Review by Adrina Palmer
The coming-of age-story story of Aaron Broussar is riddled with mobsters and trouble makers and a new love as he navigates his last years of high school during the 1950s.
According to James Lee Burke’s character Aaron Holland Broussard, the 1950s are inaccurately displayed in film. Burke sets the record straight with this coming-of-age love story, power combination and multifaceted characters. The novel takes several desultory directions as it tries to persuade readers to believe it is a love story. Aaron’s story attempts to be a love story but the connection between Aaron and his love interest are tenuous at best despite bought characters well rounded personalities. The 1950s jargon creates road blocks in the Texas landscape, as if an entire New York town moved to the state and had to continually remind themselves of the move by throwing in a few cowboy hats, boots, and a rodeo. The mob aspect feels pushed with the naiveté of Mr. Broussard’s inept lifestyle as well as his group of self-deprecating friends and family.
Settled in for a typical teen evening, Valerie Epstein and her boyfriend Grady Harrelson, grab a couple of milkshakes before ensuing in an argument. Aaron Holland Broussard shows up as an incompetent referee where he inadvertently gains a love interest and a slew of mob enemies. Grady, the son of a wealthy local family, has connections with the local mob and doesn’t take kindly to having a lowlife take his girl and seeks revenge. With persistence, Aaron launches a campaign to win the heart of Valerie who is all to willing to trade in her caustic boyfriend for a loose cannon. Saber, Aaron’s sidekick, is a wisecracking fool incapable of thinking before acting. Usually up to crazy antics meant to hide his hidden love desires, he constantly causes trouble with phallus minded tricks. Determined to complicate his life, Aaron rolls into Valerie’s side of town only to be roughed up by a group of boys led by Loren.
The end of Aaron’s junior year of high school is further complicated when a girl is murdered and Loren’s car is blown up. Well-laid evidence implicates Saber and Aaron, introducing into their lives, Detective Jenks, whose goal is to figure out if these naive boys antics include arson and murder. Meanwhile, Aaron seeks out advice of his slightly inebriated and very articulate father the most perceptive person in the novel. Mrs. Broussard lends an inferior genetic line to Aaron’s lineage which leads to his chronic mental blackouts. Despite the consistency of black holes in his memory, they fail to lead to the excitement they mount in their wake. Aaron’s inability to think before speaking or acting leads him and his equally brash sidekick to insurmountable trouble with the mob connections of Grady and his father.
The budding romance between Aaron and Valerie seems to be an afterthought in his life despite constant spurious attempts to display real emotion. Valerie’s father brings another man to fear into Aaron’s life. Mr. Epstein, a single father, is all too willing to admit to his ability to clear up unhappy situations plays the part of the ominous character which again leaves questions unanswered. Another obstacle in the boy’s life, is Mr. Krauser, a school teacher out to get the boys because of his pederast implications and connections to unwanted company. Soon, Aaron and Saber find themselves in trouble with the son of a mobster, Vick. Atlas in cahoots with Grady.
The story comes to a head when run ins with the wrong crowd sends the boys to a night in the slammer untying their friendship briefly as they try to work through their problems with new friends they find across their paths. Unable to cope with threats hanging over his head, Aaron confronts those desperate to ruin his life so he can move on to his senior year with all conflicts in the past.
Aaron is not a plausible hero or even a very likable character. His flawed personality leads to many asinine questions that should be left to a fifth grader, not a high school student. Not one character in the book is without a multitude of problems, hindering their ability to cooperate in society. The most engaging character is Saber as his character provides comic relief from the overly tense plot and chronic problems the protagonist consistently creates. Valerie is introduced as the most popular and envied girl in Houston yet not once do we see here with friends other than her boyfriend. Too many elements are off key or lead to dead ends to make this novel truly enjoyable. Aaron alternates between calling his father daddy and sir. His mother should be hospitalized but instead, her husband drinks to avoid the problem. The entire novel and every character mentions male anatomy, as if it’s an adjective instead of a body part, so regularly you almost expect to see a picture of one pop out between pages. Despite eloquent prose, author James Lee Burke spent more time creating characters and intertwining them than he did on the deficient plot with too many open ended questions he was unwilling to answer.
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