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Posted January 3, 2011
It's sort of amazing when a book evokes something so precisely that it's outright funny, yet stunningly poignant all at once, but that was my experience with Merit Badges, and the way it portrayed a group of friends growing up in small town Minnesota. I ate this book up! It totally brought me back to a time when high schools had "plastic pod chairs in the concourse" and stoner kids got into fights set to the Allman Brothers.
The hills in this town "kneel like buffaloes" and the houses you walk past have "the kind of oil paintings you buy in drugstores and the glow of TVs." I found myself reading lines aloud to my husband every other page. At one point, Quint says: "The weather was like me, only more so. The weather needed some counseling. The weather had to think about the consequences of its actions."
The characters feel vivid and achingly true, sometimes in a touching and highly entertaining way (like the one guy who models himself on the dad from Leave it to Beaver). This tale of their aspirations, their loves, their disappointments is hugely compelling. The times I had to put this book down, I couldn't wait to get back to it.
I think people who enjoy the prose of Nick Hornby and Kazuo Ishiguro would really enjoy this book.
Actually, it's weird that I would read a book over - it's partly because at some points I got way too caught up in the drama and I know I missed the many fun gems. But more, I think, it's because Merit Badges left me with such a wonderful, thoughtful feeling about life. Like the best books do.
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