What’s more intimate and risky: genuine friendship or romantic love? asks first-novelist/nonfiction author Halpern (Four Wings and a Prayer, 2001, etc.).
Troubled adolescent Cuzzy Gage—so-called because he is everyone’s cousin in the pointedly named community of Poverty, in upstate New York—has been living in the woods since his uncle kicked him out of the house after Cuzzy slept with the uncle’s pregnant live-in niece. His mother died years ago; his minister father is in a mental institution. About to turn 18, Cuzzy has already fathered a child himself, but the baby’s mother, a clone of Luanne on TV’s King of the Hill, has been refusing to see him, so he spends his time hanging out at the local convenience store with misfits like the cousin who may have molested his sister and the local bully/drug dealer. Polite society, which lives down the road in vacation homes, calls these folks trailer trash. Enter Tracy Edwards in his Porsche. He’s staying at one of the largest estate retreats, archiving the papers of his recently dead friend Algie, a musicologist whose advances the heterosexual Tracy rebuffed long ago. Poverty’s current minister, Jason Trimble, who’s gotten to know Cuzzy’s father, approaches Tracy and asks him to help reach the boy. Soon Cuzzy, attracted initially by the wealthy comfort of Tracy’s life but hungry for affection, stability, and the world of ideas, is living at the estate and working for Tracy. The older man takes Cuzzy under his wing, trying to be a Good Samaritan, but his privileged naiveté blinds him to the impact of their relationship on the boy’s position in Poverty. The result is a tragedy of shocking brutality, especially in contrast to the rather literary rendering of all that has come before.
Carefully crafted and thoughtful, if at times overbearing in telegraphing its messages.