Nearly two years may have passed since I lamented the seeming lack of literary fiction centered around characters in their twenties, but I still feel that same frustration. My thirst for stories about people in my stage of life is slightly slaked by HBO’s Girls, which, despite its failings in representing only a very narrow, white, privileged version of Brooklyn millennial life, is one of the only shows I’ve seen that stars characters I relate too. (It’s a curse as much as it is a blessing; I can’t describe the horror I felt while re-watching the series a year ago and realizing Marnie was the character I related to the most. Fucking Marnie. It was a dark time in my life, which has thankfully passed.)
Anyway, all this to say,* I’m always on the lookout for books that delve into the lives of women in their twenties, so I was more than a little excited when bae sneakily bought me a copy of Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine on a used-bookstore date.**
Our unnamed narrator is drifting through life without purpose and working a string of meaningless jobs when she picks up a copy of Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The adventures of Jim Hawkins shock her out of her lethargy, and she vows to live her life according to Stevenson’s Core Values:
As she becomes increasingly obsessed with Treasure Island, she sheds caution and manners and any trace of respect for her friends and family. She imposes on her boyfriend’s generosity, steals cash from her employer at The Pet Library to buy a parrot (because if she’s going to be Jim Hawkins, she needs a parrot, obvs), proceeds to neglect said parrot, and betrays her sister in a fit of self-righteousness. She is self-absorbed, entitled, delusional, and completely oblivious to the way her actions are hurting those around her. She is infuriating and, somehow, utterly endearing.
I don’t always “cast” characters in the books I read, but I couldn’t help reading lines like, “I’m twenty-five years old and this happened on a Monday when I didn’t have to work at The Pet Library and had no plans except to sleep and maybe wash my bras in the sink, and that was a big maybe,” in the voice of Lena Dunham playing Hannah Horvath on Girls. Although Treasure Island!!! is exponentially more ridiculous than Girls, they both convey a sense of millennial aimlessness and portray young women who don’t always conform to the roles society has created for them. As Roxane Gay discusses in her essay “Not Here to Make Friends,” it’s weirdly refreshing to watch and read about women who are just unapologetically terrible in a world where female characters are often judged on their likability.
Treasure Island!!! is absurd, hilarious, and oddly compelling. I haven’t been this horrifically entranced by a narrator since reading The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, and that is a truly magical thing. If you’re craving a bizarre read (I mean, it has a Pet Library where people literally borrow living animals) that will simultaneously make you boil with rage and want to grab a bowl of popcorn, this one’s for you.
*I basically just resurrected this blog as a means of finding out just how many Hamilton lyrics I can sneak into my posts.
** He was reading Bad Feminist and remembered Roxane Gay’s essay about Treasure Island!!! I’m telling you, he’s a keeper.