The passage of time allows every era in history to be viewed through a revisionist prism, and the 1970s are no exception. Recent media portrayals of the decade represent it as a time with only rock and disco music and the coming of age of American teens on its collective mind. Nothing could be further from the truth.
John Searles' compulsively readable debut novel, Boy Still Missing, is also about the coming of age of an American teen in the 1970s. But Searles, the book editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, has much more on his mind than a stroll down memory lane. Boy Still Missing is a story about choices: the ones people had to make, and the ones society didn't allow them to. The 1970s of this novel the era of the Vietnam War, the women's liberation movement and abortion rights protests is decidedly not nostalgic. Abortion, in fact, plays a pivotal, but not polemic, role in the novel.
Dominick Pindle is the 15-year-old only son of a dysfunctional family in the small town of Holedo, Massachusetts. His father drinks and is a chronic womanizer. His mother, when not nursing great anger toward her wayward husband, daydreams about better times spent in New Mexico with the half-brother Dominick has never met. Dominick's mother finally decides to exact revenge on his father in the only way she knows how. That act of vengeance coupled with Dominick's chance encounter and ensuing relationship with his father's pregnant mistress sets off a chain of events that profoundly changes the lives of all the novel's major characters.
Searles renders the characters and the rural New England setting with accuracy and affection. These are clearly people and places that he knows well and understands implicitly. His ability to make their plights and their choices both believable and heartbreaking is testament to this first-time author's extraordinary skills.
I won't reveal the startling conclusion, but suffice it to say that John Searles' debut is an unqualified success. The reader will leave Boy Still Missing disturbed by, and thoughtful about, the turbulent times in Dominick Pindle's life and in the life of our nation.
Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.