Crazy young love on a mountain in Vermont, from debut novelist Tussing.
It’s 1972. Narrator Thomas Mahey is a 17-year-old high-school student in Paducah, Ky., when Alice Lowe enters his life. Thomas lives in a cocoon spun by loving parents, but when Alice, a newly certified teacher, reveals she’s being threatened by her ex-husband, Thomas is ready to break out to protect the woman he’s dating. In other words, he’s smitten. They make a dawn getaway, along with Shiloh Tanager, the town’s most conspicuous hippie and Alice’s unlikely roommate. After stopping at a hippie drug factory in the Bronx for directions, they travel to a commune in Vermont populated by scantily clad back-to-the-earth types. No vacancies there, so the trio move on to an abandoned house on a mountain. Shiloh proves to be an excellent handyman; as for the lovebirds, they have each other. After a good start, Tussing’s debut stalls. Its remaining two-thirds are filled with incidents, including Shiloh’s failed suicide attempt and Alice’s pregnancy (a false alarm). Questions of character loom large: It is perhaps understandable that teenager Thomas, in the careless rapture of first love, would not contact his folks, but why does it take four months for enigmatic Alice to have him call home? As secrets leak, it is Shiloh we get to know best. The novel’s five sections open with bewildering teasers involving two Vatican emissaries checking out reports of religious miracles. Their connection to the main storyline at last becomes clear in a gothic twist that involves Shiloh’s dead lover. Meanwhile, a snowy winter has set in and the freezing, starving friends will barely make it off the mountain.
A smart new writer loses his way as his tale of romantic love yields to improbable intrigue and melodrama.