The Keeper of the Ferris Wheel

Jack McBride White, Author
Jack McBride White, Author Dutton Books $21.5 (272p) ISBN 978-1-55611-453-3
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In this coming-of-age debut novel White conveys well both the collective angst of a small seaside New Jersey town called Deadwhale and the individual misgivings of its residents as they struggle in 1968 with the ramifications of the Vietnam War. Protagonist Itchy Shovlin is a post-adolescent academic wunderkind who's marking time until a college scholarship allows him to escape his blue-collar family. They are a dysfunctional crew consisting of a father who works in the local arms-manufacturing plant, a mother and a brother who wants to join the Marines to avenge the death of a third sibling killed in Vietnam. Itchy's rite of passage is his involvement with 30-year-old Robin Debussy, a beautiful, emotionally damaged radical whose primary mission is to close down the arms factory. The affair draws Itchy into a small-town soap opera that includes Robin's history with the town's two previous mayors; the equally turbulent past of Itchy's other romantic interest, another older woman named Suzanne Waters; and the sudden disappearance of Suzanne's brother Joe, a wounded vet whose perspective on the war haunts the town's factionalized citizens. White deftly juggles several story lines as he brings his plot to a boil during a march on the factory organized by Robin. Itchy's first-person narration is heartfelt and authentic, and his take on other characters rings true. Several scenes reflect a propensity for melodrama, but, overall, White seems a promising storyteller who can handle complex subjects with aplomb. (June)
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