Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: forty-four days through three days before

Forty-four days before it happens, as Miles gets closer to the group, the Colonel and Alaska decide it’s time to enact the prank against Kevin and his buddies. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Looking For Alaska.

forty-four days before

I like that Green isn’t afraid to show us that Alaska is flawed, though I don’t know that Miles really engages with that idea beyond the obvious. He hangs out with her, he pines after her, and then he just gets mad in the most immature way possible when things don’t go his way.

Alaska is confused: she’s confused about why she ratted on Marya, confused about what makes her the same as everyone else, confused as to her status with the Colonel, now that she’s admitted to him that she was the rat, and confused as to whether she deserves to be trusted in the first place. Miles seems to ruin this moment of vulnerability when he asks why she won’t just get suspended and go home. And you know, I’d not really given much thought as to why Alaska is so hesitant to talk about her own family, aside from small references here and there. I suppose it really is kind of bizarre in a way, but it might not be something significant at all. I mean, who would really want to be expelled from school and pursue, especially in this context?

It seems she is trying to come to terms with the two disparate elements of her personality, but it certainly doesn’t help if Miles is willing to admit he doesn’t like Alaska when she’s not being what he wants her to be. It’s a creepy, presumptive path, and I think it’s only going to get him in trouble.

christmas

I’ve only recently, in the past couple years, started to like Christmas again. As I said yesterday, I grew up poor, and no matter how hard you try to rationalize things, you do feel left out when your peers, friends, and classmates all come back to school with tales of the mountains of presents under their trees, and you have maybe one or two things to show for yourself. Of course that’s silly now, at least on some level. But at the same time, it wasn’t something you could ignore. Signs of class status are still obvious, and that was one of them: Christmas reminded me just how poor we were.

But it also ruined a lot of the stuff I did like. Sugar cookies. Certain songs. The Nightmare Before Christmas marathons. Christmas lights. The smell of pine wafting from local Christmas tree lots. NOG NOG NOG NOG NOG NOG NOG NOG. And I think that even as an atheist, Christmas is such a cultural juggernaut that there’s a lot of stuff I grew up with and feel fondly about that has nothing to do with the religious aspect of that holiday, so it’s still fun for me to engage with that stuff.

It wasn’t like that for my first Christmas at home while at college. I was still a lot more mopey than usual, and it was also the first Christmas I’d spent with my family in three years anyway. I remember how strong the sensation of guilt was that came from my parents. My mom constantly felt inadequate about everything, assuring herself that she could do better, even though she’d done a lot. But mostly, my parents did what Miles’s parents do in this chapter: they talked to me, told me how proud they were of me, and did what they could to prepare me for the “real” world, despite that I’d been living on my own for years.

But even if Christmas felt weird, being there at home did feel good, and I missed it.

eight days before

I got the sense that the “prank” that opened Looking For Alaska was rapidly approaching, and not just because so many days have passed in just a few pages. It’s here that I pretty much believed that these chapters were counting down to that day; it seemed to make the most sense. The pieces are being set into place, too. Alaska confirms that Lara is going to be a part of a “pre-prank” to distract the Eagle while the real prank goes on. So now all the characters from that prologue of sorts are here, and we’re moving into the final phase.

Again, though, I’m a bit irritated by Miles’s immaturity. I don’t know why Miles thinks he deserves to be included in the plan-making with the Colonel and Alaska, especially since they’re the two who are being targeted by it. But he does, and he whines about it, and UGH BORING.

Whose T-shirts were wet with her tears? Mine. Who’d listened to her read Vonnegut? Me. Who’d been the butt of the world’s worst knock-knock joke? Me. I walked to the Sunny Konvenience Kisosk across from school and smoked. This never happened to me in Florida, this oh-so-high-school angst about who likes who more, and I hated myself for letting it happen now.

You don’t have to care about her, I told myself. Screw her.

Yeah, no thanks. Shut up, Miles.

four days before

Well. This was unexpected.

I suppose this is what I get for trying to be prepared. This whole time, I had assumed that the book was counting down to the prank, but now I see that it happens three days before….something? Jesus, what else could happen?

Even worse, it seems that Miles’s religion exam is answered (and it’s quite a good answer) and it looks like it isn’t going to be this big thing in the narrative.

Goddamn it, I’m back to being utterly unprepared again.

three days before

I was pleasantly surprised how the tension of the story washed over me, and I began to breeze through the pages rather quickly. Suddenly, all of the build-up to the prank was rushing to its conclusion, and all the pieces of the puzzle were being assembled. With a brilliant alibi provide by Dolores, the Colonel and Takumi head out to the school’s barn, which is the head of operations for that evening’s set of pranks. Lara and Alaska arrive soon after and I was ecstatic to have the book meet up with that preview all the way from the beginning of the book. It’s why I love in media res so much: I am fascinated by knowing the future, and then watching how events lead up to that, to learn what happens to put things and people and places where they need to be. Now I know who Kevin is, now I know where there are multiple steps to the prank, and now I know why the prank must happen.

