Between this and the numerous descriptions of people doing shots out of each other's navels, I found the book a pleasant and instructive experience.
A version of this review at Guardian20, here.
If you consider books important at all, it’s easy to believe that the celebrity novel signals the end of literature. These books are generally terrible, the people they are about have lives that manage to be both expensive and uninteresting, and most of them are ghostwritten, so that they don’t even feel like they have basic integrity. And (to rub it in further) most of them are bestsellers.
By any normal standards, therefore, A Shore Thing by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi is an abomination. Snooki is known for her work on MTV’s The Jersey Shore, a reality show that apparently features a group of Italian-American housemates spending their summer at Seaside Heights in New Jersey. Snooki is perhaps the best known of the group – though as someone who does not watch the show I cannot really explain why.
A Shore Thing tells the story of the well-meaning but accident-prone Gia Spumanti (based on Snooki herself) who is spending the summer in Seaside Heights with her cousin Bella (based on fellow Jersey Shore star Jenni “JWoww” Farley). While Gia gets a job at a tanning salon, accidentally becomes a YouTube celebrity and attempts to mend her new employer’s broken marriage, Bella works in a gym and makes a series of terrible romantic choices.
In many ways A Shore Thing feels like a rather awkward young adult novel (which makes sense; though it hasn’t been specifically marketed as one the show’s audience would seem to skew that way) with its story of girls Finding Themselves over the course of one summer. It emphasises such important moral lessons as the fact that date rape is bad, that education is good, that eating disorders should be avoided because it’s perfectly okay to love one’s “badonkadonk”. On the other hand, much of the humour seems like it could have come straight out of American Pie. One long and cringeworthy scene involves laxatives and men’s bathrooms; a romantic date ends with a jellyfish sting and the inevitable urination.
However banal and juvenile this may sound, A Shore Thing is bizarrely entertaining. It’s hard to tell how much of this is due to the work of Valerie Frankel, Snooki’s “collaborator” on the book. In the acknowledgements Frankel is thanked for “help[ing] me translate my ideas onto the page”. Yet frequently the book reads more as a parody of The Jersey Shore and Snooki herself than anything else. For example, we see Gia “dancing on the spot to music that, like dolphins and small dogs, only she could hear”. We learn that “[s]he loved dancing and was talented too. Gia won a contest in high school for shaking it the longest and hardest without spilling a drop of her vodka tonic”. And she’d like to wear orange, but “that was too close to her skin tone to pull off”. When she overhears an acquaintance saying harsh things about her and kicking over a trash can in her rage, Gia’s outrage is entirely for the harm caused to the community. “Go ahead, call me a fat whore, she thought, but for God’s sake don’t litter!”
Gia is not the only character to be the victim of what seems like constant mockery. Linda, a character who once had a party with a friend where “they each ate three cookies” also comes in for some of it. We learn that one of the things she admires about her boyfriend Rocky is that “he loved to fight. When Rocky pounded down some kid because she asked him to, Linda felt loved and treasured.”
A subplot in which two men compete to manipulate, pick up and sleep with women is another clue that this might all be a really bizarre satire. The competition bears a distinct similarity to another reality TV show, the genuinely disturbing Keys to the VIP. Then there’s a gloriously meta moment where an entire, naked, room of spray-tanned women discuss the “bend and snap” seduction technique from Legally Blonde and unleash it on an innocent delivery man.
If it is a spoof the question remains; does Snooki know?
Then there’s the fact that this book is so quotable. A bridesmaid claims that “Nothing says ‘I, like, love you’ like a spray tan. An incident where Gia accidently trips over a shark and finds herself standing rather too close to it gives rise to the greatest line in the book (and I suspect in literature for 2011): “Don’t eat me, bitch”.
All told, for all its banality and lack of depth it’s hard to hate A Shore Thing. There’s something so innocent and earnest about it – this is a world in which date rape can be avenged through a paintball game, where a house burning down is no big deal, and where the guy who stole your car probably only wanted to refurbish it. It is bizarrely appealing. If this is the death of literature it’s a lumbering, adorable puppy of a death.