Brewster: A Novel

( 18 )

Overview

A 2013 Booklist Editors’ Choice: Best Adult Books for Young Adults
A powerful story about an unforgettable friendship between two teenage boys and their hopes for escape from a dead-end town.
The year is 1968. The world is changing, and sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher is determined to change with it. Racked by guilt over his older brother’s childhood death and stuck in the dead-end town of Brewster, New York, he turns his rage into victories ...

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Brewster: A Novel

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Overview

A 2013 Booklist Editors’ Choice: Best Adult Books for Young Adults
A powerful story about an unforgettable friendship between two teenage boys and their hopes for escape from a dead-end town.
The year is 1968. The world is changing, and sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher is determined to change with it. Racked by guilt over his older brother’s childhood death and stuck in the dead-end town of Brewster, New York, he turns his rage into victories running track. Meanwhile, Ray Cappicciano, a rebel as gifted with his fists as Jon is with his feet, is trying to take care of his baby brother while staying out of the way of his abusive, ex-cop father. When Jon and Ray form a tight friendship, they find in each other everything they lack at home, but it’s not until Ray falls in love with beautiful, headstrong Karen Dorsey that the three friends begin to dream of breaking away from Brewster for good. Freedom, however, has its price. As forces beyond their control begin to bear down on them, Jon sets off on the race of his life—a race to redeem his past and save them all.
Mark Slouka's work has been called "relentlessly observant, miraculously expressive" (New York Times Book Review). Reverberating with compassion, heartache, and grace, Brewster is an unforgettable coming-of-age story from one of our most compelling novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

