Monday, August 12, 2013
BREWSTER by Mark Slouka
An amazing novel penned with beautiful economy Brewster resonates with struggle, pain, love and courage. It is one of the few novels that will remain with me for some time to come. For lack of a better description it may be called a coming-of-age story but that fails to note its power and authenticity. Mark Slouka (Lost Lake Stories) writes with his heart.
Welcome to 1968 where Vietnam is very much on the minds of high school seniors, tension is in the air, and there’s a youthful migration to California where everything is possible. However, there’s not much promise in the blue-collar town of Brewster, New York, where four teenagers form a friendship.
Jon Mosher, the son of German-Jewish immigrant parents, tells the story. His family moved to Brewster because it was cheap, a place where his father could open a shoe store. That was to matter little after the accidental death of his younger brother, a tragedy that froze his parents into continuing grief. His mother blamed Jon for the young boys death, one is hard press ed to understand why. But his home becomes a place of gloomy silence with his brother’s room untouched as if he might come home at any minute.
Although intelligent, Jon’ teachers find him moody, uncooperative, a trouble maker. All feel that way save for one who sees potential in him and urges him to join the track team. It is in running that Jon is able to dissipate a portion of his pain.
Usually a loner Jon meets and befriends Ray Cappicciano, a real scrapper who knows how to use his fists. He’s a bit of a legend around school usually appearing a bit battered, bruising he claimed to have earned fighting in underground clubs to make money to help out at home, such as it is. Deserted by his mother and step-mother Ray lives with his ex-cop father and baby brother in a dingy, rundown house. His home is described, “In Brewster there was no other side of the tracks; if there was, Ray would have lived there.” It is only later that we learn of Ray’s father’s sadism and his World War II collection of Nazi body parts.
The two boys become close and both fall for a new student - Karen, whose caring family is light years away from either of theirs. It is Ray that she chooses; he is the love of her life although the three will always be friends along with Frank Krapinski, a devout Christian. An unlikely quartet but loyal to one another.
Their lives are dramatically altered when Ray comes to school even more battered than ever. Events spiral downward rapidly as Jon doesn’t hesitate to try to help the best friend he has in the world.
As unflinchingly real as the story is the ending is an unexpected sledgehammer blow. You’ll not forget Brewster.