Book Review: Brewster

Brewster

A powerful story about an unforgettable friendship between two teenage boys and their hopes for escape from a dead-end town.

Thank you to W.W. Norton for sending Brewster our way. Thank you. I read it on a vacation week, which happened to be the first week of school.  The weather was perfect and allowed me to sit outside for much of the time spent reading this book all in the peace and quiet while the kiddies were off at school.  I even threw on the Classic Rock radio station and lost myself in Jon’s world, his 16th year in the summer of 1968. Brewster has been described as a “coming of age in the 60s & 70s” and includes wonderful hits of the music that shaped those eras. However, I would say Brewster is more of a coming in to adulthood more than “of age” as I consider that to me more of a young adult time frame.

The compilation of the blurbs on the back of the book say, Brewster, with it’s “stripped-down prose style” is “instantly mezmerizing”, and filled with “mastery, originality and heart.” Most certainly this is the truth. I was immediately drawn in and remained captivated right to the emotionally charged ending.

Jon Mosher is your central character and he is a deeply flawed social misfit. Sadly marked by an unhappy home, one where his parents, especially his mother, have been unable to overcome the grief of the accidental death of his older brother many years prior. Jon prefers to consistently fly under the radar and often sits alone. He is always aware of the commanding presence of the school’s bad boy, Ray Cappicciano. It is impossible to not be aware of Ray with his angry exterior, he is one tough nut that is impossible to crack and his multitude of bruises, fat lips and bandaged everything only fuels his tough guy image. Ray rides through school on the shoulders of these mythical stories of how he received those many cuts, bruises and broken noses. That Ray and Jon become fiercely close friends always comes as a shock to Jon.

“After the first few weeks I stopped flinching, stopped worrying I’d say something stupid that would show him who I was and not who he thought I was.”

It was here where I began to fall in love with Slouka’s story of Jon and Ray. I loved how he showed their unlikely friendship and the strong bond formed between Jon, Ray and their other friend Frank. It is exceptionally well drawn and powerfully shows Jon’s insecurities and how surprised he was by these friends, especially this enigmatic force that was Ray. I loved how he brought out each of their insecurities and showed the development of their self identities. Slouka also masterfully inserts Karen, a girl that both fall in love with, but one that Jon easily surrenders to Ray. Ray is more important and truly he needs this happiness more than Jon does, or feels he deserves.

Friendships are what greatly shape who we are, what we become. For Jon his friendship with Ray is so highly unlikely but at the same time is the perfect one for him. As their bond strengthens, Jon begins to arrive at some serious realizations about Ray’s home life and the exact nature of those fights and wounds.

Like Jon, my heart bled for Ray. It made me think and reminded me so very much of the family of four boys that lived in my childhood neighbourhood, one of them being my very best friend until we moved away before I turned 10-years-old. It’s funny how walking in to a home, complete with the big, nasty, snarling dog chained to the back fence and one where there are a multitude of holes blasted through doors, walls, floors. You don’t truly understand the casualness when it’s mentioned that the youngest has a bed-wetting problem when you enter his room that reeks of urine and fear and why such panic sets in when their old man comes home from work early and you have to escape through the bathroom window so you’re not found inside.

These memories, well these are things you don’t put together with understanding at that young age. This is something that doesn’t dawn on you until you’re much older. And then you cry for those boys and you wonder what ever became of them? What kind of men did they become? I found these to be the same emotions that gripped me while reading of Ray’s unfortunate home with an aggressively abusive father.

For Jon, the awakening and understanding is one he struggles with. He is struggling with his own issues and is not quite sure of how to be there or help Ray.  His teacher shifts his attention to running track. And it is on the track where Jon can control his environment, his emotions. About his running:

 “it carried me that fall, that winter. I could feel my body changing, altering, my stride extending. ..I didn’t think about how much it meant – or how little. I had this. If I had nothing else, I had this.”

For Ray and Jon, the desire to escape their small-and-dead-end-town increases their clear bond with each other and significant events create a frightening and life-altering change in their lives. This significant event changes everything between Ray and Jon, their futures and above all their friendship.

“It’s been years. I still hear his voice, talking to me out of the dark. It was as close to having a brother as I’ll ever get.”

Brewster is an emotionally charged read that is completely engrossing from beginning to end with many moments of “edge-of-your-seat” intensity. The story always unfolds at a deft pace and is done so with taut and powerful prose. I was left shredded at the end. Brewster definitely earned it’s five-star rating from me. I’m sure you will conclude the same after reading.

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