This month, Bob reviews Summer of '42 by Herman Raucher.
Okay, this may be one of the all-time best beach reads for a beautiful summer’s day. That’s a given. But if you’re looking for something to cuddle up with, try Summer of ’42. It will make you laugh, make you cry and take you back to a day when the world wasn’t as complicated.
’42 will warm your heart.
It's a simple story—three adolescent boys in 1942 are stuck with their families on a New England beach for the summer. They’re too young to fight in the war and yet waging a horrible battle of their own against the Number 1 enemy of youth—-puberty!
Here's how Raucher introduces his characters:
"Oscy was tousle-haired and strong, not looking like a city kid at all."
"Benjie was something else. The youngest and scrawniest, owning the physique of a run-down John Caradine, he was more noticeably a child."
"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."
Following these three along the beaches and streets of the little vacation town will take us back to a day when we fought our way through adolescence, bringing back memories that may have softened over the years but hit us where we live and how we lived, making this Raucher novel a wonderful read, one loaded with references to WWII: the music, the movies, the actors, the products, the foods and radio shows.
As the novel opens, Raucher (we presume) returns as an adult to the beach where Hermie walked, played and then grew from a child to a man.
A lot happens in this novel and not much at all. The boys play, they fight, they avoid their families, they try desperately to have sex, and, in the end, one of them grows from a child to a man—one out of three—which ain’t bad for a summer’s work. They hide in a chicken coop and study a "How To Sex" manual Benjie found in the house his parents are renting, which proves to be his one meaningful contribution to this endless summer.
After Oscy refuses Hermie the use of the rubber his brother entrusted him with (which he refers to as a “family heirloom”) Hermie and a druggist spar over the buying of Hermie’s first prophylactic. Oscy studies Hermie’s mood swings and pronounces him insane on a daily basis all the while continuing his quest to get both of them laid. Benjie manages to stay underfoot, say stupid things and time everything the threesome do with that Ingersoll wristwatch of his—-from walking to the same dreary boring locations to eating double-dipped ice cream cones.
At one point, Hermie by chance meets the woman of his dreams coming out of the local grocery store, the one he’s been watching sunbathe on the beach.
"Then he saw her, and his stomach dropped from behind his belt and filled up his sneakers. She was radiant. It was the only word. Radiant. With her long legs and flowing hair and green eyes, soft and limpid green eyes, how in my dreams you haunt me—but look. She was in distress. She had more bundles than she could handle. It was the job for Super Hermie. For extra strength he bit into the last jelly doughnut and immediately felt all 129 pounds of him harden, really harden.
One of her bundles tottered and began to slip, but she somehow managed to ease it to the ground before it could break open. But then, when she bent down to get a proper grip on it, another bundle began to teeter. It was a losing fight, and finally, all the bundles slipped out of her arms, and she stood there all forlorn indeed.
Sadness in a pleated skirt. Helplessness in a gray cardigan."
Super Hermie took a deep breath, wiped the jelly from his mouth, and tossed the empty doughnut bag to the winds...But when he arrived at her side and opened his mouth to speak, he addressed her in so arch a manner as to sound immediately stupid even to himself:
“May I offer some assistance?”
And as he helps her carry her groceries to that little white cottage on the beach, a young man’s dream, smattered with nightmarish attempts at conversation, begins. With Oscy and Benjie hot on his heels in the coming weeks wondering if Hermie is going to lay her, he helps his friend Dorothy with her projects around the cottage—which is both thrilling and exasperating, as it isn’t easy for a 15-year-old love-sick boy to carry out mundane tasks with a tied tongue and an embarrassing erection he can’t seem to control.
The ending of that summer for Hermie, Dorothy and Raucher’s readers is both bitter and sweet -- far more than a wonderful Kodak snapped of a young boy’s WWII summer.
Summer of ‘42 is a love story, one for the ages.
Bob Cairns runs the site "Page Turners from the Past," a website devoted to bringing readers reviews of older books that deserve a good dusting off!
His reviews are featured once a month on WRAL.com.