A debut novel about a young man’s hijinks with his neighborhood friends.
Steven, the story’s 65-year-old narrator, reflects on his Midwestern childhood in Good Town. The only son of a “grain man” and a “fragile, timid poet,” Steven tells jovial tales of his teenage scrapes and capers, including stealing his grandfather’s car, sneaking beer into soda bottles and making an underage visit to a local saloon. These reminiscences of mostly summers and holidays span a decade, from 1956 to 1966. In nearly all instances, Steven emerges from incidents feeling triumphant, even when he’s been caught. “I wondered if I could walk on water,” he admits at one point. The novel invites readers to admire Steven, but its tone is often boastful. That said, its clearest moments of awareness arrive when Lorenz ventures into Good Town’s darker aspects. Steven’s father, Lee, for example, is rarely seen without “a tumbler of ice and bourbon.” When Lee takes a break from drinking, his son revealingly says that “the sober life had been a good life....Things around the house hadn’t gotten smashed up. I hadn’t had to worry about [Mom]…when things got rough.” Occasionally, Steven regards violence with amusement—after he steals a car, a neighbor “whip[s] up on [his] behind”—but in other instances, it causes lingering damage. For example, when Steven’s friend Bobbie upsets his father, “Bobbie’s mom was concerned for his physical safety,” sending him to Idaho “until things cooled off.” Overall, fathers are portrayed as quite dangerous—an idea that’s acknowledged without being fully explored. But when Steven views his father’s character flaws with humor, the result can be both disturbing and hilarious: “Don’t look in the rearview mirror: no good man is interested in where he’s been,” Lee tells his son. “Never signal for a turn; you lose the element of surprise.” In such moments, Lorenz almost approaches satire, but most of the novel asks to be taken at face value.
A sometimes-engaging novel of nostalgic Americana and small-town celebrations.