The Sopranos

Six Catholic schoolgirls head off for the city in search of trouble and go back home looking for love.

Topics: Books,

A friend of mine who used to live near a Catholic school told me how one day, as he was goofing around in the street with his brother (both were well into their 20s at the time), the ball they were tossing back and forth rolled straight to the feet of a gum-snapping 16-year-old Cleopatra — with eyeliner out to there and a pleated uniform skirt hiked up to there. My friend looked at his brother: “You go get it.”

“No, you.”

Eventually, someone girded his loins and retrieved the ball — as my friend tells it, the braver soul managed to stammer, “P-p-please — could we have our ball back?” But the fact that the enterprise required so much psychic energy demonstrates a point: Hardly the dewy-fresh things they’re made out to be, young girls can be scary as hell.

They can also be, as Alan Warner knows, incredibly touching. And sometimes it’s the toughest and trashiest-mouthed ones — the ones who wear layers of lip gloss and blusher like a barrier between them and the world — who get to you the most. In his third novel, the Scottish writer gives us a cross-section of one manically atypical day in the lives of a group of Catholic schoolgirls. In the morning they leave their small, dull port town for a choir competition in the city, where they eat at McDonald’s, shop for miniskirts and sexy shoes and drink as much liquor as they can hold. After the competition, the bus has them back home in time to worm, wriggle and flirt their way into the local watering hole (all of them are underage), where they’re hoping to meet sailors from the submarine that’s just docked.

Warner pushes the action forward with dialogue that skitters and hopscotches almost randomly. The girls speak in a randy shorthand that betrays both their awe of sex — emotionally speaking, at least, it’s still a mystery even to the pregnant ones — and their eagerness to jump right in. One girl greets Orla, a classmate who’s recently been treated for cancer, hugging her and telling her she looks great. “Ah hear you went to Lourdes and all?” she says, to which Orla replies, “Aye, didn’t get off with a single guy.”



For a man, Warner understands the hearts and minds of girls pretty well; a love scene in one of the girls’ bedroom is astonishingly tender and awkward. But what’s most remarkable about “The Sopranos” is the way Warner teases fully formed characters out of a whirlwind of chatter, flirtations and confessions of fears and longings. Each of the girls emerges as something more than a sketch — the way that with just three judicious lines a charcoal drawing of a nude sometimes conveys more about its subject than a fussed-over painting does.

“The Sopranos” is a book about some very funny, very likable girls, but it’s also a clear-eyed, unsentimental love letter to feminine teenagerhood itself. Warner offers his manifesto early on: “They’ve youth; they’ll walk it out like a favourite pair trainers. It’s a poem this youth and why should they know it, as the five of them move up the empty corridors?” To Warner, youth isn’t something that’s wasted on the young; it’s an allowance that’s theirs to spend as they wish. There are worse things to blow it on than Big Macs, microminis and the relentless pursuit of love.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>