A typical coming-of-age novel with a couple of murders thrown in.
Debut novelist Alexander introduces us to DJ Elders; his kid sister, Patty; and their feckless father, Dale (Piels beer’s best customer). The time is the mid-1960s, and the place is Hardscrabble, a little town on Long Island. DJ is a decent kid who just wants to figure out his future and lose his virginity. There are, of course, others in this little town, like DJ’s best friend, Ike O’Reilly, who has a very compromised heart; DJ’s uncles Wendell and the wise Monty; and DJ’s girlfriend, Leslie, caught between desires and defenses. Then there’s Greta, a cultured older woman who befriends DJ and Patty, who imagines that the poet Rupert Brooke was her lover. The engine of the plot, though, is Carlyn Canova, who is happy to take DJ’s virginity. She is a decade older than DJ, blonde, curvaceous, lusty and mysterious—every boy’s wet dream. She is also very likely a psychopath, literally a femme fatale. The cop who caught Carlyn and DJ in her Mustang and threatened them winds up dead a couple of weeks later. Then Bobby Litchfield, local big man on campus, with whom Carlyn had been cheating on DJ—and who also took advantage of Patty—winds up dead in the same fashion. Carlyn has disappeared. Was she the murderer? Alexander not only spins a very good story with a strong plot, but he knows his characters—knows, for example, that Greta can be flawed but still a good and wise person (same for Monty). There are nice period touches, like Queen for a Day and motor oil in cans and Piels beer. He is not averse to being lyrical, and he has a gift for it. And the wrap-up is sufficiently surprising but also quite believable. No cardboard cutouts here. These are real people, and Alexander makes us care about them.
This is a very impressive debut. One looks forward to Alexander’s second novel, due out next year.