In Spears’ debut novel, an aging narrator recounts his childhood in a rural American town on the cusp of industrialization.
Over the course of 13 ambling chapters, Spears describes the youthful experiences of an unnamed narrator—he’s only ever addressed as “boy”—in an unspecified hamlet. By the end of the book, it’s clear that these are recollections of a now-distant past and a slice of small-town America not yet enveloped by the modernization of the 20th century. The author effectively captures the textures, sounds, and smells of childhood—from small-town gossip to the local adventures of the narrator’s array of friends, who together climb trees, get in fights, and partake in youthful games. Rather than structuring the book around a singular narrative, the author uses each broadly titled chapter (“Love,” “Time,” “Courage”) to examine a particular theme or event from the narrator’s youth, whether it’s a disastrous storm or his friend group’s adventures, all set against the backdrop of small-town social life. There’s Pastor Edison, a lonely man who delivers larger-than-life sermons; and the enterprising Mayor Barth, who hopes to re-create a Coney Island–inspired fair on the town’s grounds. There are also the Martins, a rich couple who later divorce, and Jessica, a young girl who’s mysteriously assaulted. Over the course of the novella, the chapters become more explicitly the memoirs of a man late in his life, and the tone is Proustian in its contemplation of the simple truths and revelations of childhood, from a first romance to the loss of innocence. More than anything, however, this novel evokes a faraway moment in America: a time of small-scale commerce and country living. As a result, the title is more than apt.
A studied account of an altogether foreign time.