THE KEEPER OF THE FERRIS WHEEL by Jack McBride White

THE KEEPER OF THE FERRIS WHEEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strong, compassionate first novel that strips the Vietnam peace movement of some of its myths by concentrating on the way it affects individuals. During the summer of 1967, narrator Dennis ""Itchy"" Shovlin, 17, mourns the death of his older brother, Patrick, a Marine killed in Vietnam. Itchy hates the war and its divisive impact on his family. (His father and brother Charlie are for it; he and his mother against.) Yet he recognizes that he too is a product of the cold war; as a child, he'd spend his allowance on canned goods to store in the bomb shelter he begged his father to build. Now, because of Patrick's death, Itchy is slowly becoming active in the local antiwar movement. He gets a full dose of 1960s-style sex, drugs, and radical politics from hotel owner Robin Debussy, who is organizing protests against a factory that makes machine guns. People's political motives aren't always pure here: A segment of Robin's group urges violence; they want to burn the plant down and battle the workers. Meanwhile, the town itself becomes split over the factory. To this mix, the author adds a number of love stories, a murder mystery, the appearance of a Gandhi-like prophet, and a little mysticism -- all of which generally works. The only nagging flaw is a tendency, especially toward the end, for the characters to fall into didactic speeches. At one point, for instance, Robin proclaims, ""War's desperate and primitive, and when it's waged without moral justification and supported with lies and false appeals to patriotism and buried fears of man-made demons, we have to fight against it"" -- this from a person whose favorite words usually have four letters? Still, an often touching, surprisingly funny debut -- originally brought out in 1993 and now the grand-prize winner in the first Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1995
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Donald Fine