Reviewed by Hannah Pass
Before opening Treasure Island!!! I was prepared, I knew just what to expect. For hadn't we all read it—Long John Silver, his shoulder-perched parrot, the stockades, the battling swords, the skysails and sea? And yet, Levine's unnamed narrator, a twenty-five year old college graduate, suddenly whipped by the classic, surprised me with a new kind of adventure, the world and its possibilities suddenly a galleon waiting to be sieged.
The narrator's selfishness touches me immediately—an ex-office assistant, ex-ice cream scooper, she's determined to become more adventurous after reading Stevenson's Treasure Island. She preaches the classic like a heavensent Bible to her sister, to her boyfriend Lars, to her best friend Rena, with hopes to enlighten them with her new self-empowerment. However, her closest mates haven't a clue what to do with the story; it's like giving a can of beans to a caveman. They can't understand its value or the feast that waits for him inside. For here is a fiery endorsement of life's curiosities, a boundary of sea-world with peg-legged pirates on one side and hapless Pet Libraries on the other.
Treasure Island!!! begins with an introduction to the story's four "core values": Boldness, Resolution, Independence and Horn Blowing. From then on the narrator's decisions are spurred by her "core value" obsession. She's convinced that every transaction in her life is a product of these strengths:
When had I ever dreamed a scheme? When had I ever done a foolish act, over-bold act? When had I ever, like Jim Hawkins, broke from my friends, raced for the beach, stolen a boat, killed a man, or eliminated an obstacle that stood in the way of my getting a hunk of gold? I, a person unable to decide what to do with my broken mini-blinds, let alone with the rest of my life, lay on my bed, while in the book's open air, people chased assholes out of pubs and trampled blind beggars with their horses.
She takes these "core values" to extremes; in pursuit of the life they promise, she embezzles her boss's life-savings, buys a voice-mimicking parrot, quits her job at the Pet Library, ditches the boyfriend, and moves home to bunk with her sanctified family. In each of her minor attempts to do good, she pushes her ideas beyond the limits of practicality. And soon, her relationships begin to fizzle as her outrageous oblivion brings her face to face with real emotional turmoil. Each step towards mastering Treasure Island's values brings her closer to self-destruction. So, it isn't long until she learns that her sister is having an affair with her mother's old flame, and that her ex and best friend are secretly dating. Eventually, she even carries out acts of animal cruelty. Without her fumbling attempts at starting a new life—at apartment crashing, sister stalking and pet adopting—the story wouldn't be as prolific. And by the end, she realizes that living a fantastic life is not the product of daydreams and a sea-scathing attitude. It takes a hardheaded person to actualize those fantasies. And yet, I found the narrator hateful and unsympathetic; she fails to undergo a dramatic change by the end.
And, while I despise the narrator for her carelessness and naivete, I would have followed her wherever:
"Well, it takes an awful lot of energy to give birth to oneself. It's not as though you do one bold thing and then you are bold. The thing about adventure is that you have to keep on doing it, day in and day out. I don't know, can it ever be definitively accomplished? I hardly rest, I hardly can!"
Often the narrator addresses, "Dear Reader," with her murmuring mind, hoping to defend her actions. She's selfish, greedy and dismissive of parental kindness. Yet, I loved the narrator for her surprising ability to make the most ordinary events comically disturbing and strange. The voice is the sharpest of deadpans, the language wittily fresh, that even the common occurrence of breaking-up is hilarious:
Yes, Reader, Lars had put all of my things into boxes and moved them into that infernal part of his apartment building known as "the cage," a floor to ceiling metal box on the basement level, near the laundry room lit by a solitary bulb streaked with dead bugs. Lars didn't store any of his things there; the overhead pipes dripped incessantly. I stood in the parallelogram of light on the hardwood floor, looking him in the face, pluckily enough to all outward appearance, but inside, miserable.
"Well," I said, "did you put your heart in storage too?"
Yet beneath the conceits, Treasure Island!!! illuminates the worthwhile risks humans fail to take, but should; and how easily we can miss the big picture. Think of the idiomatic phrase, "all talk and no action." I relished in the narrator's audacity, her shamelessness and powerful depiction of human beings in our wonderful absurdity. Levine's narrator hides behind her adventures, running from what means most to her while seriously longing to be loved. It's heartbreaking.