The first books of my 20 Books of Summer in 2020! I started it just before the kick off. It’s one of the random buys I choose when bulk shopping at AbeBooks, for used bargain books. A habit I missed for months now thanks to lockdown.
Our narrator is Marsha, she recalls the summer of 1972,when she was ten years old. A lot of things happened in her life that summer, which is surprising for a sleep Washington D.C. suburb. To begin with, her father leaves the family, doing a runner with her mother’s sister. This already fundamentally breaks the balance of Marsha’s home. At the same time the Watergate unfolds somewhere in the background, seemingly unnoticed, but still adding to the pervasive atmosphere of crisis. Finally Boyd, one of the neighborhood boys is brutally assaulted and murdered.
To top that off Marsha breaks a leg, so her movement that summer is limited, but her twin siblings leave to spend a good part of the summer at a friend’s house. Initally Marsha is happy that they’re gone, being always the butt of their jokes, but gradually loneliness seeps in. She cannot get her head around why her father left them. Why her mother now has to seek the house and work a stupid job selling magazine subscriptions ver the phone all day. Everythign is the same and yet everything feels wrong.
as new neighbor moves in all Marsha’s fears and apprehensions are embodied. Before she left the school for the summer they discussed Sherlock Holmes stories. And as boredom mixed with anxiety sets in for good in Marsha’s life she starts to write in her notebook a ‘book of evidence’ monitoring the movements in the neighborhood, to restore some level of control over reality. The police is still looking for a murderer.
Berne manages to build the tension as perceived and experienced by a ten year old. All of the events come together in Marsha’s mind, her father leaving, Watergate and Boyd’s murder, they all unsettle her world. The safety is gone from the calm suburb, instead we have neighborhood watch, gossips, and hostility to strangers. Nothihng has changed and yet the place she lived in all her life becomes unfamiliar. And in Marsha’s childish mind someone has to be to blame for this.
It’s not in the league with To Kill a Mockingbird, but nonetheless it is a book that draws you in with the narrators introspective and painfully honest voice. A good start to this year’s challenge.