Summer of '42

Summer of '42

by Herman Raucher
Summer of '42

Summer of '42

by Herman Raucher

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Overview

“A chronicle of one summer in a boy’s coming of age”—the international bestselling classic that became the basis for the Oscar-winning film (Medium).
 
Captivating and evocative, Herman Raucher’s semi-autobiographical tale has been made into a record-breaking Academy Award-winning hit movie, adapted for the stage, and enchanted readers for generations.

In the summer of 1942, Hermie is fifteen. He is wildly obsessed with sex, and passionately in love with an “older woman” of twenty-two, whose husband is overseas and at war. Ambling through Nantucket Island with his friends, Hermie’s indelible narration chronicles his frantic efforts to become a man, especially one worthy of the lovely Dorothy, as well as his glorious and heartbreaking initiation into sex.
 
“Mr. Raucher scores most tellingly. His recall of nervous teen-age gaucheries is dead accurate, hilarious, tinged with sadness.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“A charming and tender novel . . . The overall effect is one of high hilarity. Raucher is a comic-artist who is able to convey the fears and joys . . . of the boy and at the same time give older readers a wrench in the heart. ”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626818064
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 04/30/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 251
Sales rank: 372,283
File size: 1 MB

Read an Excerpt

1


He had always intended to come back, to see the island again. But the opportunity had never quite presented itself. This time, however, with a break in his schedule and with events moving remarkably in his favor, he had driven far up the New England coast to see if the magic still prevailed. Aboard the old ferry his Mercedes convertible earned the icy nonchalance of a half dozen craggy islanders, for very few new cars ever make that crossing. Cars that come to Packett Island are usually well into the varicose stage of their lives, and as such, they are by time and temperament unconcerned with a return trip to the mainland. "Cars come to this fuckin' island to die." Oscy had said that. Oscy, the big deal philosopher. And it was as true in 1970 as it had been in 1942.

He studied the faces around him, each turned to the wind, taking the breeze full face. It was apparent that none aboard remembered him. But then, he was barely fifteen the last time he forked over the twenty-five-cent fare. And in the intervening years much had changed, including the twenty-five cents, which was now a dollar, and himself, which was now forty-two. How, then, could anyone remember him? The nerve.

The Mercedes moved with disinterest along what purported to be the Packett Island Coastway, for the speed limit was thirty, hardly a challenge for an exhumed La-Salle, let alone a hot Mercedes-Benz. To his left were the familiar dunes, sulking in the grass, incongruously scattered with the uncatalogued refuse and bleached timber that the sea could toss so casually across the road whenever it felt so disposed. And to his right, the sea itself, choppy and gray-green. And large. Very large indeed. One of the largest in the world.

The luxurious car turned the bumps into cotton as he looked through the broad windshield at the odd glaze ahead. It was midmorning, but the sun hadn't been informed, and the fickle mist could be counted on to fritter about for a time or two before giving way to what, in those parts, was referred to as day. Visibility was confined to a struggling halo of brightness that extended no more than fifty yards in every direction. Yet the sea winds were already pushing in, and the mist was grudgingly giving ground, retreating inland in spiteful little gushes. He could see the fog move, herding its lumpy shadow before it, and the heavy-hanging gray curtain showed small signs of perhaps lifting to blue. A silhouette appeared, crouched on a high dune a short distance up the sea side of the road. A house, cedar-shingled and indomitable. A house far off, yet so well-remembered that he could recreate it in his mind nail by nail. Dorothy. I love you, Dorothy.

He stopped the car and stepped out, listening to the affluent sound of a Mercedes slamming its door. He looked down at his Gucci loafers, forty-five dollars. He had come a long way, none of it easy, but all of it worth it. He headed toward the beach-side dunes, leaving the road to walk along the high-rising crests. When his Guccis filled with sand, he removed them, plus the corresponding socks, which he then stuffed into their respective shoes. He had done that before around there, a long time ago. He sank his feet into the good sand, and his toes flexed like cat's paws. He took off his navy blazer and slung it over his shoulder, and in this manner did he walk ahead toward the house on the horizon - and back toward the last painful days of his once-glorious innocence.

