Wednesday, November 23, 2011

American Boy

Larry Watson's new novel deals with a boy's coming of age in the 1960's. The story opens with a revelation by Matt that he has seen a woman's breasts when he was 17. Matthew is a teenager whose father has left and is being raised by his hardworking waitress mother. He has been welcomed into the Dunbar family as far on the opposite social side as could possibly be in their little Minnesota town.

Matthew and Johnny Dunbar are inseparable. Johnny's dad, the town doctor has taken an interest in Matthew as well, almost as a volunteer project. Dr. Dunbar invites the boys into his office to learn something of the medical practice in the hopes that they will develop an interest in medicine. The story starts with a shooting accident on Thanksgiving night. Dr. Dunbar has the patient, a young woman, brought to his office which is attached to his home. The woman, Louisa Lindhal, is living on the outskirts of the town with her boyfriend who has shot her. Johnny and Matt are invited by Dr. Dunbar to view the gunshot wound.

Louisa remains in the Dunbar home after her recovery as Mrs. Dunbar does not want her to have to return to her former living conditions. The boys are smitten. Matt especially fancies himself in love with Louisa. Louisa on the other hand has different plans. Manipulative and opportunistic, Louisa keeps the boys at bay while she works on her plans to improve her life. Matt feels she is leading them on.

As the story develops, Matt and Johnny appear to be in different stages of maturity. Louisa seems to be playing into this. They turn into rivals. Dr. Dunbar begins to have a different view of Matthew. And Matthew's life starts to take a different turn.

Watson is spare with his text, but they story is well written. A poignant story of a boy who thinks of himself as a man and his struggles to get there.

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