Larry Doyle,
I Love You, Beth Cooper
(Harper Perennial, 2008)

If I were ever to be locked in a windowless room without food, heat or air conditioning, and were forced to name, while held at gunpoint, one book that is supposedly the most silly, stupid and not-to-be-forgotten, brain-dead book I had ever read in my lifetime -- I'm knocking on wood as I type -- I'd surely choose Larry Doyle's I Love You, Beth Cooper.

I exerted basically zero brain power while reading the former Simpsons scribe's debut novel about the nerdiest of all nerds, Denis Cooverman, who during his valedictorian speech at graduation diverts a bit from his preplanned speech to declare his undeniable love for his high school crush, Beth Cooper, in front of his entire class and their families.

This isn't to say I didn't have a good time with the 250-page book. It's just so incredibly dumb so as not to be taken the least bit seriously. Similar to what you may find in a classic John Hughes teen film from the 1980s, all adults and persons of any sort of authority (teachers, cops, you name it) are so completely inept so as to make you wonder how they are able to function at all in their daily lives. They leave their children unattended to do as they wish with their condoms and alcohol, attend house parties and encourage fights rather than break them up and make it to the scene of a crime but fail to write anyone up. You know, things of that nature.

But the book really isn't about them. It's about Denis, his questionably gay best friend, Rich, and their one unbelievable night together that they'll probably never, ever forget. Following graduation, Denis gets talking to Beth and her friends and invites them to a little get-together at his house later that evening. To his and Rich's surprise, they actually show up, leading Denis to learn how to properly throw a fun party for his new "friends" while at the same time pretend to know what he's really doing all along.

Hilarity ensues as they go on drunken escapades along the open road, crash a house party at a popular girl's home (quite literally too as their hummer at one point goes through a large window), take showers at their former high school and end the night at a secluded, lake-view cabin. What Denis has to worry about seemingly all evening, however, is Beth's boyfriend, Kevin, who somehow finds a way to show up at any place, and at any time.

And it's his appearances that drag the narrative down, whenever Doyle can actually get any real momentum going. Kevin shows up, he beats up Denis, he exits. He re-enters in another location, he beats up Denis, he exits. It grows to be a little repetitive, just like this paragraph.

But taking his violence out of the equation, Doyle's tale is actually quite funny, especially in what his rather flat, one-dimensional characters say to one another. I found myself laughing out loud, though not uncontrollably, quite a few times. And that's really I Love You, Beth Cooper's sole purpose anyway. Coming from a writer of The Simpsons, you really can't expect any more than that.

review by
Eric Hughes

7 February 2009

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