In Bancroft’s debut novel, a Boy Scout becomes a man in a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1960s.
Isaac Yardley is a straight-laced teenager whose eccentric father, Rockwell “Speedy” Yardley, obsessively quotes Moby-Dick. In the summer of 1968, Speedy begins a social experiment that quickly becomes a ritual for father and son: when they see someone flick a cigarette from a car, they attempt to discern why the person littered rather than leave the butt in the car’s ashtray. To do so, they tail the cars to gas stations, accost drivers at stoplights, and even tag vehicles with bumper stickers that read “I Flick Butts.” This quirky project serves as the structural backbone of the novel, as each chapter follows a different car and cigarette-thrower. More importantly, though, the project leads Isaac to self-discovery and new relationships, including his first love with Juliana Madison, a girl from his high school; and a strange friendship with Vic Martine, a mysterious, wealthy investor. Although Isaac’s summer-love story is far from original, Bancroft depicts the relationship with authentic warmth. Vic, on the other hand, proves to be a more engaging character. He ostensibly moves to town to work on a real estate development project, but he soon takes a curious interest in Isaac and ultimately becomes an active mentor; the uncertainty surrounding his motivations makes for the novel’s most compelling drama. Meanwhile, Isaac and Speedy continue their “crusade for the truth about butt-flickers” as they spout lines from Herman Melville’s classic work to the point of distraction. The drama is well-paced until about two-thirds of the way through the novel, when a sudden tragedy catalyzes an abrupt shift; the story then jumps from 1968 to 2002 to show Isaac tracking cigarette-throwers with his own son. Bancroft struggles with this leap, and several plotlines are left incomplete or unsatisfying. Nonetheless, Isaac and his father are charming enough characters to engage readers; Isaac, in particular—a slightly overage Boy Scout with conservative, suburban tastes—offers a refreshingly different window into the culture of 1968. Fans of bildungsromans and vintage Americana will be pleased.
An American coming-of-age tale told with warmth and humor.