‘Brewster’ by Mark Slouka (2013) – 281 pages
‘Brewster’ is centered on a guy in high school growing up in the town of Brewster in New York during the late Sixties and 1970. The temptation and the downfall of many novels about the late Sixties is to overdo it, the hippies, Right On!, Make Love not War, Power to the People, Woodstock Nation, the Mansons, Flower Power. All have become stereotypes, clichés of a past time that is long gone. ‘Brewster’ pretty much avoids the cliché problem by concentrating on its dramatic high school story.
Sixteen year old Jon Mosher is somewhat of a lonely figure in his high school, eating lunch by himself most days. Then his World History teacher notices Jon and sees that he has just the right build, tall and thin, for long distance running on the high school track team. It turns out that Jon is well-suited for competition, and soon he is devoted to practicing and running races at which he excels. In track, Jon has found something he can believe in, and that makes all the difference. These are some of the best scenes in ‘Brewster’.
Jon’s parents are German-Jewish refugees from World War II who “slipped through the closing door with a suitcase apiece and started again”. When Jon was four, he lost a brother due to a household accident, and his mother continues to be distraught over this twelve years later.
“I think now they just broke. People break, just like anything else. They’d lost just about everything once, now they’d lost it again. And they broke. No more to it.
I’m not making any claim to anything. You read worse stories in the paper every day.”
At high school, Jon makes a close friend in Ray Cappicciano who is much different from himself. Ray is a rebel and a fighter who has family problems of his own. Soon Ray gets a girlfriend Karen and the three teenagers hang out together.
So in ‘Brewster’, we have scenes of track field drama juxtaposed with scenes of intense sometimes violent family drama. This is a novel of foreboding where the tension mounts as the story progresses. This is neither a humorous novel nor an intellectual novel. It is about some high school kids growing up and finding out some more about what life is like. The background music is of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Credence Clearwater Revival and Jimi Hendrix, and these high school boys know that their future is probably either college or Vietnam.
Mark Slouka is a very sure storyteller, and ‘Brewster’ held my interest throughout. I became heavily involved in these young people’s lives and kept reading to find out what will happen next.