The air proceeded to take upon itself a momentary snap of autumn, disregarding all that was August, and the ocean rolled around in oil-painted chunks like seascapes in Boston museums. He had come down to beach level, walking on the hard mud where the surf came up as far as the sandpipers that blithered ahead of it, announcing it. And only a gull or two dared venture the optimism that the sun, still probing for an opening, would soon shove its way through the grim overcast.

The house on the dune was now up and to his left, sitting atop the same twelve pilings, guarded by the same fourteen wooden steps he had once descended in such absurd confusion. And the low and sagging lattice fence still stood benignly impotent, a balsa barrier against the tolerant sea, a magnificent example of man-made self-delusion. And whether the music was actually there or whether it was simply tumbling from his memory drum - it didn't matter. Because he could hear it. Soft and sad and reminiscent and torchy and sentimental and sacred.

I saw you last night
And got that old feeling. . . .

And then the voices, calling from almost thirty years away, rising on the wind and cutting through the fog. Boys' voices, imperative, anxious, buzzing the sand, then ending in the squawk of a seabird.

Hey, Hermie . . .
Come on, Hermie, for Chrissakes. . . .


Up ahead on the beach three young boys dashed out of the fog and furtively clambered up the dune to the overhanging house. They advanced as though carrying out a complicated military maneuver, the first man giving a hand signal, the other two following in crisp sequence, plopping alongside their leader, prone bellies to the sand. And whatever they were looking at beyond the boweled rim of the dune, it was not visible to the man who watched from the beach.

The man stood still, looking again at the weather-beaten house, only the roof of which could he see from his vantage point. And he didn't hear the sandpipers squeaking their preamble to the sneaky tide, nor did he really become aware that the sea was up over his ankles, splashing his trousers to the knees. He just stood there, wanting so badly to be a part of the three boys, as he once had been, how many sweet songs ago. . . .

Boy, oh, boy, Hermie . . .
Knock it off, Oscy . . .
Hermie, will you quit staring. . . .


When he was fifteen and his family came to Packett Island for the summer, there weren't nearly as many people or houses. The geography of the island and the singularity of the sea were far more noticeable then. And if a guy wasn't to die of loneliness, his family made certain that other families from his neighborhood contributed other kids to the island. Present with him in the summer of 1942 were his best friend, Oscy, and a close friend but not yet qualified for the "best" designation, Benjie.

Oscy was tousle-haired and strong, not looking like a city kid at all, but more as if he had run away from Iowa country. He featured an indelible smile. Only on rare occasion did it not appear. In pain, sorrow, anguish, despair - the smile was Oscy's flag, and he was never known to strike his colors. He was a month older than Hermie, and he wielded those thirty-one days as a weapon of superiority and supremacy. Oscy carried with him an air of mischief, an unassailable warmth, and a private kind of boyish manliness that presaged a confident and rugged man. Oscy was something.

Benjie was something else. The youngest and scrawniest, owning the physique of a run-down John Carradine, he was more noticeably a child. He obeyed Oscy's directives because he was nobody's fool. And he wore an Ingersoll wristwatch that was more important to him than his penis, which, if you must know, he had yet to discover the true use of.

Hermie was fifteen with unruly sand-colored hair and a couple of teeth that leaned on each other right smack in the front of his face. Bigger than Benjie, he was still no match for Oscy, which was why he so deftly convinced himself that it didn't matter who the leader was. At that moment in history Hermie was painfully astride the barbed-wire fence that separated boyhood from manhood. Which way he was to fall might have been screamingly obvious to a psychologist, but to Hermie the issue was very much in doubt. And he would lie awake nights worrying about the responsibilities of approaching age, like lumbago and arthritis, and how to drive a car, and how to put a razor to his cheek, and sinuses and migraines, and should his mother continue to buy his underwear, and when would the pimples come, and how in the world would he be able to screw and when and with whom, and would the police break in. Hermie was a worrier and a sufferer. There never was a greater worrying sufferer. It was beautiful.

They called themselves the Terrible Trio but for no real reason known to man, mostly to just bolster their own egos, to sort of establish themselves on the planet. And they lay there on the dune over which the old house stood. Beau, John, and Digby Geste, Devils of the Desert, steel in their hearts and sand in their Jockey shorts.

The house? The house was her house. And nothing, from the first moment Hermie saw her, and no one who had happened to him since had ever been as frightening and as confusing or could have done more to make him feel more sure, more insecure, more important, and less significant.

