I am a tough critic on the magical realism/sci-fi genres. Truth is, they are not my go-to genres when I am choosing a book to read, so it usually takes something special to draw me in. Scott Too grabbed me immediately. From the subtle hint of something awry in the first paragraph surrounded by piles of concrete details, told in an authentic voice, I was hooked: “The last normal day of my life began as all the others did. I woke at 7PM, cracked my neck, and slumped downstairs to find my roommate Jase, laid out in his corner chair. Half a burnt-out joint stuck to his dried lips, fluttering through his snores. Empty beer cans stood post around his legs and dribbled down the cushions.”
It starts with a late night bodega run and a drive-by shooting. Our narrator escapes with only a superficial eye wound, only to enter his front door to see himself sitting on the couch with his best friend. Scott Too by Victor Giannini exists in a tear in the universe created when his protagonist simultaneously dies and escapes death. This body double becomes a real life foil for Scott and a literary one for the reader.
Presented in the form of a magical realism novel, in Scott Too we find a touching coming of age story for today’s lost generation. Two friends moved to Brooklyn, rented an apartment, and built a sweet skate ramp in the back yard – they were independent for the first time. Only problem is, that was years ago, now the skate ramp lays in warped disrepair as does Scott’s life. It is not until his body double appears in his apartment and lives his life better than he has, that our narrator begins to wonder how he became so complacent.
Giannnini continually balances between the unflinching authenticity of the roommates’ lives (and apartment) and the unrealness of a body double walking around with a life of his own. The reader quickly accepts this alternate reality because we are so grounded in all of the concrete details that add up to a full gritty reality. We can almost count the empty beer cans around the apartment and are grossed out by the dishes in the sink. The characters’ actions and speech are so authentic that I swear I knew these guys and that I have seen their apartment.
The clarity and realness of the setting draws us into the world of the novella, and the characters keep us there. The characters are going on the journey with us, struggling to understand how a body double can appear and figuring out how to deal with him once he is there.
From the initial disbelief of “’Man, I must be really high.’” to the stoner logic of “’I’m going to pack this giant bong here with some killer weed. And we’re only going to smoke it and chill out…and then we’ll figure out where exactly reality broke apart.’” To the humorous, “’Maybe you guys shouldn’t touch.’” We are along on this journey with these characters, they don’t know what they hell is going on either…and we are going to figure it out together.
After we have been sucked into this alternate reality and we have accepted Scott Two’s existence, we begin to understand the novella. Subtle moments of self-realization begin to appear as Scott Two works out, tones his muscles and bulks up, takes over Scott’s job, and gets his girl.
Scott realizes that this body double is living his life better than he had been. The journey is gradual and is punctuated by intimate moments between the roommates, often with the skate ramp serving as the symbol for their lives. As Scott transitions from disbelief, to anger, to hatred, to acceptance of Scott Two, the relationship he has with Jase remains solid. “Jase and I were in his room, a cave of teenage angst turned to young adult pride. The two windows were open, watch of us dangling our legs into the Brooklyn air, letting the cool sandy brownstone slap at our calves.” And, “We did what people do. We stood side by side and smoked our little passive aggressive wishes for death, and stared down at our glory days.”
There is a sense of satisfaction that comes over you when you are done reading this novella. At every turning point Giannini takes the story in an unexpected direction and never once does he take the easy way out. We feel content with the direction each character is headed when we leave them– and in the back of each of our minds we are thinking, “What if I came home to a better version of me sitting on my couch?”
Disclosure: Andrea Janov is friends with the author.