The Year of the Gadfly

A few months ago, I agreed to participate in Jennifer Miller’s attempt to visit 100 Skype book clubs in July promotion. Billed as a thrilling account of prep school mystery, The Year of the Gadfly was postured to be fun, entertaining. The week prior to the event, I collected props inspired by this novel to include: my dragonfly necklace, a multi-media Christmas tree one son made in first grade, my mother in law’s “Happy Hanukkah” banner. My fellow bibliophiles gathered to eat pepperoni pizza on paper plates with kosher Oreo substitute cookies as dessert, we met with Miller, we had a delightful time. The only problem is: I didn’t want to do it.

As I approached the day of the book club, I feel progressively more uncomfortable with the notion of a festive (kick off) of this novel. The bullying, the anti-Semitism, the one, no, two deaths made me want to jump up and down on my party hat. And the terms suicide and festive should never, ever be in the same sentence. I was ready to cancel, but couldn’t. I said I would host, so I hosted. Herein lies Miller’s hook that she embeds in every page of The Year of the Gadfly: a person’s need to belong, to please, to participate in a group will supersede an individual’s moral construct. By allowing my sense of obligation to outrank my inner hesitation, I have proven the author’s point.

By the time the Skype session started, I was bursting. I opened the Q&A session with my demanding question: how do you reconcile the festive nature of this promotion with the darkness of one, maybe two suicides in your novel? Miller’s response, full of clarity and wisdom, was essentially this: people who experience death develop a sense of humor about death. The clanging of glasses and munching on Doritos, was, in her mind, very fitting. How else do you cope?

The Year of the Gadfly fits no one category. Part comedy, part philosophy, filled with teenage discussion points and adult reflective moments, this novel offers breadth and width of material. I am passing it on to my teenage son with a good bit of anticipation. What will he see in Gadfly, and will I have seen it, too?

The Year of the Gadfly

Jennifer Miller

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Paperback:  May 2013

2 thoughts on “The Year of the Gadfly

  1. People who experience death are dead. People who are facing death, if they are lucky, can often humor others with some dark jokes, most often trite. If this book had not been promoted in a festive way, it would have been a hard sell. It’s a book about discrimination of all kinds — against color, religion, physical attributes or imperfections, mental make-up, etc. — and the ugliness that comes with being persecuted and trying to fit in and persecuting others for the sake of fitting in.
    From the acknowledgement and author bio, I gathered this novel was inspired by a true experience related to her by friends. I wish I’d been there to hear her talk about that.
    I didn’t expected much from this book and was happily disappointed to find it something extraordinary and much more fascinating and touching than Donna Tartt’s first novel to which it is often compared. (That said, I also thought Donna Tartt did a find job those many years ago.)
    What also interested me is that this novel seemed to be a joint venture.

    • In talking to Miller, she did extract a good bit of her brother’s experiences in school for this novel. Yes, I too, was happily disappointed. I was expecting yet another oh-woe-is-me prep school novel yet found something much more thought provoking.

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