I can hardly wait to read the other books Mark Slouka has written to see if they are as gripping, sad and unforgettable as Brewster. Ostensibly, a novel about teenage friendship, Brewster is anything but a typical coming-of-age story. Plots develop side-by-side as they charge through the book like they’re racing. Just when you get caught up in the love triangle of Ray and Jon and Karen, you learn to be afraid of Ray’s father’s cruelty, fear for the safety of Ray’s little brother, and come to admire Karen’s unbelievably steadfast commitment. Jon is on the track team and training for a race, Ray is fighting his battles – both physical and emotional, Karen is lighting up the narrative with her love and her quiet beauty.
The little town of Brewster, New York is as much a character in the book as the people are. It’s alive with a haunting personality and verve; Slouka pulls his readers into town where they shiver in the bitter cold wearing thin jackets, smell the shit and mud that Ray pries off his boot soles with a stick, feel the autumn wind that sends dry leaves into spirals. The town is poor, the people resigned, and Ray and Jon hear the sleet against the window, “…dry, like sand, like somebody was trying to get [their] attention.”
The outside world is trying to get their attention, calling the three friends, but the town is holding them tight in its fist. The three of them plan to leave, they fight to leave, but the harder they fight, the tighter the grip, the more violent the narrative becomes, and the unexpected comes with breathtaking surprise and unspeakable butchery, although we should have known. We should have known.
Slouka writes with powerful ease, the dialogue is swift and authentic, and the descriptions are palpable. Brewster is a robust, intoxicating read. Ray and Jon and Karen, their families, and their friends will stay with you long after you put the book away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Slouka is the child of Czech immigrants, and draws on his personal experience and the inevitable intrusions of the past on the present. He is the author of the novel God’s Fool, named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the short story collection Lost Lake, a New York Times Notable Book in 1998, and the nonfiction work War of the Worlds. Three of his essays have been selected for inclusion in The Best American Essays, and his short story “The Woodcarvers Tale” won the National Magazine Award for fiction. He is a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and is the director for the writing program at the University of Chicago.