cover image TOM AND HUCK DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE: Searching for the Lost American Childhood

TOM AND HUCK DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE: Searching for the Lost American Childhood

Ron Powers, . . St. Martin's, $25.95 (316pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26240-2

Powers, Pulitzer-winning columnist and coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers, weaves together three eras of Hannibal, Mo.'s history—Mark Twain's early 19th century, his own 1940s and '50s and the 1990s lives of two duos of teen killers—to explore the dark side of young manhood in America. The story that triggers it all is absurdly mindless—two teenaged boys casually kill a harmless old man they don't even know—and it cries out for explanation. Powers wanders Hannibal talking to family members and friends, looking for clues and meaning. He finds himself reliving his own grim boyhood with his abusive Fuller Brush–man father, which harks back to Pap Finn and Huck's subsequent escape, and then forward to an eerily Twainish teen killer. Powers's account starts sociologically (he examines what's wrong with teen culture today, citing dark imagery in advertising, entertainment and marketing) and ends up completely personally (with his brother's suicide and his longing for his father's love). The result is disturbingly powerful, mainly because there are no answers here. Yet Powers writes with such moving detail of his own father's craziness—his idiosyncrasies and violent tendencies that resulted in "casual" beatings—that this violence begins to say something about love, or what happens when love isn't. Powers's storytelling style keeps such good control over the pacing, readers will know they're not headed for a disappointment at the ending. 16-page photo insert not seen by PW. (Oct.)

Forecast:With a little media attention, this should do very well, especially in the wake of recent violent outbreaks in schools.