Brewster - Mark Slouka

It’s really hard, I think, to write a book where it feels like almost nothing significant is happening and yet the reader does not want to stop turning to pages. 

Mark Slouka’s pulled that off with Brewster, a slow burning book about sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher growing up in late 60s upstate New York. Jon’s parents never got over the death of his brother twelve years earlier, which leaves him feeling very isolated and disconnected. He is recruited for the track team and becomes determined to prove himself. He is also befriended by Ray, whose main motivation in life is to get out of Brewster and away from his violent, alcoholic father.

This book is about a lot of ideas: loyalty, the bonds of friendship, the turbulence of the late 60s, feeling trapped in a place that doesn’t want you. On the surface, Jon and Ray don’t seem like natural friends but they forge a connection because each is burdened with difficult family lives – Jon reflects that he can’t remember a time when his mother loved him because she’s too busy grieving for her first son; Ray gets into street fights to account for the bruises his father leaves behind. As Jon becomes a stronger piece of his track team, he and Ray share the dream of running away from Brewster with their third friend Frank and Ray’s girlfriend Karen.

This book devastated me, and that’s mostly due to the fact that I just wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful as it was. There are times when his narration is full of dread, a foreboding use of foreshadowing and I found myself worried that it might be too heavy-handed, especially because a lot of what was happening on the page itself seemed to be almost mundane. It’s just two teenagers trying to get by as they’re counting down the days. 

But don’t let Slouka fool you – he’s gradually driving you into some very powerful territory. This book didn’t just make me cry the way that a love story with an unhappy ending makes me cry. This book left me emotionally raw, wishing that it wasn’t inappropriate to call up my therapist at 11 at night to discuss the feelings that a book had stirred up inside of me. 

This is a book that sneaks up on you, then grabs you by the ribs and refuses to let go. I haven’t even figured out how to write about it without sounding like a blubbering idiot, so it’s entirely possible that I’ll scrap this and write a new review in a few days once I can wrap my brain around things again.