One Weird Cinderella Story
What is Allison Pearson up to with her portrait of David Cassidy fandom?
In his recent memoir, Keith Richards writes about trying to escape the crazed teenybopper fans who shadowed his every move in the early days of the Stones. You hardly think of Keef as a victim, but he sounds positively outmanned by these girls. "You stood as much chance in a fucking river of piranhas," he recalls. He vividly describes a moment of engagement with the enemy:
I'm trying to get in the car and these bitches are ripping me apart. The problem is if they get their hands on you, they don't know what to do with you. They nearly strangled me with a necklace, one grabbed one side of it, the other grabbed the other, and they're going "Keith, Keith," and meanwhile they're choking me.
That's how it looks from the point of view of the bait. But how does it look from the point of view of the piranha? Allison Pearson tells us in her new book I Think I Love You. Pearson's previous book—the totally charming, blazingly honest, gazillion-selling mommy-wars novel I Don't Know How She Does It—came out almost 10 years ago. Now she's back, with a portrait of fanship. She wants to tell the story of girls who were driven mad by the kind of inchoate, indefinable, and irresistible (not that anyone tried to resist) urges that Richards describes above.
For the first half of the novel, the year is 1974. The place is a small town in Wales. Petra is 13 years old, a skinny, glasses-wearing, cello-playing near-dweeb. Petra and her friend Sharon spend long hours together, poring over David Cassidy magazines, taping David Cassidy posters to the wall, grooming themselves to be the kind of girl David Cassidy might like. Their bible is something called The Essential David Cassidy Magazine:
At 18p it was way more expensive than any other mag. "Dead classy, mind," Sharon said, and so it was with its thick, glossy paper, gorgeous recent pix and a monthly personal letter written by David himself actually from the set of The Partridge Family in Hollywood, America. You couldn't put a price on something like that, could you?
There's no ironic distance. It's a tight frame on a teenage perspective. It's generally lively and well observed, but a bit slow and claustrophobic. We feel the need for some relief.
Pearson provides that relief in alternating chapters. Petra trades off storytelling duties with Bill, a recent college grad who works at—clever conceit alert!—The Essential David Cassidy Magazine. Bill, a rock fan desperate for a paycheck, reluctantly provides the Cassidiana that Petra and Sharon lap up. The precious letters from David are actually from Bill. His perspective on the fans: "They're like peasants in 1321. You give them a bit of dead badger skull and tell them it's the funny bone of the Blessed Virgin Mary and they fall down in a dead faint and give you everything they own, including the cow."
Both Petra and Bill are anticipating (she joyfully, he grimly) David Cassidy's upcoming visit to White City stadium in London. To a certain cohort in the U.K., these words might bring back bad memories. At White City 1974, a girl was trampled to death at the penultimate concert on David Cassidy's farewell tour. For the general populace, it's hardly a date that lives in infamy, and I can't quite tell if Pearson was banking on readers' familiarity with this dark bit of pop history. Either way, she gives no foreshadowing of the grimness of the event, which sits strangely alongside the semicomic (if not exactly funny) tone of the book.
Claire Dederer is the author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses.