Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont

Matthew Fiander

Drugs, liquor and over-privileged teenagers. If you're into those sorts of things.

Gossip of the Starlings

Publisher: Algonquin
ISBN: 1565125657
Author: Nina de Gramont
Price: $22.95
Length: 288
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-06

Nina de Gramont's tale of girls at private school, Gossip of the Starlings, takes place in the '80s, and manages to be true to that time without getting caught in the pitfalls of decade signifiers.

The book begins around the time that Reagan is running for re-election, and we get subtle reminders of the political feel of that time. But our narrator Catherine was just a young teenager in 1984, and even though she is telling this story as an adult, Gramont doesn't allow her to get bogged down in the politics of the time. While the looming election assists in establishing a mood for the world of the book, it is unnecessary to the movement of the story.

The story itself involves Catherine's sudden friendship with fellow private schooler Skye Butterfield. Skye is a little more plugged into the time's politics -- her dad is senator Douglas Butterfield, a JFK-type figure from Massachusetts -- but works even harder to set herself outside of them. She occasionally stages outlandish protests against her father's actions, but they come across less like activism and more like tantrums.

When we meet Catherine and Skye, they are bonding over a stash of cocaine in Catherine's dorm room. This becomes a regular scene in the book. Catherine and Skye and Catherine's friends from home are often snorting cocaine or eating mushrooms or drinking their parents' liquor. They all -- excluding Catherine' boyfriend Jean Paul -- come from varying degrees of privilege, and their partying rings hollow to the reader and, eventually, to the characters themselves.

The most interesting move in the book is the switch between Catherine and Skye. In the beginning, we see Catherine as corrupter. Though Skye is clearly not all prim and proper -- at one point, Catherine is alarmed at the size of Skye's self-inflicted gash when they decide to make a pact in blood -- but her naive delight in the cocaine makes her seem relatively unworldly compared to Catherine.

But this quickly changes. Skye starts to challenge Catherine constantly, to get more drugs, to try bigger types of rebellion. And this begins to take its toll on Catherine. Her friends from home, mistrusting of Skye from the beginning, distance themselves.

Catherine's horse riding career, one in which she's always come close to success before falling short, is eventually undone by Skye. And Jean Paul sees Skye as a manifestation of the growing distance between he and Catherine. They will go to different colleges, he knows, and their young love will wither.

And, in the end, Catherine is the naive one. She doesn't see Skye's small betrayals coming. She sees the hurt Skye's impetuous ways cause, but doesn't remove herself from them. And even now, talking as an adult, the reader can feel her still trying to hash it out. Sometimes, she seems to be trying to convince her younger self of something, other times she is merely coming to grips.

But, for all the personal turmoil, there is very little in the way of tension or urgency in Gossip of the Starlings. That the rebellions we see are typical says something necessary about the characters, but it also keeps us as readers from ever being surprised. And the characters themselves, particularly the parents, seem so nonplussed by all that happens that it makes it all the harder for it to affect us.

Catherine's narrative, which is always sound and occasionally beautiful, does pick up some of the slack. But it is a difficult task to make the plight of the rich something the 'everyperson' should care about -- particularly in the wake of a flood of television that tries that very thing and fails miserably -- and while Gramont's attempt is a solid one, it seems to take for granted that this is an interesting story.

There is very little in the way of twists or character dilemmas that we don't see coming, and while there isn't anything in the book that would turn the reader off, at some point we become aware that, to continue this story, we have to keep turning the pages. Catherine and Skye's story isn't always compelling enough to make that decision for us.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.