This book, with its rather clunky title, is a coming-of-age story set in Elephant Beach, a small town on Long Island, New York in the early 1970s. This is the gritty, poor version of Long Island, not the moneyed wealth that exists there now.
The story doesn’t have a strong plot line but rather follows the teenage Katie and her friends through one summer near the end of their school years. It is another example of a collection of linked stories pulled together as a novel, which seem to be gaining popularity, particularly in the US at the moment.
There are a couple of young Vietnam war veterans, struggling with their demons, and the staples of the genre, including losing your virginity, teenage pregnancies, drug use and finding out what you want to do with your life.
But mainly this is the story of a small town, the characters that live there and the different groups of have’s and have nots. There are many lovely scenes, such as a very sad one where a local woman loses her job through no fault of her own and the slow but inevitable breaking away from the past and moving to Manhattan.
The strongest part of the story for me was the interaction between the young girls, the way they confided in each other but also how they could turn on each other too. The realisation that some of the girls have made choices that they are starting to regret was also painful and realistic.
But when the time comes, Katie finds it hard to leave because she doesn’t want to accept that she is not leaving something behind that she will keep coming back to find. I felt that Katie’s exploration of her adoption and what it meant to her was potentially the most interesting theme of the book but it felt under done to me. Her feelings of wanting to belong were related to this, but somehow not fully realised.
Reading a series of stories makes for a less compelling narrative, but the writing in this story is lovely and Chicurel completely immerses the reader in the life of a small town in the 1970s.