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Books Tue Jul 09 2013

Book Review: The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni

Sarah-Bruni_THE-NIGHT-GWEN-STACY-DIED.jpgWhile reading Sarah Bruni's debut novel The Night Gwen Stacy Died, I remembered, quite wistfully, all the stupid things I did when I was 17. Granted, I was no Sheila Gower, Bruni's bored teenage protagonist who allows herself to be kidnapped at gunpoint by a restless, cab-driving stranger who calls himself Peter Parker (as in Spider-Man). But thanks to Bruni's thoughtful prose and carefully-drawn characters, I can understand why she goes for it, absconding with him for weeks in Chicago, where neither knows exactly what they're doing, or why (until a wild coyote Sheila is drawn to begins to clear that up for them).

I like Bruni's Sheila -- she has no friends (except for the equally marginalized Anthony Pignatelli ("The 'G' is fucking silent anytime it comes before an 'N'," he says; I wished there was more of him!), she works in a gas station in small-town Iowa, and she confides in a taxidermied museum coyote, whom she'll probably miss when she finally delivers herself to Paris after graduation. She's the quintessential unimpressed-romantic-loner-teenage girl, and if a movie based on this book is ever made, Christina Ricci should totally teleport the 1998 version of herself to play the role.

One of Bruni's deftest moves was her choice of title. The Night Gwen Stacy Dies is also the name of issues #121-122 of The Amazing Spider-Man comic book series, in which Spider-Man battles the Green Goblin and -- spoiler alert! -- his girlfriend Gwen Stacy dies at the end. When Peter begins to refer to Sheila as Gwen Stacy and she goes along with it, even wearing a Gwen-esque dress and doing comic book-y things, my concern for her fate kept me turning the pages right through an unpredictable, impressionistic, and lyrical denouement.

You don't have to know the Spider-Man story, or even be curious about it, to enjoy this book. Read it if you have a soft spot for teenage loners and star-crossed lovers, or for coming-of-age novels that are not your typical coming-of-age novel.

You can pick up a copy of The Night Gwen Stacy Died this Friday, July 12 at 7:30pm at Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., where Bruni will read and sign books.

Photo courtesy of the author's website.

 
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