A middle-aged cancer survivor held hostage by his secrets looks for friendship and redemption during a transformational summer on the Jersey shore.
The calendar may say 1987, but the past is never far away for Jimmy Hanlon in this three-book series from debut novelist Bennett. The 47-year-old protagonist is a lifelong resident of Belmar, New Jersey—a small town with a long memory. And after nearly five decades, Jimmy’s reputation is far from sterling. Although well-liked, the closeted grandfather of two remains best known among his fellow boardwalk denizens for his failed marriage and seemingly endless stash of grade A marijuana. Jimmy’s recent laryngectomy renders him unable to speak without the assistance of a hand-held electrolarynx, further perpetuating his outsider status. Yet when rumors about his sexuality begin to circulate, Jimmy has no choice but to respond. After years of isolation and loneliness, Jimmy finds opening up about his orientation freeing. No longer living in fear, he begins to seek out the things he wants in life and becomes an advocate for other lost souls, noting: “Something about secrets Mother taught me—they fester.” In the midst of the AIDS crisis, Jimmy lets go of decades’ worth of anger, shame, and sadness, forever reshaping his role in his family and community. Bennett succeeds in crafting a wholly original protagonist over the course of his series. Jimmy’s compelling back story should keep readers hooked, and Bennett drops just enough bread crumbs throughout the series to maintain interest. But structural issues could prevent some readers from venturing far into the tale. The timeline in the series’ opening chapter is muddled, jumping between descriptions of Jimmy’s childhood, his adult years, and his father’s adolescence. And the narration, while rich with details, meanders through too many plot points and characters. Overly verbose descriptions of mundane tasks, such as searching for a parking spot, grind the action to a halt on several occasions. But readers who stick with the story will be rewarded with a richly drawn main character. Jimmy’s path to redemption is original and heart-rending.
A rambling but touching account of one man’s search for acceptance.