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Book Review

An authentic coming-of-age story

1/1/2014

book 010214.jpgCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Fay Jones

WW Norton and Company

8/5/13

$25.95

HIV

283 pp.

Mark Slouka’s new novel, “Brewster,” is a powerful, gorgeous coming-of-age story. It tells of the intense friendship between two teenage boys as they face life in small-town, blue-collar Brewster, N.Y. It is 1968, and the turbulence of Woodstock and the Vietnam War is a backdrop for the tension in the boys’ lives.

Some 20 years later, Jon Mosher narrates the story as he looks back at this time when he was 16. His Jewish parents escaped the Nazis in Germany and settled in Brewster, fleeing one horror only to meet another: the accidental death of Jon’s older brother, Aaron, when Jon was 4. Their home is loveless, with Aaron’s belongings enshrined and Jon essentially ignored.

When a high school teacher encourages Jon to join the track team, he eventually excels. It permits him to focus on something outside of the coldness of his home. Jon also meets Ray, the often-suspended charismatic rebel who frequently came to school worse for the wear, scuffs supposedly earned from the street fights he entered into for money. Though so presumably unalike — Jon obedient, introverted and Ray nonchalant, volatile — they form a fierce friendship. Abandoned by his mother, Ray is left with his abusive, alcoholic father and to care for and protect his baby brother. Trapped in Brewster and in less than ideal family situations, the teens dream of escape, often joined by Frank, Jon’s teammate, and Karen, the beautiful, intelligent new girl who has fallen for Ray.

Slouka, who lives in Brewster, masterfully provides detail to lend an authentic sense of place. His characters are perfectly written, and the teen dialogue is authentic. The story darkens, as Slouka begins to reveal some brutal truths an astonishing scene of violence and cruelty with spare, tough prose. CV

Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents and a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured.

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