Although, I have encountered and internalized many teenaged male protagonists, from the meek Charlie from POBAW, to the valiant Tariq, to the quirky Holden Caulfield, Finn Earl, my latest discovery, refuses to be filed amongst them. He is the sixteen-year old protagonist of Dirk Wittenhorn’s 2002 novel “Fierce People” which is a coming-of-age story, a thriller, and a romance all wrapped in one. Although, there is so much going on between these pages and I have met so many memorable characters, it is invariably Finn’s transformation that is the central piece that effuses meaning to it all.
The plot revolves around a single mother and her teenaged son finding a patron in a multi-billionaire who offers them a glimpse into the lives of Vlyvalle’s ultra-rich circles. But as Finn peers deeper into the lives of these people, he discovers the darkness, dirt, and falsity of everyone. He realises they ain’t anymore different than the primitive Amazonian Yanomamo tribe who are capable off just two things: “fuck/kill”.
The book heavily references “Yanomano: The Fierce People”, a written account by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon based on his on-field research amongst the Yanomamo. Finn’s father (who, by the way, never married his mother so Finn’s technically a bastard) is the overarching anthropological figure who Finn elucidates about but never actually meets.
Let’s get this straight: Finn’s fucked up. He’s a sixteen year old (fifteen when we first meet him) virgin bastard whose single mother fucks random strangers in an adjoining room whose walls are too thin to keep all the noises from him at night. He has never actually met his father. He never had proper friends. He is, in all sense of the word, a “loser”. But things take an interesting turn as they gradually work their way through the New Jersey aristocracy and the subsequent transformation that both of them undergo. The mere constrast of these two chracters with their “poor” selves can form an independent case study. Wittenhorn drops wistful niggets of wisdom along the way. Himself born and raised in a community not unresembling of Vlyvalle, he gives us a glimpse into the corrupted, dark world of the ultra-rich.
And then, there’s Maya Langley. Madly in love with Finn for what reason I still haven’t figured out. To be honest, this subplot (because I’ll still treat it as one) is so well-developed that it can be called the main plot in it’s own right. Their romance is so spontaneous and true. Their conversations wholesome and unphony. The Yanomamo initiation scene on the island was intense and insanely adorable (I admit, I got intrigued by this very clip on YT from the movie adaptation). Though, of course, none of it changes the fact that Maya is a rich, spoiled kid who sets muskrat traps for poachers and gets islands and Land Rovers for bday presents. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s one of the Fierce People. One who likes to hear what she wants to hear, notwithstanding the truth. Their separation, the orchestrated lie (of which I’ll speak no further), the boarding schools of Le Rosey and St. Mark’s, Finn’s jump, Maya’s tattoo, and their eventual reunion at the Plaza in New York. As I come to think of it, I liked it all.
Pop culture references
This book is set in the 70s and as such has a lot of pop references of that glorious era and before. Someone on Twitter correctly pointed out how the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s had a unique style and story, an indescribable personality to themselves that we can only read about in books, or listen to in songs, or watch in movies. The previous two decades has been one big piece of. . .nothingness. What has happened to us? Anyway, coming back to FP, you know how I adore learning about pop culture of bygone eras. Green Acres, Love Story featured against familiar entities like Barbara Streisand, Grace Kelly, Beatles, Jackie Kennedy. It was fun.
Characters & the rich mindset
All that stuff aside, what truly gives the novel its potency is the characters. It’s an infiltration by a masseuse and her son into the wild aristocracy of Vlyvalle and how they respond and react to events. It isn’t as simple as simple people think. It’s tangled and dark and most importantly, false. We get a good hard look into the cruel, barbaric, and graceless lives of these fierce people. Osborne wasn’t wrong when he claimed that “Yanomamo valley was Vlyvalle without the money”. The deconstruction of the rich mindset is a tricky business because we have so little data but this book is a good starting point. I never thought, I’d say that for a teenage novel.
Character of Finn Earl
I so so wish to write a sketch for Maya, Bryce, Osborne, and Finn’s mother Liz but hey, I’m in uni now and I have minors tomorrow.
I could relate to Finn’s vulnerability. I was amused by his fascination for 12 year old tribal tits and female skin but then, hey he’s fifteen and raised by a single mother. Since, he’s the narrator, it was quite fun relating to his first-person thought processes. Exceptionally paranoid for eg: Liz and Osborne suspicion, which, by the way, he rightly should be. Being busted for coke that he was buying for his mom was adorable. He’s also a pathological liar. A jerk to everybody. Most peoeple say it’s the age but then, I wasn’t a jerk. I was quite okay. Nasty to her mother which, IMO, was uncool but forgivable because his mother wasn’t some pious saint either. And all this before he got dumped into Vlyvalle, of course. Then, his gradual ascent into becoming a fierce person himself is another aspect of the fickleness of human nature but also, the ultimate conclusion that transformation’s ain’t overnight. In the end, Finn saves Bryce and proves that he isn’t like them after all. But is he? One cannot fully rest assure in this deduction and that uneasiness is riveting.
On a personal note, I thought my days of reading teenage novels were over. I stay away from those mushy romance novels that makes me puke. Pathetic waste of time. And honestly, I thought this was one of those. But I was so darn wrong. It’s so much more than that. And it’s good. I don’t mind reading coming-of-age stories like these. Perhaps, I’m trying to live in stories what I can’t in reality?
It was a good read. I remember being unable to put it down once I started. Recommended and revisitable.