Colum McCann
“Reading Brewster is like entering the very heart of a Bruce Springsteen song—all grace, all depth, all sinew. Slouka—one of the great unsung writers of our time—has written a magnificent novel that woke my tired heart.”
Brian Hall
“If ecstasy was Nabokov’s keynote, Slouka’s is passion. I can think of no one else who writes with such brazen fervor, with so much heart poured into every line. He is the perfect writer for a Passion Play about youth: youth’s ardor, youth’s anguish, youth’s nakedness. Brewster is that novel, and it blazes.”
Jennifer Egan
“The dark undertow of Slouka’s prose makes Brewster instantly mesmerizing, a novel that whirls the reader into small-town, late 1960s America with mastery, originality, and heart.”
Bonnie Jo Campbell
“This beautifully written coming-of-age story sings with wisdom and heart. Slouka’s characters struggle to survive against a backdrop of remembered pain, routine violence and the threat of being drafted to Vietnam, fighting to retain a friendship that may just be able to save them.”
Karen Ann Cullotta - BookPage
“Despite delving bravely into despairingly dark subject matter, [Brewster] is still somehow infused with hope and light, achieving a sort of literary chiaroscuro.… Brewster could become the latest addition to the American canon of coming-of-age stories, enchanting readers with its soulful story of love, loss and the vagaries of the teenage heart.”
New York Times Book Review
“[I]ntense and elegiac novel… Slouka’s storytelling is sure and patient, deceptively steady and devastatingly agile.”
Adam Langer - Boston Globe
“Terrific…. [W]here Slouka distinguishes himself as an author of particular sensitivity and significance is in how accurately and memorably he is able to conjure up a particular mood that has no doubt been felt in every era, not just the late '60s and early '70s. There is a timeless sense of yearning here.”
John Barron - Chicago Tribune
“Evocative… gorgeously written… both spare and highly dramatic. Slouka has an exceptional ear for the way kids talk, an eye for the detail of a not-so-recent past …. In Brewster, Slouka creates a messy miniature. It's a tight, little world where …the subjects—human frailty, friendship, yearning, heart and love—don't make for easy poses. And you can't take your eyes from it.”
Peter Geye - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] novel of stark and brutal truths…[Brewster] culminates in a scene of such visceral power and narrative force that this reader was left breathless. But perhaps Slouka's greatest accomplishment is his ability to blend his own authorial voice with the dialogue of his characters. It's as if the conversations that pass between Jon and Ray and Karen - about music, their plans for the future, their love and devotion to each other—are the lyrics to Slouka's melody. And what a beautiful and redemptive song it is.”
Starred Review Booklist
“What Slouka also draws, with unerring accuracy, is the primacy of friendship and loyalty among teens who feel they are powerless. Slouka gives them a voice here, one filled with equal parts humor and pain.”
The Rumpus
“Brewster is subtly wrought and wholly moving, capturing with beautiful desperation the sense of personal insecurity overshadowed by an era of unwieldy international concerns.”
The Columbus Dispatch
“One to devour… fans of Richard Russo novels or Chad Herbach’s The Art of Fielding should love this novel.”
Ron Charles - Washington Post
“A masterpiece of winter sorrow… Slouka’s real triumph here is capturing the amber of grief, the way love and time have crystallized these memories into something just as gorgeous as it is devastating.”
The New York Times Book Review - Eleanor Henderson
…a powerfully nostalgic novel steeped in innocence and idleness…Slouka's storytelling is sure and patient, deceptively steady and devastatingly agile. Like Ray, the profoundly lovable hero, Brewster is full of secrets, and they are tragic ones: there is no sadder fate than being hated by someone who should love you. Yet the story manages to transcend its hopeless circumstances. All the tender feelings these kids' parents should feel for them are transferred to us. We love them. They are our children, and in loving them, they are saved, and so are we.
Publishers Weekly
A simmering rage coupled with world-weary angst grip the four teenagers growing up as friends in Slouka’s (Lost Lake) hardscrabble novel, set in the small blue-collar town of Brewster, N.Y., where the author grew up. Jon Mosher—once a scholarship-winning high school track star, now a wistful, glum adult—narrates the group’s tragic experiences during the winter of 1968. Feeling alienated from his community and his parents, German-Jewish émigrés Sam and Vera, Jon first befriends the “erratic” Ray Cappiciano, who always looks banged up, supposedly from semipro middleweight boxing matches in out-of-town venues like the Bronx. The third friend, Frank Krapinski, is a javelin thrower and devout Christian. Rounding out the quartet is attractive Karen Dorsey, who rejects Jon’s romantic interest to date the edgier Ray. Ray’s father, a disturbed, sadistic ex-cop and WWII vet who collects Nazi body parts, supplies an undercurrent of violence that haunts the four teenagers’ lives before boiling over at the surprising climax. Slouka’s laconic dialogue resonates with regional authenticity, his late-1960s pop culture references ring true, and the stripped-down prose style in his masterful coming-of-age novel recalls the likes of Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Aug.)
Booklist
“Slouka brings a Richard Russo–like compassion and his own powerfully stripped-down prose to this poignant coming-of-age story set in the small blue-collar town of Brewster, New York, in the year 1968…. What Slouka captures so well here is the burning desire of the four teens to leave their hardscrabble town behind and the restricted circumstances that seem to make tragedy an inevitable outcome. What Slouka also draws, with unerring accuracy, is the primacy of friendship and loyalty among teens who feel they are powerless. Slouka gives them a voice here, one filled with equal parts humor and pain.”
Christine Schutt
“Mark Slouka's masterful new novel is as tough as the town it is set in, that wintery Brewster where 'it felt like somebody twice as strong as you had their hand around your throat.' Brewster, the novel, seizes the reader in just the same way—art pitiless and powerful, unflinching, and authentic.”
Bonnie Joe Campbell
“This beautifully written coming-of-age story sings with wisdom and heart. Slouka’s characters struggle to survive against a backdrop of remembered pain, routine violence and the threat of being drafted to Vietnam, fighting to retain a friendship that may just be able to save them.”
Library Journal
The setup is familiar: bright Jewish track star Jon is befriended by long-coat, wrong-side-of-the-tracks loner Ray as they both fall for smart, empathetic beauty Karen, but she loves only one of them (guess which?). What separates Slouka's coming-of-age story from most others are dead-on characters, the small-town setting in downstate New York, and the 1968–71 time frame. Although the characters must struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings, they succeed despite themselves, and the sensory images (e.g., the smell of burning leaves, the chill of ice fishing) are truly evocative. There are puzzles, often but not always solved; for instance, Ray was believed to be into bare-knuckles-for-pay fighting, but the truth is something altogether different. The consequences for each character are both surprising and inevitable, and the numerous allusions (e.g., John Carlos, Buffalo Springfield, Marcuse, Wilfrid Owen, Let's Make a Deal, Curtis LeMay, Cool Hand Luke, Country Joe and the Fish) will resonate with many readers. In a back-of-book interview, Slouka (God's Fool) likens this novel to "an adult version of…The Outsiders." VERDICT He's not far off. For literary fiction fans who want to exchange a few hours for a valuable look back at the not-all-halcyon Sixties.—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Slouka's third novel, set mainly in 1968 in hardscrabble Brewster, N.Y., is a departure from his last, the dark and lyrical World War II book The Visible World (2007). Jon Mosher is 16, the son of Jewish émigrés who were remote and taciturn even before Jon's elder brother died suddenly in childhood. Guilt-stricken and alone, Jon befriends a similarly solitary boy named Ray Cappicciano. Ray, a brawler who often comes to school (or doesn't) in a battered and bloody state from what he says are semipro boxing matches out of town, lives with his father, a violently drunken ex-cop and ex-soldier with a grisly collection of war trophies, and Ray--the analogy to and symmetry with Jon's own situation as a sibling is made much of--bears the responsibility for his baby brother, whom he is able to farm out to relatives in New Jersey for a while. Jon takes up distance events in track as an outlet; both boys fall in love with a smart and beautiful girl named Karen, who opts for the rougher-edged, tougher yet more vulnerable Ray but who remains a close friend and confidante of Jon; Jon achieves success as a runner and meanwhile tries to ignore mounting clues about the nature of his friend's struggles. Against a persuasive backdrop (and soundtrack) of late-1960s America, we see the boys try--with, tragically, only partial success--to plot escape routes. Slouka writes affectingly about small-town life. He's especially good at conveying what it's like to live in a loveless, but not malign, household like Jon's. The book moves at a rapid and accelerating pace, and with ruthless precision, toward a surprising conclusion. But it takes shortcuts, indulging in a kind of sepia hokeyness at times and at others in a darkness that is too schematic and easy, that relies on a villainy that's not quite believable. Flawed, but unmistakably the work of an accomplished writer.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Mark Slouka's Brewster takes its name from the very real village of Brewster, New York, sixty miles north of Manhattan on the Saw Mill River Parkway, but it's an otherworldly novel all the same. That it unfolds in 1968, a year rocked by assassinations and the Vietnam War, contributes only superficially to its strangeness. It emanates from a more mythic American past than that, an Ur- childhood we find in Tobias Wolff and Mary Karr, in films like Breaking Away and Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club, in songs by Bruce Springsteen or the Hold Steady. Slouka's Brewster is a land of reservoirs and trestle bridges, bleachers and basements, broken families and an overpowering urge to take flight.

