Filled with the kind of wistful longing that characterizes the coming-of-age novel, this latest from the talented Bishop brings stardust and domestic disillusionment to the bayous of Louisiana.
In 1973, when Junior Broussard blows out the 14 candles on his birthday cake, his wish takes the form of one word—Gabriella. Instead of her magical appearance, he receives a telescope from his father, the high school’s geeky science teacher, an amateur astronomer and author of the newspaper’s weekly "Groovy Science" column. His father has become obsessed with the sighting of the comet Kohoutek; the new telescope will provide a father-son bonding opportunity. Junior could care less and soon points his telescope across the bayou to Gabriella’s mansion. As his father is involved with Kohoutek, Junior becomes fixated on the wealthy Martellos across the water. Their life is like a television show—they dress better, look better, seem happier—and he watches them like an anthropologist and a lover and wonders what will become of himself, raised in a house of small dreams and missed opportunities. His mother, Lydia, befriends Mrs. Martello, and the two hatch a plan to throw a charity ball with a comet theme. Lydia is also bewitched by the Martellos (especially husband Frank) and begins to feel she deserves so much more than science teacher Alan Broussard can offer. Their meeting years ago—the beautiful pharmacy counter girl and the new science teacher—is a story Junior begs from his parents, as if the re-telling will provide some magic to keep them together. His father becomes dangerously unhinged, his mother runs away, harboring fantasies of a life with Frank Martello, and the comet will soon appear. Junior is sure it will bring both disaster and magic to their lives. Coming-of-age novels examine youthful revelations about the world—filled with cynicism and wonder and rearranged expectations—and the quality hinges on the honesty of the voice, the truth of the observations, the handling of innocence lost; Bishop succeeds on all these fronts.
A fine story of everyday sadness and otherworldly joys.