He had printed up individual itineraries for each of us, included times exact tot he second. Our watches synchronized, our clothes black, our backpacks on, our breath visible in the cold, our minds filled with the minute details of the plan, our hearts racing, we walked out of the barn together once it was completely dark, around seven. The five of us walking confidently in a row, I’d never felt cooler. The Great Perhaps was upon us, and we were invincible. The plan may have had faults, but we did not.

Goddamn, it’s actually starting! I’m way into how so many smaller details are coming together, but I mostly excited to see if they can pull this off. I found myself most worried for Takumi and Miles; to me, they had the toughest job because they were dealing with the Eagle. I’m intimidated by the Eagle, and I feel like that’s the way it should be. It helped, though, when Takumi proudly put his fox hat on his head, declaring that “no one can catch the motherfucking fox.” It gives the right amount of epic absurdity to a situation that could go so terribly wrong. But these are four students who want to throw caution to the wind, and find their version of the Great Perhaps in a well-executed prank.

The first step in this night of pranks comes from Takumi and Miles, whose pre-prank involves them setting off sets of firecrackers and drawing the Eagle as far away from the campus as possible. Again, their part in this sounds invariably worse than everything else because it’s the most likely to draw the most attention. Oh, and the Eagle is following them. Enough said.

I briefly panicked when Miles realized they’d misjudged where they were, knowing that the odds of getting caught were suddenly higher, and then that swan that the Colonel pointed out on the very first day comes racing towards Miles. And as freaked out as I was, I couldn’t help but laugh, especially this part:

Wings flapping furiously as it came, and then it was on the shore in front of us, making a noise that sounded like nothing else in this world, like all the worst parts of a dying rabbit plus all the worst parts of a crying baby, and there was no other way, so we just ran.

Even something that really is quite terrifying can be narrated with a sense of humor, and this is a mighty fine example of that. And I really think it’s the only way for Takumi and Miles to deal with the ridiculous nature of what they’re doing. Green creates this sense of youthful infallibility through these two, and I love what he captures here. I still get this feeling from time to time, and I hope to keep experiencing it as I get older. For me, it comes from amusement parks, like my recent obsession with Disneyland. I get this feeling of invincibility from long bike rides or lengthy hikes. I get it when I travel, and I certainly got it that day in July of this year when I had my own panel at LeakyCon. The truth is that I didn’t have it growing up, at least not in the sense I do now. So maybe I’m still searching for my own Great Perhaps, and maybe I’m finally getting closer.

On a larger note, that’s what all of this feels like: a rumination on the invincibility of youth. You do foolish things, you break the rules, and you seek out greatness because you can. When the group returns to the barn to determine if the prank has gone off as planned, their energy is infectious. I’m excited for them, and I don’t even have an emotional stake in this prank.

I wasn’t surprised that Alaska decided to take the prank a bit further than it was planned, sending out notices to twenty more Weekday Warriors; I also wasn’t surprised that the Colonel was the most worried out of all of them for the repercussions of such an act. As Takumi points out, he certainly has the most to lose.

But they don’t obsess over this, and the night ends in celebration and drinking. For what it’s worth, in this span of time, they’ve done the impossible. The prank was pulled off, Kevin and his friends will begin to learn what’s happened, and all five of them are safe, sound, and–most important–not caught.

That feels pretty good.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Looking For Alaska and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: forty-four days through three days before

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    SWAAAAAAN!

    Have you seen Hot Fuzz, Mark? If not, get off the computer right now and put it on.

    • pennylane27 says:

      oh my god best movie ever.

    • amyalices says:

      YES DO IT.

      We had an American friend living with us for a while, and he watched it – then turned to me, equal parts delighted and sheepish, and said, "This is exactly what I pictured England being like."

      If Neverwhere is London, Hot Fuzz is a parodic but very keenly observed English countryside. πŸ˜€

    • Tauriel_ says:

      HOT FUZZ IS PERFECTION. <3 <3 <3

      "Fascist!"

      "Hag!"

      πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    • flootzavut says:

      Simon Pegg comes from near where I live. We are most proud πŸ™‚

  2. Elexus Calcearius says:

    I really enjoyed the pranking chapter. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. There was such tension, such power, such energy in it. I especially loved Takumi. "I am the motherfucking fox," indeed. Not completely sure why I liked it. It kind of reminded me of a mythical gingerbread man. XD

    That said, this is when I started getting really intrigued to what we were counting down. Four days 'till what? Being busted? Hooking up with Alaska? Failing a class? If it wasn't a prank like you'd suggested, I wondered what exactly it could be.

    • t09yavosaur says:

      "It kind of reminded me of a mythical gingerbread man."

      Well, Fox was the only one who caught the Gingerbread Man.

  3. canyonoflight says:

    Swans are TERRIFYING. I got bit by one when I was a child. Large birds have freaked me out ever since.

  4. MeasuringInLove says:

    We are unprepared.

  5. @ttown2 says:

    You didn't catch the password? J3ckylnhyd3 ??
    I was like: Ha he's doing that one too (sort of).

