THE CLASS OF '49: A Novel and Two Stories by Donald Carpenter

THE CLASS OF '49: A Novel and Two Stories

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A novella, one that's cubed into a mosaic of small sections and follows (in no strict casual fashion) the comings-of-age of a gang of new high-school grads in Portland, Oregon, in 1949. Most of the laconic chapters are dead-on but unforced portraits of teen humiliation: a rumor, a pregnancy, a misunderstanding, a betrayal. Some are comic: the gift, none too bright, who's thrilled to death at getting a 100 on her test--her I.Q. test. Some aren't: the dreamer who bums his way to New York only to die of starvation, the nice kid who learns he has cancer, the nice girl who needs more sex than her world seems designed to provide. As a book, the sections don't have enough glue--but the sexual theme that runs through them is striking, as is the unstressed nostalgia (the book bears some comparison with Evan Connell's Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge classics or Thomas Rogers' excellent At The Shores: the same vigilant yet relaxed-seeming approach to ""plain"" American days). Sex to these kids is a connivance as well as sport, even a sort of intellectual activity or strategy, with an innate humor and fairness to it that the later ""sexual revolution"" destroyed by overkill. Of the two stories, one--about pool-playing, ""One Pocket""--is shaggy and sentimental. The other, ""Glitter: A Story,"" is as good a piece of writing as Carpenter has produced since his (not dissimilar and very wonderful) A Couple of Comedians. An assistant writer on a TV-project narrates the story of a Hollywood actor's defeated career--and his attendant spiritual gaiety. Obliquely written, given a push at the start and then seemingly let alone thereafter, the story follows the actor, named Felix, as he takes his queerly bent character and occasionally unbends it in whatever privacy his very public life allows. It's funny, it's touching, and it has an eccentricity--sour as well as sweet--that only the best Hollywood writing (such as Carpenter's and Daniel Fuchs') achieves. Not really major, but certainly characteristic work by one of today's best (but underappreciated) fiction writers.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1985
Publisher: North Point