A lyrical novel of rural California about a young Vietnam vet’s tragic unrequited love for a local girl.
With a tone of reminiscence, this is the story of a 12-year-old boy’s discovery of the grownup world of failure and grief. Young Dave lives in backwoods California in the early 1970s with Mom and Dad and brother Glen. Dad works at the local tractor factory that’s managed by Dave’s Uncle Aquilla and is being unionized by a Jewish labor organizer from Seattle. As the brother of the shop foreman, Dad can’t get mixed up with the union agitators, but as a worker on the line he has to walk off with the rest when they call a strike. His status as a man in the middle is heightened by his marriage to Mom, a Korean war bride, his half-Asian sons derided by local bigots as “white niggers.” (When Dave’s brother Glen comes home from Vietnam, he has to face, in addition to the standard homecoming traumas, the slur that he was fighting “against his own people.”) Aimless and deracinated, Glen drifts through his days, harboring an old infatuation for “his passion,” Mary Ann Sheeney, who lives on the outskirts of town and is now keeping company with the union organizer. As the strike becomes more entrenched, the strikers become increasingly bitter over the company’s use of scab workers, who are protected by a goon named Erin Bleacher. As if a mirror of the strife at the plant, Glen’s obsession for Mary Ann grows to a fever pitch and even infects his younger brother Dave, who begins to stalk Glen as Glen stalks his passion. That’s how Dave comes to witness scenes that 12-year-olds shouldn’t—and that, in turn, give him a perspective quite suddenly and definitively not that of a child.
A dreamlike portrait done with a masterfully light hand: Smith (the YA novel Fast Company) moves us without crossing over into melodrama or the sentimental.