Holden Caufield is alive and well in Madison, Wisconsin, swilling Robitussin when the booze runs out: an earnest debut, penned during the 23-year-old author's teenage years.
Allied against their abusive father and ineffectual mother, 15-year-old Jim Drake and older sister Mandy spend all their time together, deftly combining their social circles and dating each other's friends. Misfits who drink heavily and engage in angry, destructive (i.e., typically adolescent) behavior, the teenagers happily arrange themselves into a surrogate family. Falling in love with the wise Leslie, Mandy's poetry-writing, vintage-dress–wearing best friend, Jim finds happiness for the first time in his life. As does Mandy, who takes up with Jim's friend Jeremy. But when Jim, in a drunken fit reminiscent of his father, slams ten-year-old brother Billy into a wall, Mandy sinks into a deep depression that culminates in her unspeakably gory end. (Suffice it to say that the author has read Anna Karenina.) Afterward, Jim's father starts beating him nightly, insisting that Jim should have "saved" Mandy. In response, Jim and his friends, Jeremy and the kind Philly, ratchet up their drinking and smoking habits a few notches. Then, after a scarcely credible showdown with the local druglord, the three boys drop out of school, set up housekeeping at an abandoned theater, and plot their escape from Madison. In order to secure bus fare, they hold up a family-owned convenience store (using guns lifted from the druglord and his henchmen, no less), with disastrous results.
Maudlin, overwrought, and often tiresome: How many scenes of adolescents chugging 150-proof vodka can a reader stand? Still, a compelling narrative structure is suggestive, perhaps, of better things to come from Marshall.