American Boy
A Novel
Larry Watson
It is one of those mid-western grow-up stories. Matthew Garth --- dead father, waitress mother --- living in back country Minnesota: fishing, hunting, young love, etc etc, and his great pal Johnny. Johnny's father is a doctor, lives with wife and the three children in old Victorian house there in Willow Falls, Minn. Matt becomes part of the family, eats with them, sleeps over, does all the 16-year-old things with Johnny. Until Louisa appears on the scene.

Her lover Lester has just plugged her in the breadbasket. Seems he was miffed because she wouldn't make Thanksgiving dinner. Lester goes to jail and hangs himself, safely getting him out of the plotline of American Boy. Anyone who waxes wroth over missing a Thanksgiving dinner deserves no less.

Dr. Dunbar operates on Louisa, saves her life, and since she hasn't got a home (or a life) anywhere else, she moves into the Dunbar mansion. Despite the ten-year gap in their ages, Matt falls in love. As does, apparently, Dr. Dunbar. And interesting triangle. Or is it a quadrangle? Because son Johnny is there somewhere near the middle of this pile, too.

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I'd call this a 3 A. M. novel. That is, you can pick it up in the early hours when that old bugaboo insomnia comes a-callin'. I did. It's what they call "an easy read," a no-Existential drama that might further ruin your sleep. And not enough blood and gore to scare the bejesus out of you before the dawning.

Just Matt scheming to make love to Louisa, not knowing the good doctor --- his surrogate father --- is hot on her trail as well. An easy neo-Oedipal read to put you back in dreamville; a typical mid-american lust-vs.-family drama out of the prairie country to ease your weary mind.

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The pre-Louisa life is ideal. Matt and Johnny like stealing cigarettes and beer and driving fast in the car, trying to wow the girls. But when she comes along, they take her off to a deserted clubhouse, and she shows them how to mix Regal House Red sweet wine and beer in the can before slugging it down. Ugh! We would have encouraged Lester to plug her at least three more times in the breadbasket for that travesty alone.

The denouement comes in the big snowstorm. One of the town leaders has a stroke, has to be hauled over to the hospital in the next town over. The doctor and Louisa drive him there, but Mrs. Dunbar suspects something perfervid between the two of them and demands that the boys go over to Bellamy Hospital to see why it's taking Dunbar so long to come home.

And what do they find? His big black car parked in front of the Wagon Wheel Motel in the next town over. Johnny pulls his car in alongside his father's Imperial and blows the horn. Surprise, doctor! Your wife's waiting for you at home with the twins and your son and his best friend are here at the motel to see you entwined with Louisa of the doubtful reputation (word has gone around the small town that she gives head on command). (Howcum stuff like that never happened in my home town?)

As I have said, this is the perfect early morning put-you-to-sleep novel. Some of the drunken dialogue doesn't add much to the plot and the brief picture of Louisa leaves her a little sketchy. But Matt's attempt to seduce her redeems her ... and the book. These kids!

Louisa comments on how inept he is but more ... how useless it is for a juvenile to be wooing a no-longer-young lady who's on the prowl. Turns out she's a regular tiger: "I don't need you. You think you and I have something in common, but when I look at you, I just see another guy who wants to tear off a chunk of me. And you know what? I don't really need any more of your kind in my life. I don't mind putting out, but from now on I want it to be with someone who can do me some good." Take that, you ambitious little squirt.

But this kid is hell-bent on revenge. And his revenge? Saving the perfect 50's family who gave him a life; only to find out that it was quite imperfect. How he does it I'll leave to you, in your own narcoleptic trance.

--- Pamela Wylie
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