It’s 1980, and a young man is reckoning with his famous father’s breakdown with a little help from his New York City neighbor John Lennon.
If you know anything about Lennon and 1980, you already know the ending of Barbash’s second novel (Stay Up With Me, 2013, etc.). But that knowledge only heightens the bittersweet, nostalgic mood that Barbash ably conjures here; the book is suffused with warm memories of punk clubs, the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team, young romance, and the A-list residents at the storied Dakota apartments. The narrator, Anton, is the son of Buddy Winter, a talk show host in the Tom Snyder/Dick Cavett vein who scorched his reputation by having an on-air meltdown and storming off the set. Buddy is considering his options for a comeback (PBS? A big-three network? A newfangled cable channel?), and Anton is eager to assist, though ultimately the novel is concerned with how much we need to escape our parents' shadows. Anton’s guide for managing that is Lennon, the fellow Dakota resident and former Beatle with whom he forms an unlikely friendship. Their scenes together provide the novel’s most charming moments, as Anton gives Lennon sailing lessons off Cold Spring Harbor and serves as a sounding board as he writes songs in Bermuda. Barbash convincingly imagines Lennon’s easy, sardonic humor while he helps the young man learn how to be confident without being star-struck. The downside is that those scenes throw the rest of the narrative a bit off-balance. Anton’s siblings and love interests rarely feel like more than casual walk-on roles; Anton’s mother, stumping for Ted Kennedy’s failed presidential bid, plays only a slightly more substantial one.
Pleasurably endearing for anybody with a soft spot for pop culture, Annie Hall–era Manhattan, and 20-somethingdom at its most freewheeling.