  6. Becky_J_ says:

    Hahaha. Mark. It's cute when you think you're prepared. You should know by now that you are NEVER prepared.

    Now that the prank happened, what is the Event? We're only three days away from it, whatever it is! Now your guess book is probably entirely blank. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    sorry, I had to do it

  7. Jordan says:

    The unpreparedness is palpable.

    • Leo says:

      THIS goddamn. (I actually had a surprisingly accurate inkling at about this point on my first read, and STILL was unprepared.)

      I’m actually unprepared for Mark’s unprepared-ness.

    • flootzavut says:

      V nz frevbhfyl dhvgr pbaprearq sbe Znex'f zragny urnygu jura ur svaqf bhg jung guvf vf nyy Orsber…

  8. London's Child says:

    Oh Mark. Reading these reviews is the highlight of my (shit) day (at the office).

    You are just….uegh! SO UNPREPARED!!!!
    asdfghjkl;'
    I will say nothing.

  9. Charmify says:

    oh my god I can not wait until you reach the end of the countdown. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

    I love the action in this "chapter" – it feels so real and intense, and I think everyone has felt what they feel in some shape or form; the terrifying adrenaline of thinking you're about to get caught doing something, the giddiness when you get away with it…every teenager can understand that. It makes it so much more real.

  10. sporkaganza93 says:

    Agreed. Mark, I think this may be the least prepared you've ever been. Hoo boy.

  11. Gorge says:

    I want for you to get there so much! I hope you read until the after next time. <333

  12. Mauve_Avenger says:

    "Whose T-shirts were wet with her tears? Mine. Who’d listened to her read Vonnegut? Me. Who’d been the butt of the world’s worst knock-knock joke? Me."

    Who's acting like an entitled Nice Guy™ brat? Me.

    What I don't get about his emotions at being left out (aside from him not realizing the obvious, practical reason that Alaska and the Colonel are old hat at planning pranks and he obviously isn't), is that he never once thinks that it may be because Alaska and the Colonel have known each other a lot longer and are therefore just naturally closer. Yes, Miles has known her for about a semester, and yes, he spent Thanksgiving break (almost) completely alone with her, but the Colonel's known her since they were both the poor new kids there as freshmen, which is a much longer time and a much more formative bonding experience. I think generally there's a different dynamic at play, being with a friend you've known for years versus being with a friend you've known for months. It seems weird to me that either it doesn't exist in this case or it does exist and Miles simply isn't picking up on it for some reason (perhaps because it gets in the way of feeling entitled to Alaska's attention?).

    Also, how does a person attain the age of sixteen (he is sixteen, right?) without knowing how to make scrambled eggs and macaroni & cheese? I'm pretty sure this is something all my siblings knew how to do by middle school age at the very latest.

    • drippingmercury says:

      Well, I guess before this Miles really only had "school friends" and not friends that he was close with, so I would guess that along with his crush-induced tunnel vision are why he doesn't realize he's being quite silly.

      I find myself continually amazed out how hopeless my partner is at cooking. Like, so hopeless I had to teach him how to boil noodles. In my partner's case I chalk it up to his own lack of interest in cooking and his mom doting on her only child/not forcing him to learn because she liked taking care of him. Maybe it's similar with Miles and his family? I can only hope Miles's mom taught him REAL macaroni & cheese and not that mac 'n cheese garbage people make out of powdered cheese or velveeta. Blllechhh.

  13. pennylane27 says:

    Ugh I need to go read some more right now. I've never felt less prepared for anything before!

  14. Maile says:

    The fox hat is real. IT IS SO UNBELIEVABLY REAL. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxyEdydcj9c&fe
    0:01-0:20
    The fox hat lives.

  15. sarit says:

    i weep silent tears at your unpreparedness, mark.

  16. a-queezy says:

    You are so unprepared, it is ridiculous. I accidentally spoiled myself before reading, and I was /still/ unprepared.
    (Btw, this is my first time ever commenting, though I've read your reviews for a while.)

  17. arnenieberding says:

    Omg, I just got a flashback from when I was surrounded by birds.

    A few years ago, in film school, we had to act in each other's assignments. Naturally, I was given the wonderful acting job of FEEDING THE BIRDS. IN A PARK. WITH ACTUAL BREAD. A park with (no kidding) dozens of ducks, geese and swans. Holy shit, I was more scared than that one time where I got chased by a poodle. I was surrounded by a hundred birds and I can certainly tell you that having seen The Birds wasn't a blessing at that point.

  18. muselinotte says:

    I cherish my moments of youthful infallibility so much these days, as they sadly seem to get fewer these days.
    For me, those are mostly summer festivals, weekends that are part roadtrip, part camping with friends, part singing and dancing with my musical idols.
    This is when I feel best, I hope to keep it.
    All my work colleagues go on fancy vacations to sunny places and stuff, I take the train to dance in the mud and drink and get a sunburn/cold…
    I don't want to change that one single bit πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.