The Boss's "Born to Run" could well be the soundtrack to Brewster. Its narrator, one Jon Mosher, is the son of German-Jewish refugees. In a symbolic counterpoint to his parents' great escape, he joins his high school's track and field team and cultivates a hereditary talent for getting when the getting's good. Jon is a haunted man. Looming over his adolescence are a big brother who died of electrocution when Jon was young; Ray, a troubled classmate who badly needs to leave Brewster — and his alcoholic, abusive ex-cop father — in the dust; and Jon's mother. "I was glad I couldn't remember a time when she'd loved me," Jon says of the devastated woman who gave him life.

There are girls, naturally. Of one classmate, Jon says, "I'd be a liar if I said that Gina's nipples meant less to us than the Tet Offensive. We were sixteen." Jon sees his neighbor get hit by her father; his compassion earns him a free-love fling. In her father's eyes, she says, Martin Luther King "was just a nigger with a collar and an attitude, a Communist, a liar." It's a blunt but effective tableau of intergenerational conflict. The mysterious newcomer Karen takes an interest in Jon because he likes poetry, but her affections shift to Ray. Jon is too overawed by their passion for this to count as a love triangle: He worships their love.

"It should have been so easy to ridicule," Jon says, "another High School Romance, the delinquent and the debutante, darkness and light, the hair-trigger brawler bleeding in the mud and the girl who sees..."

Well, yes, Jon, it is so easy to ridicule. This is the only trouble with Brewster, that instead of owning its clichés it keeps anxiously apologizing for them. As in "The Body," the Stephen King novella from which Stand By Me was adapted, the consciousness of the Writer is everywhere in evidence. Jon muses on Hamlet and The Trial, then pulls back: "It sounds too neat, I know: Literature Teaches a Lesson. Still." Camus's Stranger is summarized in blue- collar-ese: "It was about this Algerian guy who kills some Arab for no real reason." When Ray prods Jon to read aloud a Wilfred Owen poem — guess which one — the reader wishes that any author, ever, could imagine another way to suggest sensitivity or intellect.

