The Essence of Nathan Biddle

J. William Lewis. Greenleaf, $27.95 (428p) ISBN 978-1-62634-846-2
In Lewis’s ambitious but uneven coming-of-age debut, a teenager casts about for meaning in 1950s Alabama. A year earlier, rising senior Kit Biddle’s cousin Nathan was murdered by Nathan’s reverend father as a “direct order” from God, and years before that his father died in an accident. As the summer draws to a close, Kit broods about his ex-girlfriend Anna, who just wants to be friends. His best friend, Eddie Lichtman, urges Kit to stop acting like a “tragic figure,” which has come to define his personality, along with the poetry he’s begun writing. Kit’s teacher Mr. Marcus takes an interest and they meet on weekends to talk about existentialism and go over his poems, but Kit tires of hearing he will have a promising future if he just applies himself. Meanwhile, newly voluptuous classmate Sarah decides to make a move on Kit, and he later feels conflicted about having gone “parking” with her, which leads in part to his taking a bizarre and disastrous joyride in a stolen truck. The book’s first half is strangely evocative, but the second half, consisting of a slow drip of details that explain how Kit ended up in a hospital and the consequences of Nathan’s death, is alternately opaque and repetitive. The precocious male character may resonate with readers who came of age in the period. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/07/2021
Release date: 06/01/2021
Genre: Fiction
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