An earnest if rather stiff debut describes a boy’s recollections of growing up in a mildly troubled San Francisco home.
Conrad Clay is solitary and somewhat lonely. An only child, he is used to being on his own, and his outsider status is revealed at school, where he’s one of the few white boys in an overwhelmingly black student body. He speaks black slang among his classmates, tries hard to think of himself as black, and hopes to convince his friends B.L.T. and Chocolate Chip that he’s not a “squid.” He doesn’t care for church, and sometimes skips it on Sundays. His father Ray is a welder at the Naval Station, a place that’s is gradually being shut down, and Ray knows it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be laid off. He drinks too much beer sometimes, which worries Conrad’s mother Jan. Conrad’s grandmother also lives with them; she misses her dead husband, has trouble getting along with Conrad’s mother, is sickly and very much afraid of death. Ray’s best friend at work is another welder named Moose, who is married to Lin and has a baby named Freddy. Eventually Conrad’s father loses his job, and money becomes tight. The family falls behind in rent but is saved from eviction because Conrad writes a nice letter to the landlord (who is very old and sick and lives in Florida) offering him his prize football card if he’ll give Conrad’s father some time to find another job. In the end, Conrad’s father moves to Virginia to work at the Navy Yard there, while Conrad stays back in San Francisco with his mother, who has a new job at a hospital in Oakland.
Well-crafted but directionless and unexceptional, becoming tedious in short order.