Journalist and nonfiction author Cohen (The Avengers, 2000, etc.) tells the memorable story of his boyhood friendship with a kid haunted and cool beyond his years whose presence made everyone’s life that much more lustrous.
The place is Glencoe, Illinois, on the lake north of Chicago, during the 1980s, a decade Cohen remembers as “colorless and odorless as a noxious gas.” Into the void walks Jamie Drew, soon to be tagged Drew-licious: dashing, smart, and imbued with the kind of unruffled awareness possessed by Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Richard Fariña’s Gnossos Pappadopolous. Life was just that much more colorful; you felt more observant and more critical when you were in Drew’s sphere of influence, even when it meant being in his shadow. (As Cohen remembers it, “my own existence, compared to his, seemed half lived.”) The author recounts their experiences in an unembellished but smack-dab style that will transport readers, for better or worse, back to their teenage years. He captures the camaraderie of simply hanging out, swimming in the lake, buying records; that everyday life underlies and sustains more incandescent moments. Adventures run the gamut from merry pranks to questing after the authentic (hitting Chicago’s gritty South Side to hear some blues) to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with Drew “moving through the city like a dervish, a step ahead of the crowd, of the cops.” Cohen, for all his suggestibility, finds Drew’s evident mastery of all things a challenge and occasionally an indictment. By now the boys are in college, though at different schools, and as they move in and out of orbit, there is the sense that someone is destined for a fall. Doesn’t happen, thus lifting this memoir from the predictable—but then the boys’ unique niche in the continuum of youth had already done that.
A fine summoning of time and place, true to the voice of adolescence.