At the Irving School, the Tragedy Paper is the big senior project, in which students are required to define tragedy and discuss it in terms of some literary work. At the Irving School, incoming seniors are greeted with treasures left by the previous occupants of their dorm room. At the Irving School, "randomly-selected" seniors plan and host an elaborate game that is both a way of sending out their class and setting up the junior class to continue the tradition. At the Irving School, a curse forces one maimed student per class to leave before graduation. At the Irving School, there is donut day, and sandwich snow days, and breakfast for dinner nights and bulldog t-shirts. This house of cards is the story of The Tragedy Paper
Duncan is starting his senior year and he inherits the room of the novel's hero, Tim. Tim has left as Duncan's treasure a set of CDs narrating his personal "tragic" downfall of the previous year. Most of the narrative is Tim's; Duncan only interjects here and there to mention either how caught up he is in the story or how he doesn't really want to listen to the story. But Tim's story is supposed to provide the meat of Duncan's Tragedy Paper, so Duncan keeps listening.
There is a huge build up during the book as to what the tragedy from the previous year was. It in some way involved both Duncan and Tim and was, we are led to believe, the worst thing to ever happen. When we finally are told what it was it's a bit anticlimactic. I'm also not really convinced it was a tragedy.
And this is the main problem with this book. For all its waxing on about the Tragedy Paper, it never really comes up with its own definition of what a tragedy is or what exactly the tragedy of Tim's story is. We get instead the repeated words "magnitude" "tragic flaw" "calm, chaos, calm" and we are told that Duncan thinks about them a lot.
At the point where Duncan proclaims that Tim's tragic flaw is that he didn't believe in himself I... well, I had that feeling of wanting to throw the book across the room, but I was listening to it in my car, so I couldn't. If Tim's tragic flaw is that he doesn't believe in himself, then I guess the tragedy is that he doesn't get to hook up with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl he likes, or maybe that he couldn't find someone else to hook up with instead. What really happens is that Tim, an albino, ignores increasingly serious symptoms of his eye problems until he goes blind while sledding down a dangerous hill with his MPDG and almost gets her killed. Duncan's role is that he was there. And the tragedy is... that Tim went blind? That the girl got hurt? That he never got to hook up with her? For most of the book, Tim is more a pathetic character than a tragic one, so right at the end the author throws in a detail giving him some fault in the situation. P.S., he was taking excessive amounts of aspirin, and that's what caused him to go permanently blind. And then off-stage, Duncan describes this story to his English teacher and he is let off the hook from having to write his Tragedy Paper at all. He writes this book instead.
My own P.S.
I use the terms "hook up" and "Manic Pixie Dream Girl," because Vanessa (that's the girl's name) isn't a developed character. I'm never convinced that Tim actually likes her or cares to get to know her at all. He does really like her blonde hair, her monochromatic outfits, and the way she plays in the snow. After the sledding accident, in fact, what bothers him most about her being hurt is the possibility of her hair being partially shaved off and her not wearing bright colors. So if this is supposed to be a love story or a story of heartbreak or whatever, it didn't work for me at all.