“Thats Not A Feeling” is as much as a coming of age novel as it is about nostalgia and lack of direction that teens expect to go away and adults wonder why they still have. It takes place at Roaring Orchards, a boarding school of sorts for troubled kids. Some have anger issues, others drug issues, or just a general need to escape what the “norm” is. The story focuses on the last year of the school, as the founder, Audrey starts to let things fall apart. The point of view is from a former student, Benjamin in the future reflecting back on Roaring Orchards as he wanders its now empty rooms. He discusses his then growing friendship with a strange girl named Tidbit, the teachers, and his thoughts on Audrey’s attempt at ruling the school.
Roaring Orchard is not your normal boarding school. Audrey’s philosophy is strange and almost inconsistent. Students can be punished by having their furniture “popped” (they then have to sit on the floor) or be stripped of nothing but a sheet and yelled at by their peers. Even the teachers don’t seem to fully understand anymore then the students do on what the “process” is to finally complete schooling.
Overall I enjoyed the meandering storyline, happy to see bits and pieces of the odd boarding school and its occupants. I identified with many of the characters loss of direction. I’m not amazingly far away from high school, but I could recognize a lot of the same feelings I had at the time. But having been through college and now wandering about, I could attest to the teachers as well, working a job they don’t understand and can’t escape because there just seems to be no where else to go. They all hate the place, but secretly like it too much to leave. Although sarcastic and bitter, Benjamin, and many of its other residents, still has a soft spot for this place.
The downsides to this novel for me was point of view and the ending. Benjamin often comments on events he wasn’t present at. He does mention hearing about it later from Tidbit, or calling up an old teacher, but I found it jarring since he seemed quite all knowing in the lives of the people at Roaring Orchard. I also was a little disappointed in the ending. I was waiting for more of an explosion or revelation and excitement as the school finally fell, but it just made me sad and disappointed. From a book with so many quirks, I felt that the ending played much too real to life, with no possibility of tied up ends. (Also it has a plug from David Foster Wallace on the cover, which I feel is just a silly marketing scheme.)
If you’ve ever enjoyed the film Manic or the novel Skippy Dies, it makes a good companion piece. I think overall Skippy Dies is a better novel at really grasping what its like to “come of age”, but if you want to have that slight longing for a place you both loved and hated, “That’s Not A Feeling” is one for you.