Good tale of hot summer in Cold War
Summary: Sex, violence and anti-communist hysteria in a 1958 Adirondack town makes for a good novel.
In the summer of 1958, 17-year-old Kevin Boyle is living in Hawk Cove, a small town in the southern Adirondacks that depends on summer visitors to survive. Kevin’s family rents cottages to those visitors to supplement his father’s public school teacher salary. In this summer between his 11th and 12th grades, Kevin helps his grumpy father with the chores and listens to him fret about money.
Kevin is No. 1 in his high school class, known in the town to be especially intelligent and mature. The local library reading group, all adults, asks him to join them to discuss books like John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. And Kevin plans to get out of Hawk Cove -?he has saved his money for college and his grades are likely to garner a scholarship to a prestigious university. His future is bright.
In addition to the library reading group, the local Catholic priest also sees potential in Kevin. He hires him to stuff envelopes with John Birch Society material because the priest is sure communists are taking over America, even small towns in the Adirondacks. Fr. Francis Xavier Donovan sees treachery everywhere, even in the library reading group. He’s heard the librarian reads Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (!) and asks Kevin to spy for him. He also asks Kevin to take off his shirt and do some sit-ups. Communism isn’t Fr. Donovan’s only obsession.
But Kevin Boyle isa 17 year old boy. He’s really not interested in reading heavy tomes by economists, or uncovering communistsintent on destroying America. He’s interested in girls and his fantasy becomes real when he meets Maxine, who is visiting for the summer. What Kevin lacks in experience he makes up for in desire, and after their wonderfully awkward and adolescent initial conversation, Kevin realizes he might be able to do what he’s been thinking about constantly: have sex with a girl.
At the same time, the traditional tension between the year-round residents of Hawk Cove and the wealthier seasonal tourists erupts at the annual baseball game between the two groups. The visitors, whose team has some college stars on it, hammers the locals in both the game and the brawl that ends it. It is this incident that leads to the other pivotal event in Boyle’s summer -?the death of a promising college student, perhaps at the hand of a local.
The title, “Sputnik Summer,” recalls an America reacting to the October 1957 Russian space success. It also suggests that even small Adirondack towns will beimpacted by the outside world in ways they cannot predict. When the townspeople gather at the lake to watch Sputnik pass overhead, they soon fall off the overcrowded dock into the water -?their footing is no longer secure.
Change comes not only to the town, but also to the individual. By summer’s end, Kevin has experienced sex and violence, and knows nothing will ever be the same. Maxine and his college savings are gone. A scholarship is available, but it will cost him. He better understands his father’s anger and depression. His eyes have been opened to an ugliness he had not seen before. He has, in a word, matured.
Paul Castellani has crafted a very fine coming-of-age novel. The conflicts are believable, the characters realistic. (Perhaps Kevin’s mother deserves more development – she’s a wonderful creation who sympathetically sees into her conflicted son.) Castellani captures a time and a culture, as well as a place in “Sputnik Summer.” His story is a good memory for older readers and a good window into the past for younger ones. It’s a good read for everyone.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.