In this first novel from memoirist and poet McLain (Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, 2003, etc.), a naïve Midwestern teen gets a visit from her sly, sexy cousin, and trouble ensues.
Jamie has had a lot of bad luck for being only 15: She never knew her father; her mother abandoned her; her grandmother Berna, who raised Jamie, had a stroke; and although her mother’s brother was happy to take Jamie in, that meant a move from Bakersfield, Calif., to Moline, Ill., where she has lived ever since. Uncle Raymond is nice, but he mostly goes to work, fixes dinner and watches TV. One day Jamie gets huge news: Fawn, a 16-year-old cousin from Texas who was caught sleeping with her teacher, is being sent to live with Jamie and Raymond for the summer. Jamie loves everything about Fawn, her long, perfect hair, her makeup, her clothes—even her name. For her part, Fawn bides her time, registering her new guardian’s oversights. In the high-sun hours the girls work on their tans and listen to the radio. At night Fawn introduces Jamie to the wild side: They sneak out to smoke and drink, first with kids their age, later with older guys who buy them booze in a bar. Eventually Chicago’s night life lures the cousins. There they meet a trio of carousing servicemen, and suddenly been-there-done-that Fawn is in way over her head. The writing, incorporating brand names, song lyrics and TV shows of the era (1973), is flat, and the emotionally shutdown Jamie is an odd choice for narrator. The author further distances the reader by dividing the novel into short chapters that alternate Jamie’s story, told from her point of view, with the story of self-sacrificing Raymond, told in the third person in a voice that sounds too much like Jamie’s.