If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel
|If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A coming of age story set in 1972 small town America full of longing, poignancy and a feeling that life – and the US – is on the verge of lost innocence. No worries about falling into literary cliché; on the contrary this is one of those 'I don't believe it's a debut' novels in an oh so good way!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: October 2014|
|Publisher: Tinder Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Katie and her friends in Elephant Beach, Long Island are going to make the most of summer 1972. High school is behind them, there's booze to be drunk and weed to be smoked. There's also a lot to contend with. This is a working class community, ignored and disenfranchised by those with the money and influence to help. Also the Vietnam War rages on, producing local heroes like Luke and Mitch. For some of the young people the future is a blank canvas, for others their future is foreseen or foreshortened. As for Katie's hopes and dreams, they all revolve around the hope of a date with Luke.
American writer Judy Chicurel has written for such august entities as The New York Times and has written plays performed in New York theatres. Indeed she's no stranger to a well-crafted tale but this is her first novel. How has she fared in this new discipline? Not badly at all, in fact this is a coming of age story that bowled me over, leaving me without adequate words to describe it. No, not a good position to be in in my line of work so I'll try to find a few and fast!
Judy's style is character led in a way that aficionados of Anne Tyler and Toni Jordan will recognise. Through episodic vignettes Katie introduces us to the lives and times of the late-teens who hang out at 'the Beach' and the adults who affect them. In a hypnotically absorbing first person narrative we learn about people like Ginger whose search for love leads her to settle for an unsatisfactory facsimile and Georgie who is desperate to be true to himself, no matter what the cost.
Of course the fictional Elephant Beach's story is also that of America, reflected particularly in the Vietnam vets Mitch and the hunky Luke. Both may have left something of themselves in Nam – Luke figuratively and Mitch literally - but their greatest is loss is their (and America's) innocence as the 'American Dream' seems so different from their experiences.
Indeed, there is a slow seepage of hope from the lives of some of Katie's friends but we don't want to look away. The exuberance and resilience of youth is mixed with a wistfulness that balances the tragedy, making a subject that in other hands could have turned into a dirge of disaster, into an engaging story into which we willingly submerge ourselves.
There has been criticism of the number of characters Judy puts in front of us but for me this wider cross section of the local population makes it more real and (again for me) each seems to be introduced in a way that avoids confusion. I guess in the end, as with all books, it's a case of whether it touches us enough to absorb us. In my case this was never an issue.
Judy is also clever in the way that she wields her words. This definitely isn't thrown together. As these people reach off the page to touch our hearts we will, at times, read a sentence that will stop us in our tracks when its full connotations hit. One of many examples is Katie telling us about the aftermath of an abortion (I won't say whose). It's related it in a way that makes the words flow with the lyricism of a liquid sadness, fitting the moment and reasserting the fact that this is a special novel.
Actually the entire novel is special doing for 1972 what American Graffiti did for the 1960s' small town USA. The themes dictate this is not a teen novel but a story of burgeoning adulthood for adults who relate. The satisfying thing is that the way it's written means many of us will.
(Thank you so much Tinder Press for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you love books that major on characters, we definitely recommend Nine Days by Toni Jordan. If you'd like to continue the small town American vibe, then we just as definitely recommend Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
You can read more book reviews or buy If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel at Amazon.com. If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel is in the Top Ten General Fiction Books of 2014.
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