The three boys lay there, pained and paralyzed, listening to the hollow sound of an ax chopping hard at a resisting log. Below their view, in the big bowl of sand between the huge wooden pylons that supported the house, a man's figure was wielding the ax in an exaggerated, incredibly powerful arc, up over his back like Abe Lincoln, then screaming through the air like Zeus. The log below split cleanly in perfect halves, and another soon suffered a similar fate. And another, and another. The boys didn't move and barely breathed. They squinted over the lip of the sand and listened for the crack of God. Somehow it was all of vital interest. That man, that sound, that ax.

Again and again the powerful man sent the big logs to their doom, splitting them asunder, cracking them into oblivion like walnuts. The light changed enough for the man to become more visible. His figure was unbelievably well developed, his muscular definition rivaling that of a Bernini statue. He had the grace of Mercury and the strength of Superman, and the pipe in his mouth marked him as pure English nobility.

Hermie's heart caromed against his rib cage like an imprisoned sparrow when the woman slid out of the deep gray and curled her fair arms about the man. She was slender, yet shapely and with dark hair that splayed gently about her shoulders. Every movement of hers was sensual and fluid. Small wonder the man laid aside the ax. He pulled her to him in a kiss so perfect that it could not be improved upon. And the three boys watched, somehow sensing that what they saw was of vital importance, something they would someday be involved in, a hint of their future, a prelude of things to come. They eavesdropped with respect and fear and awe. And seeing the woman kissing and clinging as she was did not make things any easier for life within the cramped quarters of Hermie's sand-filled Jockey shorts. He squirmed in silent pain, and his companions did likewise. They were paying the price of their random voyeurism, and they were being overcharged.

The kiss ended, and not a moment too soon for the gasping boys. The woman slid out of the embrace and then proceeded to load the logs into the man's arms. It was as though he could carry a mountain. One by one she piled on the logs. Building blocks for Solomon's Temple. Stones for the Pyramids. Then the lovers disappeared into the folds of the mist, and somewhere beyond, a door opened and closed, and for the first time, the boys became aware of the agitated state they were all three citizens of.

Because Oscy was the leader, he felt obliged to make some sort of verbal observation, which he did with his usual smiling countenance. "He's gonna take her right into the bedroom."

"He'd better put the wood down first." That was Benjie's pragmatic codicil. He loved to say things that were indisputable, like "Today is Thursday," "The President of our country is Roosevelt," "It is exactly two P.M." Anything that Benjie ever said that was the slightest bit debatable usually earned for him an admonition and a shove from Oscy. That's the way it was. That was the tradition.

Oscy allowed himself to slide down the dune a few feet toward the beach. Then he stood and turned and walked the rest of the steep incline, which was impossible. It was even more impossible for Benjie, who was so gangly that he had no center of gravity. And so he did what he always did when descending dunes - he fell and rolled and came to a stop against Oscy's feet, which then kicked even more sand on him. "Fuck you, Oscy." It was all right for Benjie to address Oscy in so disrespectful a manner once punishment had been inflicted. But to speak in such a manner before or without provocation - that would have earned him for his troubles instant death.

Oscy rested one foot on Benjie's chest as if he were claiming it for Spain, and he called up to Hermie, who as yet had not budged. "Hey, Hermie, will you move your ass? Please?"

It was difficult not to hear Oscy's voice, for it fell on the human ear like a naval salvo. Hermie slid down the dune as Oscy had done. And when he came to the bottom, he also kicked sand on Benjie since it seemed the thing to do and Hermie was basically a conformist. "Fuck you, Hermie." That came from below, from Benjie who had not yet gotten to his feet. He could say that to Hermie just about any time he pleased because Hermie was not a hitter, he was an ignorer.

Within moments the three boys were running along the beach in a movement that could only be described as "making a braid." They flew at one another with measureless velocity, appearing out of the mist and striking whoever happened to be in the middle at the time. The angles of contact became deadlier and deadlier until Hermie, who valued his life, broke off from the pack like Patty, leaving Maxine and La Verne to carry the melody by themselves. Hermie took one long last look at the house on the dune, studying it, wondering about it. Then he went home a secret way so as to throw off his friends, whom he suddenly no longer cared to be with.

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