In 1970s Texas, a boy learns life lessons from his grandfather while pining for the girl next door.
Flanery’s debut novel chronicles young Mickey’s coming-of-age, as he competes in sports, fends off bullies, and comes into contact with two powerful forces: his tough-talking Grandaddy, a retired deputy sheriff who imparts wisdom from his lawn chair, and Jane, the beautiful neighborhood girl whom Mickey can’t quite bring himself to approach. Told from the perspective of an adult Mickey, now living in LA (Flanery is an actor, best known for his work in the films The Boondock Saints and Powder), the story is most memorable for Grandaddy’s advice, which is both enjoyably colorful in presentation and antiquated, especially on gender. When it comes to finding a wife, for example, Grandaddy instructs Mickey to list all the types of people a man needs in his life (“a goddamn gardener,” “a momma for ya babies,” etc.), and the person he knows who can fill each role. “Ya wife need ta fill more than half of 'em 'fore you chapel her up,” Grandaddy advises. The problem here isn’t Grandaddy’s politics, nor Mickey’s unquestioning embrace of them, but that too often Flanery’s reliance on gender stereotypes results in lazy characterizations. One male character’s odiousness is conveyed in part by the fact that he pees sitting down, while another shakes hands “with his fingertips, like a girl.” Meanwhile, a beloved teacher turns stern and humorless after marrying the dour principal, apparently unable to hold onto any personality of her own in the face of wedlock. Equally unfortunate is Flanery’s decision to continually find ways for Mickey and Jane not to interact, so that for much of the story Mickey is describing Jane from afar without even so much as talking to her. “A glittering and perfect unicorn,” is how Mickey sees his crush, but Flanery’s debut novel would’ve benefited if he’d made Jane a more familiar, and more interesting, creature: a human.
Sweet in parts, but for a story told in hindsight, it’s heavy on the black-and-white certainties of childhood and light on the (more compelling) ambiguities that come with retrospect.