cover image THE BOOK OF JOE


Jonathan Tropper, . . Delacorte, $19.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33741-0

After Joe Goffman's Bush Falls becomes a runaway bestseller, he never expects to go back to his small Connecticut hometown and face the outrage generated by the dark secrets his autobiographical novel reveals. But when his father suffers a life-threatening stroke, return the unhappy and unfulfilled Joe does, to meet head-on the antipathy waiting for him. Among the Bush Falls locals hellbent on revenge in this breezy sophomore effort by Tropper (Plan B ) are deputy sheriff Mouse and ex-con Sean Tallon, both former members of the high school basketball team, as well as the wife of the basketball coach, who dumps a milk shake on Joe the first day he is back in town. Joe also crosses paths with his resentful older brother, Brad; Lucy, the sexy mother of a high school friend; and Carly, the only woman he ever truly loved. At its best, the novel skillfully illustrates the tenderness and difficulties of first love and friendship, exploring the aftermath of Joe's high school relationships with Carly and pals Sammy and Wayne. Fans of Tom Perrotta's sarcastic humor will appreciate Tropper's evocation of both the allure and hypocrisy of smalltown American life, particularly in drug- and alcohol-fueled episodes involving Joe's 19-year-old nephew, Jared, and a grown-up, AIDS-infected Wayne. Frequent pop culture references, particularly to Bruce Springsteen, help move things along briskly and by novel's end, Joe has learned to appreciate the virtues of Bush Falls and realize he's not perfect himself. Despite its charms, however, this boy-who-won't-grow-up novel relies too heavily on canned lines ("she's taking measurements of my soul through her eyes") and easy melodrama. (Mar. 30)