A boy comes of age among a nicely sprawling cast of animated characters in a hardscrabble coal-mining town.
Bianchi situates his humble story in Evarts, Ky., a mostly bust mining burg tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains, where the redbud and dogwood nonetheless still bloom and the creek runs with sun grannies, horny heads and hogsuckers. Bianchi writes of what he knows: Like his namesake Chuck, 14 years old in 1974, he grew up in Harlan County and toiled in the mortician’s trade. Chuck ambivalently works for the mortician because he’s the mortician’s son. But what Chuck yearns for is a little guidance, a girl and a sense of belonging. His father is a widower, a cold fish, often absent, censorious and otherwise unsupportive. Still, Chuck has his comforts: a best friend, a company of adults who keep an eye on him and lend an ear, and a girl who has stolen his heart and projects a keen, if chaste, interest. Bianchi’s unforced realism draws forth a concern for the characters and their circumstances as it plays on the reader’s memories of that age. Chuck is an appealing character; even as he secretly puffs away at his cigarettes, he conveys the innocence and awkwardness of his stage in life, with a pure soul and an earnest demeanor. He begins to come into his own as the summer moves forward, taking on responsibility, learning a thing or two about gossip and innuendo, trying to gather the spilled marbles that are his hormones. The author takes his time, stopping to smell both Evarts’s roses and its garbage, stumbling only occasionally (the word â€œfractious” does not issue gracefully from Chuck’s mouth) and leaving a few strings untied, though these can be seen as the minor, truthful imperfections of the homespun.
A deep-running, unaffected tale of growing up, as elementally touching as a Grandma Moses canvas.