Elvis is back in the building in Rascoe Keenan’s debut novel.
A warm October evening in El Dorado, Arkansas, signals a series of new beginnings for Julie Morgan. The young teenager attends an Elvis Presley concert and catches a ride home with the up-and-coming singer in his shiny pink Cadillac, thus commencing an unlikely friendship between a small-town girl and a famous rocker. As Elvis Presley’s star ascends, Julie’s life and relationships in Arkansas dramatically shift. Her friends prove themselves catty and cruel, so Julie sets her sights on joining the in crowd, a fast-moving, danger-courting pack of girls. Once she’s achieved a tenuous status, Julie follows their rules to stay hip. She meets a young man—a handsome, unreliable college boy who treats her poorly as she tries desperately to win his love. Meanwhile, Julie’s estranged father, a potentially violent drunk, pushes his way back into her life. And Julie can’t stop bumping into Carmen, the new girl who has a questionable agenda and bears a startling resemblance to Julie. Rascoe Keenan’s novel, the first in a proposed series, animates the social scene of small-town, 1950s Arkansas. As Julie navigates love, family, and friendships, she faces difficult decisions still applicable to teens today. While slang terms—“dope machine,” “Dilberts,” and “dig this”—anchor the text firmly in the ’50s, the in crowd’s conversations about sex prove some things never change. Julie’s friendship with Elvis is a useful window into a broader national narrative. His letters and appearances provide a glimpse of the changing tastes in music and the impact of cultural touchstones such as The Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis’ letters also provide lighter moments that counter the somber themes of infidelity and unwanted pregnancy.
The King of Rock and Roll presides over this tale of youthful loss and longing.