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Summer of Love

In Book Review, Writers on June 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm

The Hour Between by Sebastian Stuart (Alyson Books 2009)

In the academic year preceding the Summer of Love, a young man named Arthur who struggles with his sexuality, is thrown out of Collegiate, a private school in Manhattan. His distant parents deport him to a boarding school in Connecticut in the hope that he will make friends and do some work.

He is a skinny, thoughtful kid who’d just as soon leave the frantic pace of the city, if only to take a breath.

In 1973, I too, was all but ousted from a private school in Manhattan and sent off to a boarding school in Connecticut by a distant parent.  I  also was a skinny, overly sensitive kid who worried about being gay, the state of the world, and many other things that got in the way of a good time.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, I needed to take a breath from the city, too.

Once at the boarding school, Arthur meets Katrina, a fascinating but troubled daughter of a movie star who seems to know him better than he knows himself.

Katrina is a kind of 16 year-old Judy Garland — small, fragile, but also larger than life. Her eyes are huge and almost too expressive.  Her hair is short, jet-black and she pushes it back whenever she is nervous.  She is spookily intuitive and broadly knowledgable but she rarely reads and never studies.

All in all, Katrina is the kind of miraculous person you can meet when you’re a teenager because you still believe such a person exists.

In keeping with the ever-present upheaval of the time, the boarding school itself is undergoing turmoil as the faculty has split into two camps: the lenient, pro-creativity side vs. the traditional, bed-check side.

Was it David Olgilvy, the late, loquacious adman, who laid down the challenge that he could devise an ad that anyone in the world would stop and read? (If you find it was someone else, please write.)  When asked how he could do this, Olgilvy said something like, “If I put your name in the ad, you’ll stop to look at it.”

Well, yes, but you’d have to make almost 7 billion ads, one for every person on earth. But of course, that’s too literal.  I assume Olilvy’s point was to create an ad that could speak to you in such a personal way that you’d have to stop and read it.

For me, The Hour Between  is that kind of book.  It had my name on it.  Is its appeal universal enough for a larger audience?  I think so.  It is a coming of age book, full of interesting characters who illuminate a time when everything was changing.

Even when Sebastian Stuart’s characters are at their snottiest, elitist worst, their vulnerability saves them.  You care about what will happen to them and you mourn the ones you suspect won’t survive the cynicism and drugs that formed the dark side of the Age of Aquarius.

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