McGevna’s debut novel captures the familiar rhythms of summertime, following young people on the edge of violence.
During the summer of 1983, three 8-year-olds spend their time doing not much at all. For a while, at least. This is a novel of nostalgia, and the boys’ exploits feel hazy, sunlit, recalling films like George Washington and The Tree of Life, capturing the yawns and sighs of childhood summers. But McGevna knows style isn’t enough, and so he makes a promise early in the novel: “in a few short knots down time’s invisible strand, one of [the children] will be dead.” A hook, yes, but one that gets mostly forgotten as the novel moves forward, touching on the boys' parents (some are Christian, others alcoholic—a contrast that feels a little forced and pat) and older boys elsewhere in the town. Most notable among these is David, who has fallen under the spell of art—or, at least, the spell of wanting to be an artist (he occasionally imagines what he would say in response to Dick Cavett’s questions), which is very different from actually doing the work. “He’d made a vow with himself to never paint when full of emotion,” McGevna writes. “His work could not be happy, nor angry, nor jealous. He was interested in objects, and how they are seen.” Perhaps this describes the novel too—always observant, rarely energized. As the chapters shorten, one feels the book moving toward something—and it does arrive, about two-thirds of the way in, at a brutal, shattering moment—but for too long, it feels fine but shapeless, lacking in urgency. This isn’t to say it’s not pleasant, or well-written, but merely a bit limp, couching all its dramatic impact in a shout when, perhaps, we needed threatening whispers throughout.
A fine, if somewhat muted, debut.