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Mark Slouka's work has been called "relentlessly observant, miraculously expressive" (New York Times Book Review). Reverberating with compassion, heartache, and grace, Brewster is an unforgettable coming-of-age story from one of our most compelling novelists."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-08
- Reviewer: Staff
A simmering rage coupled with world-weary angst grip the four teenagers growing up as friends in Slouka’s (Lost Lake) hardscrabble novel, set in the small blue-collar town of Brewster, N.Y., where the author grew up. Jon Mosher—once a scholarship-winning high school track star, now a wistful, glum adult—narrates the group’s tragic experiences during the winter of 1968. Feeling alienated from his community and his parents, German-Jewish émigrés Sam and Vera, Jon first befriends the “erratic” Ray Cappiciano, who always looks banged up, supposedly from semipro middleweight boxing matches in out-of-town venues like the Bronx. The third friend, Frank Krapinski, is a javelin thrower and devout Christian. Rounding out the quartet is attractive Karen Dorsey, who rejects Jon’s romantic interest to date the edgier Ray. Ray’s father, a disturbed, sadistic ex-cop and WWII vet who collects Nazi body parts, supplies an undercurrent of violence that haunts the four teenagers’ lives before boiling over at the surprising climax. Slouka’s laconic dialogue resonates with regional authenticity, his late-1960s pop culture references ring true, and the stripped-down prose style in his masterful coming-of-age novel recalls the likes of Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Aug.)
Too young to run, too heavy to stay
From J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, classic male coming-of-age stories attract generations of readers by delivering plainspoken narratives that seem to bleed from the page, yet are neither maudlin nor precious. Such is the case with author Mark Slouka’s evocative new novel, Brewster, which, despite delving bravely into despairingly dark subject matter, is still somehow infused with hope and light, achieving a sort of literary chiaroscuro.
Jon Mosher, the novel’s hero, is a bright yet troubled 16-year-old track star whose German-Jewish immigrant parents survived the Holocaust only to have their comfortable suburban life in Brewster, New York, destroyed by the death of their young child. While the family patriarch buries his pain by working long hours at his shoe store in town and escaping into an endless stack of books at night, Jon’s depressed and delusional mother has suffered a mental breakdown, and even worse, blames Jon for his brother’s accidental death by electrocution.
For Jon’s best friend, the brooding, enigmatic Ray Cappicciano, fate has dealt him not only a sadistic, alcoholic father, but also an absent mother and stepmother, both of whom have abandoned their sons over the years, leaving the boys in a decrepit house ruled by a violent drunk.
Still, Slouka’s achingly realistic rendering of teenage romance, friendship and high school track team camaraderie is as often comic and delightful as it is brutal and devastating. While the teenage friends in Brewster rarely step across their hometown’s borders, Slouka has aptly juxtaposed the carnage of the Vietnam War with the rumbling social revolutions playing out across the nation during the Woodstock era. For example, Slouka’s portrayal of the tension-fraught relationships between hippie teenagers defying the dictums of parents belonging to the “greatest generation” is not painted with broad strokes of right and wrong, but rather, a sad gray hue of moral ambiguity.
It would not be an overstatement to suggest that Brewster could become the latest addition to the American canon of coming-of-age stories, enchanting readers with its soulful story of love, loss and the vagaries of the teenage heart.