Poet Skoyles’s debut memoir indelibly recalls the summer he came of age and then raced beyond.
The author was 16 in 1965 and living with his mother in Queens. That summer, Mom’s brother Fred decided to take John under his wing and put a little worldliness into him. Uncle Fred wasn’t exactly a gangster, but the shade tended to collect around him. He introduced his nephew to bourbon and sex, to middleweight contenders, late-night radio hosts, and bookies. He tendered advice: “Never apologize, remember that. Things are too complicated for any one person to take the blame”; “Why should [you] go to college? The city's an encyclopedia, and it's free.” Fred was cool enough in John’s eyes to make Kerouac fade, but he was also unpredictable (“I had never seen anyone change so quickly, from grieved to astonished to ecstatic”), and he was an ex-con who ducked when cops walked by. John’s Aunt Linda wasn’t happy about her brother being her nephew’s tutor—“With Fred, every gift has a long ribbon,” she warned—and besides, she wanted to administer some tutoring of her own, a sex-education workshop with herself as the guide. John learned much from Aunt Linda, and not just about bras, garter belts, and female anatomy; he also got an introduction to ritual flagellation. Stirred like a martini, the boy was dazed and enthralled by the time it all ended with the close of August. The summer wasn’t all uncles and aunts—friends and a young woman rounded out the picture—but it was all sensual, emotional turbulence, and Skoyles (Writing/Emerson Coll.) squarely nails the bewildering resonance of a dramatic season when veils were ruefully lifted. A nice addition to Nebraska’s American Lives series edited by Tobias Wolff.
Plangent as the tolling of bells, expressively struck in a resonant voice.