Still. Slouka's prose makes us grateful that he is a Writer, not a jean-jacketed Everyman who speaks in Springsteen lyrics. Brewster is beautiful at the sentence level. A coffee table is "covered with bottle rings like the Olympics gone crazy." Jon finds a birthday cake "spotted with dime-sized circles of wax like ringworm." Watching a neighbor in a snowstorm, he says, "The shovel would make a black stripe like a finger across a foggy window, then start to pale." Ray's passed-out father is discovered "lying on his back between the couch and the coffee table like a man in a coffin," and the reader sees a drunk and a vampire at the same time. Slouka's dialogue and his sportswriting are a marvel, too.

Slouka's way with language may be masterful, but he's a King at heart. In its latter half, Brewster is as much a multiplex- ready thriller as specimen of literary fiction. One could practically make a drinking game of the tropes borrowed from Stand By Me and other genre classics. Crusty junkyard type? Check. Kids singing the oldies? Check. A game of trestle-bridge chicken? World War II trophies? The A&P? Baby Boomer nostalgia? Parents who turn out to be capable of unspeakable, almost supernatural evil? Check.

Hell, there's even a hanged woman mistaken for a Halloween decoration and some cute animals dispatched like the rabbit in Fatal Attraction. It shouldn't work, at least not at so sophisticated a level, but it does. Brewster is a perfect summer novel, a beach read with both brains and balls. Behind all the canned imagery — fireworks, Halloween, ice fishing, track — lies a work of great psychological acuity and moral urgency. It's about living on borrowed time, a subject addressed over and over again — race times, the old Time Tunnel TV show, the time running out as our heroes plot their escape from Brewster. It's a theme that emerges with a sobriety and poignancy one doesn't expect to find in so lurid a story. If Slouka's moral is unsubtly stated, at least it feels inescapably true: "You run the race you run."

A writer living in southern Connecticut, Stefan Beck has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, and other publications. He also writes a food blog, The Poor Mouth, which can be found at www.stefanbeckonline.com/tpm/.

Reviewer: Stefan Beck

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393348835
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/5/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 120,057
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Slouka is the author of four previous works of fiction including Lost Lake, a New York Times Notable Book, and The Visible World, a finalist for the British Book Award. His 2011 essay collection, "Essays from the Nick of Time," was the winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Speilvogel Award. A contributing editor at Harper’s, Slouka’s work has also appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. He lives in Brewster, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

4 Star

(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2013

    I just finished BREWSTER by Mark Slouka. First time in my life -

    I just finished BREWSTER by Mark Slouka. First time in my life - ever - that I sat straight up while reading and gasped, "Oh my God!" I also cried - a first for a novel. It's so well written - I was getting up in the middle of the night to keep reading it. Truly loved it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    Heartbreaking But Not To Be Missed

    Brewster is a beautiful, heartbreaking coming-of-age novel about the friendship between two teenage boys, Jon and Ray, each enduring tragically difficult circumstances in their respective homes until they can escape. Whether they will, and whether Jon will realize the truth of Ray's situation, makes for a suspenseful narrative that unfolds at a deft pace in taut, graceful, and powerful prose. The reader knows he's hurtling to a painful finish, but he can't imagine what it will look like. Jon is a long-distance runner on the school track team and his running, his races, serve as an allegory for the other races the characters are running for their lives. The percolating and sometimes explosive anger and confusion of the late 1960s is perfectly evoked, as are the rhythms and cadence of the speech of teen boys, similarly angry and confused. Because it is primarily about male characters, and narrated by one as well, it is a book that would be appealing to male readers searching for good contemporary fiction. There isn't a single thing in this novel that rings false. Even though it *will* break the reader's heart, it's wonderful reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2013

    This is just too expensive for a 288 page novel!

    This is just too expensive for a 288 page novel!

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2013

    To: S.M.

    I agree with u

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    oe

    As

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    S. M.

    I believe this book is for sophisticated adults and i did not understand a thing going on which makes every one figure out i am only a fifteen year old teen. The book i have to admit has a very plot through so congratelations to the writter

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    -_- #2

    You have to not read this

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2013

    Good but not great

    I was very interested in this book because of the reviews...it wasn't as good as it should have been. Somehow I wanted a better ending.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Hey all u kids

    This is not a chat room go play side with your toys

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Five Stars!

    This book is amazing! It was written beautifully.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    For $15.00 you should not buy it

    I am upset that barnes and noble puts this kind of book on our nook.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2013

    "Only" $15.99

    Sh<_> it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2013

    Ey

    Kk luv u too ill txt u if i can but if nt ill watrill u get u ipod bac bi

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    theoliviaandaliciashow@gmail.com

    Add me

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2013

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