Caught between love and loyalty, young Jack cannot seem to make a decision that doesn’t feel wrong.
In Wetta’s debut novel, Jack is a Witcher, son of a sometime mechanic, sometime unemployed hillbilly father and a poor-but-respectable mother. The Witchers are trash, publicly labeled as such. Their house, with a maybe-useful commode in the mostly dirt yard, scars El Dorado Hills, a 1967 Virginia suburb where good folks like the Coghills, Joyners and Kellners worry about Vietnam and integration and wish the Witchers elsewhere. But soon-to-be-13 Jack loves Myra Joyner, and that’s a problem. It happens too that Jack’s older brother, long-haired, pot-smoking Stanley, hates Myra’s bother, Duke University–bound Gaylord Joyner, recent usurper of good girl Courtney Blankenship’s affections. Wetta’s narrative weaves Jack’s pursuit of Myra around Stan’s tendency to bloody the nose of anyone who offers a slight, real or imagined, a trait inherited from Witcher senior. Jack’s ally in his quest is another outsider, Moses Gladstein, a Jewish jeweler from New Jersey. Myra likes Jack, primarily because Jack is the school’s smartest kid, and Stan has found a new love in Anya, hippie daughter of the Taylors, rich folk new in the neighborhood. The characters are realistic, especially the Witchers, even Stan, whose thin-skinned “Don’t tread on me” attitude ranges beyond the borders of sanity. Witcher-snobs are drawn with less intensity, although the white-bread image of a newly enrolled Klansman named Pudding hits the mark. Gaylord goes missing, Stan is accused and the Witchers are shunned and harassed. Jack puzzles through the story, but the dichotomy between his intellectual superiority and pubescent emotional behavior sometimes seems off-kilter. Jack understands that “Families live on loyalty more than love…" It’s the costs of loyalty that causes him pain.
In the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird, but about class rather than race, and lacking a bit of its righteous moral clarity.