A loosely woven
series of coming-of-age tales set in 1960s America.
collection, Herron (One Way Street, 2014,
etc.) tackles big themes: mental illness, war, loyalty, abuse, friendship and
family. Readers might easily get lost in such broad terrain, but Herron keeps them
tethered by a unifying question: How are memories constrained by perspective?
In his foreword, Herron describes the book as both anthology and novel;
chapters share characters and settings but offer original details and points of
view. The first is in small-town America, 1962. Paul, a teenager, watches
a new family move into the house across from his on Reichold Street, and he
confronts Albert, who looks like a bully, for the first time. Over the next few
years, Albert’s stepfather, Carl, terrorizes his family and the neighborhood
with drunken abuse as Paul tries to help
and Albert rebels. Readers learn to hate Carl while losing hope for Albert.
Subsequent chapters, told by Carl, Albert, their family members and other kids
on Reichold Street, add layers to these events. Carl’s chapter, seen through
his confusion, medication and booze, offers a frightening yet compassionate
view of mental illness and its stigma, especially in the ’60s. These opening
chapters are the strongest in the collection; the characters are bold, the plot
twists surprising, and the point—that we never fully know a person or his or
her story—heartbreakingly clear. The middle sections, related by minor
characters, add little to the overall narrative; some read as filler, although
one, told by a Reichold Street
kid lured by organized crime, makes a fine stand-alone story. Toward the end of
the book, Herron returns to Albert, his two tours in Vietnam and the pall of
that war over American youth. Through flashbacks to Reichold Street, readers
further witness Carl’s lifelong, devastating influence on Albert; an additional
chapter from Carl’s perspective would nicely round out the book.
written and emotionally charged.