A small Wisconsin town explodes one Halloween night in a domino effect of violence that leaves no one untouched.
Recalling the work of fellow Midwesterner Sinclair Lewis in its stark portrayal of social hierarchies and the lengths to which people will go in order to fit in, playwright Dixon deviates from his predecessor by eschewing all description of the inner workings of his characters. He focuses instead on their actions, only hinting at the inner turmoil that presumably motivates them. The events of Halloween 1963, in De Pere, Wisc. (the author’s hometown), are delivered in minimalist prose, reading like a catalogue of masochism. The ensemble cast includes a number of misfits, each of whom takes out personal suffering on others. Chuck wants to hang out with the older boys, who treat him viciously. He follows their lead and bullies his younger friend, Dale. Dale turns on his friend Little Lee, who occupies an even lower social caste. Little Lee, accordingly, beats up David, the son of a cancer sufferer and the true pariah in all this nastiness. David’s mom Evelyn, who just received her diagnosis, lurks as the specter of death at the center of the story, going on a massive bender and abusing her fellow drinkers, all of whom are terrified of her. The existential, misanthropic point of it all comes off as hollow. There is nothing to balance the unmitigated cruelty and self-interest exhibited by virtually every inhabitant of De Pere.
In this debut novel, adults are mean, but little boys are meaner.