cover image Into the Great Wide Open

Into the Great Wide Open

Kevin Canty. Nan A. Talese, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47388-0

As he demonstrated in his praised short-story collection, A Stranger in This World, Canty has a gift for expressing the emotions of lonely, unmoored people. In this tensely controlled and keenly observed first novel, he evokes the bliss, uncertainty and pain of teenage love in an age of sexual freedom, drugs and parental irresponsibility. The protagonist, Kenny Kolodny, is a bright 17-year-old who smokes pot, neglects his schoolwork and strives to hide his bewilderment and vulnerability. Kenny's parents are divorced. His mother is in a mental institution; his father, with whom Kenny lives in a seedy apartment in Washington, D.C., is an abusive alcoholic. Forced to cope with his father's rages, and later to care for him after he has a stroke, Kenny knows he's been robbed of his childhood. What's worse, he can't imagine any future for himself. Kenny recognizes a similarly troubled soul in Junie Williamson, whose two suicide attempts reflect the kind of dysfunctional family life that can occur in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the affluent suburbs. Though Kenny knows he's considered socially inferior to the Williamsons, he also knows that Junie is ""damaged goods'' and thus perhaps not utterly unattainable. To his surprise, he feels genuine love for her, and she for him, and for a while they connect deeply. But their breakup is as inevitable as Kenny's persistent sense of failure. There is remarkable integrity in Canty's depiction of adolescents' secret erotic lives, and of their perceived lack of control that even sexual intimacy does not dispel. Though this is a somber story, there are no cheap effects or melodramatic developments. Canty never forces its heartbreaking truths, which he expresses with elegant restraint and unflinching honesty. First serial to D magazine; author tour. (Aug.)