AND WE WERE YOUNG by Elliot Baker


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With his characteristically light, offbeat touch, Baker (A Fine Madness, The Penny Wars) blends satire, tragedy, and nostalgia in this whimsically contrived morality play about three WW II army buddies whose fates intertwine soon after the war--the days when McCarthyism and television were both on the rise. Slow, affable Walter Rycinski has been dragged from Tyler, Texas, to Manhattan by his ambitious, unstable, adored wife, dancer Zuleika; so he looks up his old pal Sandy Adler of Brooklyn--an itchy ex-Communist who's driving a cab and scrambling to become a speechwriter for up-and-coming progressive politician Craig Soliday. Could the well-connected Soliday possibly help the fetching Zuleika to get a job dancing? Yes, he can (in the chorus of Kiss Me, Kate)--but he can also soon win her away from poor Walter, who's slaving in a mirror factory and joining in anti-Communist militance to endear himself to the foreman. With this triangle, calamity is inevitable; and when Walter winds up in jail confessing to Zuleika's ""murder"" (actually a suicide), he needs a lawyer. . . so a third army buddy is tied in: infantry squad-leader Donald Upton, now a not-very-happily married attorney working for his famous father-in-law. Baker interweaves these three men's lives with ease and economy, shrewdly seeing all three as sometime heroes and sometime pimps, fastening on telling details and ironic absurdities that never quite let the tone slip over the edge into melodrama or sentimentality. And there's a wacky-grim climax rich in mordant twists: a live TV show becomes a cross between This Is Your Life (Soliday's) and an HUAC hearing as Upton reveals speechwriter Adler's Communist past, thus ruining the career of rising star Soliday. How does Baker manage to make this McCarthyist-seeming act so right and satisfying? By putting people over politics--and by exerting an odd, other-worldly charm even while immersing himself in the period. Lightweight, never deeply involving or convincing; but a cheerfully cynical and unpretentiously wise entertainment that bounces its likable characters around with a weirdly warm-hearted ruthlessness.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1979
ISBN: 0759612498
Publisher: Times Books