Simmons (Wrinkles, 1978; The Belles Lettres Papers, 1987) reappears with a small, coherent, impeccably composed little...

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SALT WATER

Simmons (Wrinkles, 1978; The Belles Lettres Papers, 1987) reappears with a small, coherent, impeccably composed little tragicomedy whose only debility is that the ground it stakes out is well-worn. It's the summer of 1963, and 16-year-old Michael is spending it, as usual, with his parents in their splendid old summer house on narrow Bone Point somewhere along the Atlantic coast--Connecticut, perhaps, though it isn't said. The summer might have been indistinguishable from any other if the family guest house hadn't been rented to the suavely cosmopolitan Mrs. Mertz (from a strain of far-back Russian nobility) and her 20-year-old daughter, the beautiful, enticing, and lively Zina--with whom Michael at once falls in love. A simple enough happenstance, and all might have moved forward through a youthful summer of ephemeral (however heartbreaking) romance if Michael hadn't accidentally begun finding out some things about his good-looking father (and unhappy mother) that he hadn't quite caught onto before. His father's overnight business trips back into town have had--for a long time--more than just business as their purpose, and the unhappiness Michael sees in his jealousy-tormented mother begins suddenly making a sense to him it never did before. Complications ensue of a kind that mustn't be told--this is a little book that needs certain of its secrets intact, though Simmons's opening sentence (""In the summer of 1963 I fell in love and my father drowned"") needn't be one of them. How that drowning occurred--and why and when, and what Michael's part in it was, or Zina's--won't be said here, but what must be remarked on is Simmons's way, from start of summer to end, of carrying the reader along with a limpid clarity and gracefully articulated telling that are pleasures of their own. A little saga of adolescence that, even if not new, is a perfectly-cut gem of its kind.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0671035673

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998