Anderson offers a debut novel about life in northern Wisconsin in the early 1960s.
Albert “Sonny” Laärson is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound college quarterback with a quick arm and an insatiable appetite for sex. Sonny and his teammate cousin, John, seem to have little problem finding pleasure whenever they want it. The descriptions of their respective sexual conquests are full of straining genitals (“She stared at his erection with angry apprehension”) and explosive descriptions (“He drove himself hard into her and she bucked and moaned thrusting up to meet him”). But even though the lives of men like Sonny entail a good deal of womanizing, life for many other people in their Wisconsin hometown is often cruel and difficult—full of hard winters, violent “Kentucks,” and rough people who don’t think twice about using moonshine whiskey to clean the bile from their mouths. As a result, this novel explores much more than the life of a promiscuous young football player in an Oldsmobile Starfire; instead, it follows a multitude of characters as they work, feud, sleep together, and die. Some portions of the story are dedicated to earlier times of Swedish immigrants and Irish miners. Overall, this long novel is an illuminating exploration of its setting and its people. However, it’s also repetitive; the frequent “bucking and writhing” can be tedious at times, as can the descriptions of tough men “with wads of tobacco frozen in their cheeks.” The book is as raunchy as one might expect, given Sonny’s and John’s natures, and it also has its share of juvenile passages: “Charles…called Boner by his friends for obvious reasons, was a sleazeball…whose sole stated purpose for being was to deflower a fair young maiden.” Taken as a whole, though, the book effectively portrays a multifaceted time and place. Characters struggle with secrets and desperation, as in a late scene when Sonny finds himself in need of guidance: “Sonny was not a religious man but he felt that a little divine providence couldn’t hurt.” However, even the wide swath the novel cuts could have been cleaner, as it’s often burdened with mundane dialogue about such things as what people want for breakfast and how much snow has fallen.
An earnest, if slow-paced, historical novel of Midwesterners.