A novel of young romance, heavily saturated with pop music.
Penton’s debut tells the story of Paul Tifton, a young man from Panama City, Florida, who’s 19 years old in 1972. He’s a cooking enthusiast and a convert to Catholicism who’s headed for Gulf Coast Community College but also enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps officer program. The story he narrates, full of scenes of college classes and hanging out with friends, also features plenty of references to music of the era. Nods to dozens of performers and songs (including Barry White, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Mamas and the Papas, “Travelin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers and “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by the Spinners) surround the larger tale of Paul’s coming-of-age. In it, the outgoing student meets a shy girl named Judy Perriman and they begin casually dating. The story awkwardly prolongs his standoffish relationship with her, however: “This isn’t a romance! This is just a casual date with a girl I kind of like! That’s all!” he thinks early on, and quite a while later, he states, “Of course Judy wasn’t the one.” Long after that, he ruminates, “In any event I wasn’t going to marry her....Judy was just a friend.” The book’s sedate, quotidian pace works much better, though, in the sections detailing Paul’s horrible experiences in the Marines’ boot camp, where he finds the physical requirements daunting (“I don’t know why they just didn’t send me home”). Overall, the novel effectively captures the tone of small-town Southern life in the ’70s—Walking Tall (1973) at the local movie theater, phone calls from stationary phones, the aforementioned music on the radio. This feeling of heartfelt authenticity largely compensates for the tired-feeling plot, which lacks a dramatic climax.
A problematic love story set against a detailed 1970s backdrop.