced down our protagonist’s throat. And Lisa Normal has swallowed it whole-heartedly and with a dramatic flourish.
Normal wants to be the sort of famous that will make everyone around her positively Kelly green. Her mother has been making her perform and telling her that she has to work hard to get into the performance school of every theater kid’s dream (though it’s really her dream, not her daughter’s . . . we’ll get to that later).
In a series of dark and drastically dramatic twists and turns, Lisa does not get into the school of her dreams and is forced to finish high school with all the other “normal” people. Though she’s tough, she’s saddled with an unhealthy sense of naïveté, which gets her into relationships that always end in crash-landings (and, in one particularly awful scene, leave her with a shaved head).
When Lisa finally graduates, her life gets a little jagged. She’s still trying to chase the dream of stardom but there is money to be made in the meantime. She picks up side jobs and lives with her best friend, Lorna, who seems like the only level headed and truly supportive person in her life. They eventually move into a sort of commune; where their housemates actually believe that they’re chosen ones and are secretly elves. The commune has its own language—the same language used in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings—and think that they have to fight the goths in the neighborhood because they’re secretly vampires.
Yeah, things get pretty weird.
Lisa doesn’t buy it at first, but eventually, after a few too many bad trips, failed relationships, and acting opportunities that turn out to be fool’s gold, she goes on a desperate journey to find the world her housemates are talking about. She ends up in rehab, thanks to her mom and best friend.
Wilson’s humor shines through all the comedic and not-so-comedic tragedies of the storyline. Other reviewers have compared her writing to David Foster Wallace, as evidenced by quotes like:
“Lexie’s curmudgeonly dad, after a few tearful door-slams, hard truths, and violin music, reluctantly agrees to let a top ice-coach transform diamond-in-the-rough Lexie into a polished Olympic contender in six months (introducing the Ticking Clock, Hollywood Formula Obstacle #1).”
“‘Success is the best revenge,’ Liza replied, ‘But since I don’t have success, I’m going to have to do something totally fucking weird and intense.’”
As weird as the plot is it does follows the traditional Bildungsroman style; with a young protagonist growing and becoming “educated and maturing to adulthood.”
The education was just not the traditional kind. Instead of attending an austere acting school or training with some Broadway director, Lisa gets an education in nightclubs and in the entertainment and porn industry. She gets a good acting gig in a LGBTQ-friendly nightclub and starts writing porn.
It’s not the sort of life she’d picked out or imagined for herself, not by a long shot. But she’s able to support herself and her entire family and she becomes a stronger character; bringing her fragmented family back together and forgiving them for past wrongs.
Between Wilson’s humor and the incredibly saturated characters, I really liked the book. The pacing is really the only thing I had a problem with. There were sections I felt could’ve been cut down or even out completely because it didn’t seem to be serving the story arc as much other sections.