Review: The Pursuit of Cool

Posted on: April 17, 2012
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The Pursuit of Cool, by Robb Skidmore

Reviewed by Gila Heller, Assistant Editor

The Pursuit of Cool, Robb Skidmore’s debut novel, follows young adult protagonist Lance Rally through his turbulent college career in the 1980s. Lance, who comes from a prestigious, stuffed-shirt family in suburban Virginia, befriends Ian LaCoss, the product of a divorced hippie couple in California. While Lance enters Langford College with every intention of succeeding academically, Ian doesn’t seem to care about grades, and he hijacks Lance onto a path of excessive drinking, recreational drug use, and chasing girls, all in the name of— as the title suggests— the elusive “cool” moniker. Lance succumbs to peer pressure every time, breaking his parents’ rules and acting against his own better judgment, because he doesn’t have a high enough opinion of himself to confidently refuse his friends when they suggest doing something irresponsible.

A relationship with the straitlaced Lynn Van Oster offers some hope for Lance’s GPA, but Lance spends most of his time either making love to Lynn or fantasizing about making love to Lynn and never seems to get any schoolwork done. During the joint study sessions Lynn organizes, Lance pretends to read his textbook, too distracted by the mere fact of her proximity to concentrate. Meanwhile, he spends the regular checks from his parents on alcohol, restaurants, club entrance fees, and expensive jewelry for Lynn.

When Lynn eventually dumps him for his lack of ambition, Lance drowns his sorrows in substance abuse and listens to his beloved punk rock tapes over and over again. Avoiding calls from his parents and skipping class as a matter of routine, Lance ignores the business school applications that are gathering dust on his desk. The one achievement he can claim from his college career is a prestigious internship with a consulting firm called Patterson French International, obtained due to an inflated GPA and invented scholarship on his largely fictional resume.

In a final parental rebellion, Lance scraps his business school plans during senior year. He never quite manages to define “cool”, but he does finally realize his true passions, admitting to himself for the first time that he hates economics. The novel’s ending provides a satisfying resolution to Lance’s anxiety and uncertainty, demonstrating true character growth and a newfound ability to cope well with stress. However, this revelation might have been better placed mid-story, so that the reader could follow Lance on a journey through the things that truly move him.
The Pursuit of Cool offers a compelling glimpse into the world of 1980s teenage angst, which— surprise, surprise— is not all that different than contemporary teenage angst. Skidmore has skillfully crafted a sympathetic protagonist whom readers root for despite all his screw-ups, and the narration has an understated lyrical quality. Unfortunately, however, the novel suffers from incomplete editing, resulting in frequently stilted dialogue and a consistent glut of sentence fragments. Furthermore, the constant barrage of peer pressure Lance endures and his resulting substance abuse, seemingly without any serious medical or academic consequences, is a little hard to swallow and could have benefited from some trimming. Ultimately, the novel can resonate with anyone who’s ever made a youthful bad decision and recovered from it as a better person, and especially anyone who is a fan of ‘80s punk rock.

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