Appleman's talents as a poet and novelist (Shame the Devil, 1981; Darwin's Bestiary, etc.) merge with style and force in...



Appleman's talents as a poet and novelist (Shame the Devil, 1981; Darwin's Bestiary, etc.) merge with style and force in this lustrous, affecting slice of nostalgia about the coming-of-age in 1941 of a doctor, a teen-age boy, and their all-American town. It's on September 2, 1941, that a chill begins to touch the lives of the citizens of Kenton, Ind., ""a little town going about its business as the great world heaved and struggled around it."" First to feel it is Thomas Roberts, M.D., suddenly stricken with a wild erotic longing that he focuses on Elaine Edelman, daughter of the Jewish publisher of the local radical newspaper and in town to teach high-school biology. Elaine responds; meanwhile, teen-ager Paul Anderson finds the object of his own lust, dreamy Ruthie Peters, who responds to his earnest advances. But beneath this halcyon sexuality, shadows roil. Dr. Tom is married to a frigid religious fanatic, and Ruthie is the steady gal of Paul's idol and older brother, Jim. And, just so, beneath the town's midwestern placidity a terrible turmoil lurks: the KKK protests Mr. Edelman's libertarian editorials; the local preacher rails at Elaine's Darwinistic teachings; America moves towards war, and Kentonians divide between pro-Rooseveltians and those supporting the anti-Semitic, isolationist Charles Lindbergh--who makes a brief cameo here. In time, turmoil leads to violence and destruction--as Paul's dad loses his Slayzall-insecticide factory to fire, Jim runs off to enlist, the school board axes Elaine, and an arson-set fire ravages the Edelman home and then, carried by the wind, half the town itself. Appleman mixes humor (Dr. Tom's initial assault on Elaine is a comic gem), eroticism, philosophy, and pathos with a deft hand that errs only in contriving the too-neat mini-apocalypse at book's end. A captivating read in all, brimming with sharp period detail and featuring characters as vibrant as the author's tight grasp on a time long gone.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988