In Cruise’s debut novel, the death of a middle-aged Texan’s mother prompts him to reflect upon his childhood.
Linus “Bud” Ritter (named for the Peanuts character) and his siblings gather after their mother’s death shortly before Christmas 2008. Fifty-one-year-old Bud is a real estate agent and his wife, Franny, works at a junior high school. He and Franny discuss mortality and their life choices, including not having children; as a teen, Bud fathered a daughter who was given up for adoption. Before the funeral, he and the surviving Ritter siblings, known as the Nine, reminisce about growing up in the 1960s in Galveston, Texas. Money was tight, but times were good in their little house on 14th Street. Serendipitously, the home’s current owner allows the Nine to wander through the house one last, wondrous time. The author delivers a cohesive account of childhood, warts and all, and the enduring significance of a childhood home. Despite the novel’s brevity, Cruise crafts a realistic relationship among the Ritter kids and especially between Bud and Franny, whose married-couple banter rings true. The book teems with humorous expressions such as, “Christ on a cracker, I think I'm gonna blow!” and “I’m more of a holiday Catholic.” Anecdotes from the Nine’s collective childhood are similarly inventive and include a near-disaster by fire in a Christmas tree fort, averted by “The Patron Saint of Untoasted Children”; “The Legend of Lunchtime Horror”; and a fun-filled flight through a parking lot on a runaway grocery cart. The novel’s occasional serious moments are touching but not maudlin. Among its poignant comments is that today’s children don’t play much outdoors anymore; video games have trumped swings and slides. This novel may hold little appeal for readers in their 20s or early 30s, but it will likely engage and enchant Baby Boomers who remember their childhoods fondly.
A nostalgic little gem of a novel, with a quietly powerful message.