Bookshots: "Brewster" By Mark Slouka

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:

To cut to the quick, 'Brewster' is an American masterpiece along the same lines as John Knowles' 'A Separate Peace.'

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:

Running Uphill

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 Verdict:

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.

Get Brewster at Bookshop or Amazon

Keith Rawson

Review by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Patti Nase Abbott's picture
Patti Nase Abbott September 12, 2013 - 2:20pm

I know I will love this book. Thanks!

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. September 12, 2013 - 5:33pm

I think you and I picked the character-heavy, plot-light books for this month's reviews. That said, I'm interested in this...mainly because, again, here's my roots. Though my parents aren't Holocaust survivors (I'm a generation too late and third generation American to boot), I can't remember a time not knowing about the Holocaust, so I'm always curious about how it shapes people's experiences.

That makes me sound depressing. I'm not! I swear! I'm cheery and bubbly and sweet!! Darnit!

Ryan Peverly's picture
Ryan Peverly from Ohio is reading The AEgypt Cycle by John Crowley September 12, 2013 - 5:51pm

Great review, Keith. I knew nothing about the author or the book, and this was extremely helpful. Thanks, man!

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books September 12, 2013 - 7:02pm

To cut to the quick, Brewster is an American masterpiece along the same lines as John Knowles' A Separate Peace.

That is a bold statement there, Keith.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast September 13, 2013 - 2:05am

*Really* glad we picked this for BookShots, because part of the thrill of this for me is discovering fantastic new writers and books I would never have heard of otherwise.

What Ryan said - thanks for a great review Keith.


Brian McGackin's picture
Brian McGackin from NJ/LA is reading Between the World and Me September 13, 2013 - 2:43pm

I don't know. I'm kind of over the whole "hyper-intelligent teenager" thing. This sounds like 18 different novels I've already read pressed together to drip every possible bit of depressing out of it. Hmm.

Great review, though. It's extremely helpful when a reviewer isn't so extreme as to force you to love or hate a book ahead of time, but let's you make your own better-informed choices.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 8, 2013 - 11:03am

sounds very intriguing. i'll have to check it out. great review.