A wrenching, tumultuous coming-of-age tale from a first-time novelist.
At the start of this unsettling, raw debut, Henry Enright is driving through the heat of summer with his girlfriend, Laura. He just identified the car-wrecked bodies of his gang of small-town friends. With this beginning, the narrative sets a painfully nostalgic mood, snaking through a rigidity and sense of loss that threaten to overwhelm the narrator. The tale unfolds through alternating eras, from a humiliating 1950s Catholic schoolyard brawl to the heartbreak of middle-aged banality, despair and alcoholism on the edge of the 1980s. Triggered by his return to the small community of Union, Mass., Henry is haunted by painful memories while he reflects on the path that’s led him to overwhelming dissatisfaction in his career, his marriage and his role as a father. As the displaced adolescent Henry seeks greater acceptance from his schoolmates and the love of beautiful, promiscuous Laura, he confronts both deeper rejections and the consequences of his rebellious reputation. Though occasionally in need of minor edits, Lorden’s novel shows the anguish and obsession of a sensitive young man living a restrictive and prohibitive religion, area and age. Battered by misunderstandings and heartache, Henry faces only pressure and cruel treatment at the hands of peers, elders and his own troubled psyche. Through his achingly honest account, he also offers a glimpse of the racism and anti-Semitism rampant in the time and place. Lorden treads a fine, hopeful line in the end, attempting a resolution for these deeper rifts as the adult Henry is forced into confronting not only his past but the underlying yearnings of his soul.
An unnerving, intricate debut novel offering insight into a fabled yet flawed age.