An amiable first novel that managesthrough an unobtrusive and extraordinarily controlled narrative voiceto breathe new life into the most standard coming-of-age plot. Charlie, the narrator, begins his story at his own adolescence (he's 15), a stage of life that he bears with a good grace in spite of its enormities. Abandoned by his father shortly after he was born, Charlie has been raised by a mother whose inherent decency and natural affection for him are overwhelmed by her own desolation and despair. After a poor attempt at suicide, she's hospitalized, and Charlie is put in the temporary care of her best friend, the 26-year-old Jolene, who rapidly falls in love with the boy and seduces him. The affair is still in full force when Charlie's mother returns home, and he is suddenly back living with her. Shortly thereafter, however, Jolene disappears without a word and is not heard from again for about five years. By this time, Charlie, now living outside Philadelphia, has drifted into the cynical ennui of the frustrated romantic: ``I was suddenly more depressed than I'd been in a long time...nothing was turning out like I'd imagined. Nothing in the store where I worked mattered to me. And I tried to think of something that did matter, but there was nothing....`This is my life,' I said, `and it is not very interesting.' '' Then a friend named Angel convinces Charlie that he needs to confront Jolene to get over her, and so the two set off cross-country to San Francisco to track her down. Charlie's final discovery and ultimate resolution are predictable and traditionalbut utterly convincing for all that. Spatz has no real surprises in store, but, instead, wisely concentrates on the niceties of description and characterization rather than plot. What we are left with finally is a marvelously quiet evocation (as opposed to narration) of a young man's awakening. Simple, precise, and rewarding work, nicely understated and free from contrivance.
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