Bookshots: 'Brewster' By Mark Slouka
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Mark Slouka, American novelist and critic. Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia University, Guggenheim Fellow, Harper's Magazine associate editor.
Plot in a Box:
Broken and abused best friends Jon and Ray navigate the doldrums of small-minded, small-town life in 1968.
Invent a new title for this book:
Read this if you liked:
Anything by Raymond Carver, and if you would like it minus the loneliness and booze.
Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King, or any other King story where he riffs on the North Eastern Soul.
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
Meet the book’s lead:
Jon Mosher is a hyper-intelligent teenager being raised in a small upstate New York town by Jewish parents who survived the holocaust. Needless to say, it’s a cheery household.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
I kind of hate this question. Thanks to Slouka’s stripped down prose, Jon could be anyone. So, I’m going to pilot a time machine to 2004 and bring back Mysterious Skin era Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play the role.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Oh, God, no. Brewster, NY isn't the kind of town you intentionally move to, it's somewhere you end up because of a job transfer or marriage.
What was your favorite sentence?
Kafka didn't save me. He just told me I was drowning. This life, this love—was meant for you. I am now going to shut it.
Which was something.
The coming of age novel is a tough nut, largely because it seems like every Baby Boom era American novelist has taken a crack at examining their adolescence to varying degree of success (or lack thereof) over the last 70 odd years. This is particularly true in regards to coming of age novels which take place in the late 1960's, where Americans shared such culture altering experiences as Vietnam and the tumultuous tail end of the Civil rights movement.
Although, with Brewster, Sloka moves past these historical benchmarks and integrates them into the storyline without making them heavy handed plot points. Of course, Sloka doesn't need these national tragedies in order to create drama or tension, he has the adult supporting cast of characters to do that with.
Jon's mother is utterly broken because of the accidental death of her oldest son, which for some reason she blames Jon for, although he was only 4-years-old at the time. The event has slowly unraveled her psyche, and by the time we meet her she has taken to locking herself in the dead boy's room and playing his records (The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round), clutching his toys, having conversations with him, and completely ignoring her husband and living son.
Jon's best friend Ray's father is our second source. A drunk ex-cop who's managed to drive away multiple wives with his abusive personality, he now takes his unfocussed rage out on Ray, who in turn solves virtually every conflict, no matter how minor, with his fists.
Now this may all sound a bit depressing, but Jon and Ray's lives are far from hopeless, and they find solace in their friendship, Jon's slow rise through the ranks of his high school track team, and Ray's loving relationship with the beautiful, strong willed, Karen Dorsey.
Those of you who require a hard charging plot in order to pick up a novel should probably steer clear of Brewster. The novel is very much a meditative character piece, and the type of novel where you'll find yourself returning to raw, stripped bare passages in previous chapters in order to re-experience them. To cut to the quick, Brewster is an American masterpiece along the same lines as John Knowles' A Separate Peace.
Brewster was my first time reading Mark Slouka, and thanks to this starkly poetic novel, it will not be the last.
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