In this first-person novel, a young Ivy League grad from California gets derailed by his mom’s battle with cancer during the 1990s.
An unnamed 22-year-old Harvard grad from Berkeley, Calif., revels in the promise of Bill Clinton, the newly elected U.S. president, and his own literary/teaching life in England. His only challenges are teaching The Great Gatsby to his posh boarding school students and anticipating the arrival of Caroline, his hometown girlfriend, to live with him and join him in European travels. Then, a shocking reset: He learns his mom has been diagnosed with cancer. He flies home for the holidays and decides to stay in the States, ultimately moving to nearby San Francisco to be close to her, his dad and sister Sarah during the struggle. Sadly, Caroline backs away, fearful of his mom’s disease; she moves on with a relationship to another man. Lost and seeking release, the narrator travels with Sarah to friend Meredith’s New Year’s Eve party in Los Angeles, where he discovers the pleasurable escape of crystal meth. He pursues a peripheral film career, toys with possible alternative love interest Kelly, and finally reconnects with Caroline and re-establishes ties with close friend Jason, who remained on track with a Hollywood career. All unravels, however, as the narrator stumbles in the undertow of his new addiction. Hewitt’s semiautobiographical novel has intense, driving appeal, effectively capturing one young man’s life, haunted by the specter of a parent’s cancer. The stream-of-consciousness style hints at that of the 1980s “literary Brat Pack,” while the dangers of crystal meth are surprisingly underplayed and far from Breaking Bad–esque. Additionally, the mother character, upon whom the plot somewhat pivots, remains a bit of a shadowy figure, even in flashbacks; she’s not quite a fully fleshed-out woman who has much of an impact. Overall, however, this novel is striking and heartfelt.
A compelling California-based coming-of-age novel.