One of the benefits of coming to a school like Duke University is the fact that it produces some of the most interesting alumni imaginable.
We all know that alumni from Duke and the Fuqua School of Business took up the majority of the leadership positions in Apple, but little do people know, Duke alumni are much more diverse than the series of investment bankers and doctors the school seems to exclusively produce.
His name is Steinberg, David Steinberg. He is your regular Doogie Howser—he graduated high school at the humble age of 16 and enrolled into Yale University, casually. He proceeded to attend Duke School of Law, and there served in the ever-prestigious poisition of editor-in-chief of the law review. Then, he did that normal going-to-be-a-lucrative-entertainment-lawyer thing until he dropped everything to drive across the country to break into Hollywood. Casually.
Dead on balls image of your classic super-nerd who wasn’t fulfilled by the superficial scavengers of the legal world and decided to dedicate his life to discovering the meaning of human existence and sharing his insights with others through the medium of film? Not quite…
He was a self-proclaimed smart-schemer—the kid who sat in the back of class causing ruckus and managing his minor marauders in miscreant mischief all while getting the straight A’s that get him into one of the best colleges in the world, early. He had a seat with his name on it in detention to match his top spot on the hypothetical dean’s list of life.
“I had this masterplan, you know,” Steinberg said. “I wasn’t one of those type A ambitious kids who took all APs to prove something. I just didn’t have another choice. I placed onto the fast track early and didn’t have other options. If I stayed in school senior year, I would have taken cooking and gym.”
Yale, however, was not the real-world rager he had imagined.
“I got there and thought, this is the least fun school ever,” he reminisced.
It was the 80s and everyone had an opinion about something or another and were just dying to share it. Higher education was fostering some of the most politically charged and effective students the country had seen and yet Steinberg wanted nothing to do with it. Where was the welcome frat party to herald his arrival, complete with topless girls with open arms and a victory keg stand?
More importantly, where the hell was he supposed to eat and how does one do laundry?!
And it was this jarring experience that served as the inspiration for his debut novel Last Stop This Town. With the sound of his breaking dreams muffled by a colossal pile of textbooks and papers as his muse, he broke into the literary world after having penned the screenplays for some of the most quintessential college movies of our age—Slackers and American Pie 2.
Breaking into an unfamiliar world
Dylan, Walker, Noah and Pike spend the course of the book dealing with the daunting prospect of leaving a place that—for all their classic teenage whining and moaning—they had come to know and love for unfamiliar, frightening places across the country. Similarly, Steinberg has also ventured daringly out of a world of comic-screeplay writing to enter the unfamiliar territory of publishing the written word.
This novel has so much going for it. First and foremost, I had the pleasure of reading it during the tenuous time of finals. Now, as any self-respecting college student knows , FINALS stands for…
And so to ward off that unpleasant realization, I was able to sink into the ready Steinberg-constructed world of high school hooliganism and replace the sentiments of stress with happy nostalgia. I would hardly call myself an emotional individual, but after this book I found myself calling my high school friends just to say hi. Who does that anymore?
Steinberg wrote about that last weekend before graduation that he never had.
“I wanted to shed light on another part of graduating—the broken expectations,” he said. “The omniscient narrator had my perspective so with a bit of implied dramatic irony, I knew the hurdles they would face before they did. It’s the story about the ending of one chapter and turning to another. It’s scary.”
The characters are certainly based on the standard college coming-of-age archetypes—we have the player, the stoner, the monogamous overachiever, and the endearing well-intentioned virgin. Sound familiar? I know, and so when I read the first couple pages of this book, I couldn’t help but release a pretentious I’m-an-English-major-and-so-above-teen-comedies sigh of impatience with the simple set-up.
That was my b.
Reading is as much about understanding the words as understanding the context. When reading an author’s debut novel, give them the courtesy of going past the first chapter. For any of you college kids that have written an extensive paper, how much did you like the first page you put down? Yeah, didn’t think so.
These archetypes were fleshed out to become the complex, incomprehensible teens we all are deep down inside. It was a perfect reflection of meeting someone. You know when you meet that sorority girl, or art student, or athlete and have this pre-concieved notion of how they will be and therefore everything they do seems to affirm that? And then they prove us wrong, rock our world, and become our best friends.
These four fools managed to break my prejudiced expectations of them.
“The book is pretty guy-centric,” Steinberg admitted. “It’s a side of us people don’t really see much of. We’re as scared as girls going into schools but, as I can only imagine, (I’m really assuming here) girls can talk about their bad days and get a hug from their roommates. Guys don’t really have that opportunity—we don’t have that sort of open support.”
So, at first, their friendship seems like your stereotypical bromance and I couldn’t help but read with this skeptical “we don’t ACTUALLY sound like that” mental protest, until I stopped reading and listened to my common room a bit. Spoiler alert: we really DO sound like that.
And we also see them grow and change, from being the guys who street race and try to bum beer off a bum to the ones who find strength in each other and admit that goodbyes aren’t as easy as they seem.
So just as we beg society not to judge us by the image we so meticulously construct and put out there, we should refrain from trying to fit these one of a kind personalities into a single-trait-defining category—we would only be doing ourselves a disservice.
A comedy with heart
And so what I really want to say about this book is that it has a lot of heart. It brings together the key cultural milestones of every era in the author’s recent memory (that go a bit further than our lives) and even before that. With song references like “Walk Like An Egyptian,” it not only appeals to an audience as wide and scattered as the college-age population, but also shows just how we are not an alien generation. We are an outgrowth of our parents, and our parents’ parents and so on and so forth.
It uses comedy as a tool to address the every day crises and heartbreaks of being a teenager. We have our classic Donnie Darko films telling of the existential search for the meaning of our existence.
At the same time, I don’t know about you, but I spend more of my time trying to survive the day then find the grander meaning in it.
“College kids are more of a comedy than a drama—they are resilient but they are still almost-adults with the brains of 5 year olds,” Steinberg joked. “Their hormones are like being on drugs all the time with amazing things happening at a time when they are least able to deal with it.”
We are teens. We pretend we are immortal and impervious to the lemons of life but we’re not. We use jokes on jokes on jokes to admit that we are vulnerable because the truth rolls off the tongue better with the parachute of sarcasm than one of sincerity.
And so comedy is the perfect tool to convey the fear of being a virgin forever, doing drugs for the first time, having poop thrown at you by a homeless person and going to the real world alone and unaware of what awaits you.
“Life is dark enough,” Steinberg soberly stated.
Escapsim is where magical things can happen. Where you can be as funny, flirtatious or fortuitous as your favorite character.
So this book is by no means perfect. Steinberg is so very clearly a screenwriter based on this narrative—it reads like a movie and sometimes can be a bit tedious with redundancy of dialogue and description. However, when your brain is fried after finals and you can’t create that mental image without a helping hand, this book is right there for you.
It is a novel with all the potential of a rising college student—Steinberg audaciously breaks into the unfamiliar world of literary works, producing a book with all the zeal and potential of an adolescent. A screenplay writer still getting acclimated to the world of written fiction, the core of his book more so than the writing style is where his true strength lies. He validates the tumultuous teenage years we all pretend were nothing—giving weight to the struggles we aren’t quite ready to admit to.
I truly hope he keeps writing because this book is certainly a freshman-year stepping stone to his metaphorical graduation day.
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