Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vulnerable Young Introverts in Love (and at War) an Acute Novel of Social Anxiety among Classmates

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vulnerable Young Introverts in Love (and at War) an Acute Novel of Social Anxiety among Classmates

Article excerpt

Meet enough people, and you'll eventually discover that privilege doesn't guarantee an abundance of self-esteem. You can grow up wealthy and at the top of your high school class in Carricklea, Ireland, as Marianne Sheridan does in Sally Rooney's "Normal People," her bracing follow-up to 2017's "Conversations With Friends," yet still contend with an abusive older brother, a widowed mother, and a mental illness - so goes the rumor at school, anyway - all of which turn you into someone who "has no friends and spends her lunchtimes alone reading novels. A lot of people really hate her."

Another truism: The route that leads two people to love can sometimes be jagged and indirect. That's the case with Marianne and one of her senior-year classmates, Connell Waldron.

He's far more popular than Marianne in school, as star soccer players tend to be, but he, too, has his social anxieties. One of them is that he thinks he's "developmentally impaired" because he finds sex "so stressful as to be largely unpleasant."

And then there's the stigma of coming from a far less privileged background than Marianne: His mother, Lorraine, cleans house for Marianne's family.

Any reader who thought that, after "Conversations With Friends," Ms. Rooney wouldn't have more to say about vulnerable young adults navigating the rough terrain of love and relationships will be pleased to discover than her psychological acuity is every bit as sharp in this new novel.

An astute observer of one's contemporaries who also possesses the talent to write about them is bound to have uncommon insight into their foibles, their insecurities, and the often self-defeating decisions they inflict upon themselves.

"Normal People" has plenty of that sort of perspicacity. Marianne and Connell keep their budding relationship a secret from their high school classmates. "Don't go telling people in school about this," he says to her. …

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