Tamaki’s debut Sweet Valley High as literature

The rules of narrative have changed. Postmodern writing can include a barrage of conventional don’ts including unlikable, sickening main characters as well as fragmented and almost non-existent plot lines that offer little or no reader satisfaction. Toronto-based novelist Marko Tamaki is all too aware of this literary shift.
Tamaki’s slight debut novel Cover Me is predictable and entirely clichd. The novel reads as autobiography — how else could Tamaki have created a main character/narrator as completely self-absorbed and attention starved as Traci Yamoto. An attempted deep examination of counter culture and teen angst, Cover Me emerges rather as a shallow, underdeveloped novel that reads like a broken record.
Cover Me is the story of Japanese Canadian Traci Yamoto and her struggle to assume an identity. Traci’s struggles with self and family are told as flashbacks, little over-dramatic vignettes remembered through the course of Traci’s lunch date with her father in downtown Toronto.
The flashbacks centre around Traci and her fight to overcome being an ostracized misfit. Suicidal tendencies land Traci in the psych ward of Sick Kids where she realizes her Courtney Love-esque vocal talent — one that allows her to belt out Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction cover songs. What Cover Me lacks elsewhere, it certainly doesn’t make up for in originality.
Cover Me begins with some promise. The section entitled, “Epiphanies,” which is also the first section, is perhaps the most insightful section of the novel. It sets the book up as a poignant, insightful piece, describing a familial theme of well-intentioned expectations as experienced through a mother-daughter relationship. Sadly, the novel simply cannot deliver. This first section is incongruous as the novel really becomes about Traci and her father.
A bright spot in Tamaki’s writing is her dry humour. Traci muses about the female corporate set: “I pause to write a song lyric about how I will never sell-out and wear Nikes and nylons.” Her purposed suicide letter reads: “Maybe I was thinking about God, or my hair, or Dylan and Brenda.” Everyone can relate somewhat and smirk at Tamaki’s references, however, her gratuitous use of popular culture references is overdone and tired. When Douglas Coupland did it in Generation X, it was fresh and insightful — now it’s just redundant. In her references to everything from televisions Golden Girls to teen pulp queen Judy Bloom, Tamaki joins the ranks of authors attempting to jump the postmodern pop culture train a few years too late.
As a main character Traci is portrayed as shallow and sickeningly annoying. Traci and her story can scarcely sustain the book’s 135 pages. Far too much of the book is wasted banging the reader over the head with the fact that Traci wants to be different. How many times must we read that Traci’s hair is purple, that she has tattoos, that she wears sequined boots. The times Tamaki exhausts describing, and re-describing, Traci’s wardrobe would have been better spent, say, developing the characters, story — anything. Traci ultimately appears ridiculous — a la the character on the Saturday Night Live skit Goth Talk — attention-starved and immature.
The moments in Cover Me that are supposed to be the most moving are rendered as clichs because of Tamaki’s clumsy use of overly-dramatic language. For instance, when Traci discovers the joys of self-mutilation: “I cut to assure myself I was in control. I cut into my thick skin to relieve the pressure bubbling underneath. I had thick skin and it was slowing ripping apart.” Fade, cut to commercial, so goes the movie of the week. Another of Traci’s embarrassing epiphanies is centred around the spiritual release she achieves through — what else — her tattoos: “Whenever I’m nervous I have a tendency to feel my tattoos. Tattoos are deceptively tactile, raised like Braille on the skin’s surface. Unlike feeling my scars, feeling my tattoos gives me a sense of power. I am the mistress of my domain.”
Perhaps Cover Me would have been better translated to the stage, prime time television, or yet, better left in Tamaki’s teenage diary. As a novel, however, Cover Me is completely forgettable.

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