SWEET DREAM BABY by Sterling Watson


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Watson (Deadly Sweet, 1994, etc.) serves up a nicely packed if sentimental and ultimately melodramatic teenage romp-turned-violent in an Eisenhower-era Florida town.

Here are all the elements of a classic southern horror tale: bored and sex-mad teenagers; early rock-’n’-roll music on car radios; moonshine; and a mean-eyed, laconic sheriff. With his Japanese mother in an insane asylum back in Omaha and his WWII-veteran father unable to care for him, 12-year-old Travis is spending the summer with his Grandma and Grandpa Hollister (Grandpa is also the sheriff) and their savvy, hot-footed 16-year-old daughter, Delia, in Widow Rock, Florida. Despite Travis’s youth, he gets hip to the local mores fast and falls hard for his aunt Delia, whose elusive Natalie Wood beauty and dishy secrets prove the unraveling of several of the local boys. Delia introduces Travis to cruising in her Chevy, skinny-dipping, and the fatal lure of rock’-n’-roll, and he becomes “Killer,” after Jerry Lee Lewis, a name he’ll grow into in a horrifying manner over the summer: The is the summer Travis will become a man by having to protect Delia from herself. Watson’s meticulous, insouciant first-person narrative gains suspense by minuscule degrees, so that what starts as a sweet-tempered parody of a James Dean movie—the local greaser reads The Subterraneans, the kids talk about “dreamboats” and being “cool,” and the big black cook, named Marvadell, is always crying “Humph!” in the kitchen—gradually turns sordid and sharp. Watson toys with southern stereotypes and nostalgia for the days of jukebox music, soda fountains, red Oldsmobiles, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon<\I>; and while Travis’s desperately wrong-headed attempts to save Delia pull the story down into a grisly modern psychotherapy, the tale nonetheless provides some delicious page-turning.

A southern boy’s fantasy of coming of age under the guidance of his languorous older aunt could make this a sneaky sleeper.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 2002
ISBN: 1-4022-0017-X
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002


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