The Worthy: A Ghost's Story
Fraternity life is pretty silly stuff, full of voluntary physical and mental torture, beer consumption rivaling that of small nations, and faux mystical ceremonies meant to bond one brother to another. This is the canvas on which Will Clarke paints The Worthy, his second novel, which has already been optioned for movie rights. You can see immediately why Hollywood is after the man--his sense of humor runs toward the devilish, and his characters are easily consumable, if hollow.
Subtitled A Ghost’s Story, The Worthy is told by a ghost--that of dead Gamma Chi brother Conrad Avery Sutton III. Conrad, a victim of murderous hazing, chronicles the goings-on of Gamma Chi pledges, his left-behind brothers, his girlfriend, and Gamma Chi’s cook Miss Etta, one of the few people who can see him.
This book succeeds in several ways. Its plot is as simple as a newspaper headline: Ghost of dead fraternity brother seeks revenge, gets more than he bargained for. It is relatively unabashed in its exposure of the secrets of fraternity life. You sense that Clarke’s recounting of Hell Week at Louisiana State University’s Gamma Chi chapter might be exactly like his own fraternal time. The book is violent and meanspirited without a shred of apology, exactly what you expect in a ghost story/murder mystery set at college.
Ultimately, Clarke’s book turns out as silly as the fraternity life it portrays, due exclusively to his characters. Conrad, when he was alive, was a well-born, booze-swilling, Porsche-driving playboy. His self-confessed raison d’ętre was drinking and screwing his way across campus. His death brings him a sense of purpose outside this narrow scheme, but who cares? He’s turned from a selfish prick into a revengeful noncorporeal prick. The supporting characters are also simple stereotypes, whether they are rich white fraternity brothers, callow suck-up pledges, vapid Southern belles, overserious Christian collegians, or, most unfortunately, a black cook who is a saccharine mix of mammy and firebrand Baptist.
These characters may say more about college life in Louisiana and the South than they do about Clarke’s writing--he can turn a phrase when he raises his head above the ho-hum water line of his plot--but that kind of judgment isn’t quite relevant here. This book contains a huge amount of caricature, so much so that it nearly overwhelms its simple satirical import. If the satire had a more reasonable purpose--doesn’t everybody know how drunk and abusive frat boys can be?--The Worthy might not seem so unworthy.