A lackadaisical recounting of a midwestern boy’s summer between high school and college—and a letdown after the endearing exuberance of Jackson’s earlier Life at These Speeds (2002).
Leo whiles away his summer after graduation working as a lifeguard at the local pool and visiting his deceased father’s family, particularly his cousins, in a farm community two hours away from his unnamed hometown that could be “Anywhere in the midwest,” as his sort-of-girlfriend Jenny says at one point. It’s an anywhere with very little adolescent angst or rebellion. Leo and his peers are remarkably nice kids who ride bikes, work on cars, go fishing, and show respect for their elders. Yes, there is sex—Leo sleeps with Jenny once, a cowgirl neighbor of his cousins once, and finally the girl-next-door—though in each case he’s a reluctant suitor, so gallant the reader almost forgets he’s a two-timer. With disarming passivity, Leo glides through his romantic entanglements and other minor scrapes that mainly involve small physical accidents. When he stumbles upon the knowledge that his mother, a doctor with whom he gets along lovingly, has cancer, he doesn’t ask her about (and she avoids bringing up) her illness, yet the ensuing tension is set on too low a simmer to get the plot boiling. The story is enlivened only when Leo visits the farm cousins, and then mainly because nine-year-old Grace, with her childlike insights and demands for attention, is ultimately a more fully realized character than any of Leo’s adolescent peers, who remain generic TV sitcom teens. Also, Jackson’s straightforward prose is too stripped down. Without details to ground them, his characters remain vague. When, at the close, Leo defers college for a year to stay with his mother, the fact that the college remains unnamed and the seriousness of his mother’s condition unclear mute the impact.
Good-natured but unassuming to a fault.