Brian Groh -- Summer People (Ecco)

This debut novel gives a glimpse into the most endearing type of mid-twenties male psyche -- the type that's slightly neurotic and slightly naive, distracted by sexual desire but trying to do the

 
Brian Groh — Summer People



This debut novel gives a glimpse into the most endearing type of mid-twenties male psyche — the type that's slightly neurotic and slightly naive, distracted by sexual desire but trying to do the right thing. Nathan Empson, a college dropout from Cleveland, scores a summer job in posh coastal Maine as the "caretaker" of Ellen Broderick, a once beautiful, now mentally unstable, matriarch. He imagines the job will allow him to relax, get over his ex-girlfriend and focus on his graphic novel, but things quickly grow complicated. Nathan not only entangles himself in small-town-snob drama, but also falls for the young "nanny next door," Leah. Luckily he finds a friend in the binge-drinking, former-Punk pastor Eldwin, who acts as his mentor. On late-night picnics and kayaking excursions, Leah quotes Chekhov and Eldwin quotes Aristotle, leading to dialogue on "processing the past or letting it haunt you" and "whether it's better to be noble or be happy." The summer-retreat setting prevents these discussions from sounding forced, and Groh tosses in plenty of "Have you ever had a threesome?" type topics to keep things funny and fast-paced. Summer People is spiked with surprises, so the story isn't completely dialogue driven. But believable banter is definitely one of Groh's strengths — whether it's between two smitten seventysomethings or a douche-bag jock and his skinny, sensitive foil. The accompanying inner monologue is also dead-on, especially when Nathan is scripting conversations with his crush and overanalyzing them once they're over. If Nathan started a club with characters from Chuck Klosterman and Nick Hornby books, they would probably drink liquor, listen to records, write imaginary letters to their ex-girlfriends and wonder why they feel like fuck-ups when they could be famous musicians, authors or artists. By avoiding the urban setting where these mopey men usually dwell and by stretching beyond stock characterization, Groh has accomplished a refreshing and nostalgic warm-weather read. (Sarah Laubacher) Grade: A

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