A vivid portrayal of the disappointed young adults in Elephant Beach, a fading East Coast seaside town, in 1972. Beware the seductive lure of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
The world-weary proprietor of a local hangout tells Katie, the 18-year-old narrator of this affecting debut short story collection, “You’re different than the other kids around here. You want my advice? Get out of Dodge. Now.” But in the summer after her high school graduation, there is some life lesson that Katie needs to learn from this on-the-skids town and her colorful, chain-smoking friends. Everyone around her is trying to escape the challenging circumstances that surround them in this working-class community. The women’s dreams are quickly crushed in evanescent sexual affairs, which end in abandonment, arguments, abortions or just male indifference; the men they get involved with are too troubled or immature or stoned to be dependable partners. The rest of the country, roiling from the Vietnam War, seems distant, as does nearby Manhattan. Katie’s friends are both contemptuous and jealous of the occasional hippie or privileged student who drifts by. Mitch, who lost a leg in Vietnam and is drinking himself to death, is the poster boy for those unable to withstand the vicissitudes of life. Katie, who comes from a more affluent family but works at an A&P, is obsessed with Luke, an elusive, recently returned vet; she is also grappling with her own adoption. What makes the desperation that abounds compelling is Chicurel’s perfect pitch for the characters’ patter, which is blunt, cynical, often profane and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
Will Katie get her man? Will she make a break from this hard-luck population? The author’s masterful writing makes this short stay in Elephant Beach worthwhile.