A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
A Twice Told Tale
Chris Tebbetts, Me, Myself, and Him. Delacorte Press, 2019
As the story opens, Chris Schweitzer takes a hit of whippets and passes out, falling face first onto a cement pavement and breaking his nose. (Note to the uninitiated: taking "a hit of whippets" means inhaling a lungful of nitrous oxide from a can of whipped cream.) His friend Wexler calls an ambulance, and, once Chris is in the ER, calls Chris's mother. Fully conscious by the time she comes, Chris tells her he just tripped and fell—a fiction that lasts until a waggish late-night reporter exposes his adventure in the morning paper: "Whipped Cream Not Up To Snuff." Thus ends the last-summer-before-college plans that Chris and his friends have been eagerly anticipating. Chris's mother calls his estranged father, who tells him he is either going to fly out to California and spend the summer working "under my rules," or pay his own bills at Birch College, the dream school that has accepted him. Unsurprisingly but angrily, Chris goes.
From here, the story splits into two parallel narratives. In Version 1, set in serif type, Chris goes to California and works for his dad (a famous theoretical physicist whose specialty is parallel universes). In Version 2, set in sans serif type, Chris has successfully lied to both parents and gets the spend the summer hanging out with Wexler and Anna, his two best friends. The two versions have in common only Chris's relationship with the brilliant father he hates for leaving him and his mother four years earlier. In the California story, Chris's father makes him do secretarial work connected with the physics research lab, in the company of Gina, apparently the first born again Christian Chris has encountered. Schweitzer also insists that Chris get drug counseling, and the counselor, realizing his problem is his father, not drugs, puts him into a group counseling session in which he meets Swift, his dream boyfriend—attractive, intelligent, amusing—and falls in love. Version 2, which roughly covers the summer Chris had planned on, deals with his gradually becoming a third wheel in what used to be a three-way friendship as Wexler and Anna become lovers. As Chris nurses the wound of losing his friends, he also finds that the restaurant's insurance company has found out about the whippets, with awkward results. Both Chrises go, perforce, to his father's wedding with Felicia, an understanding woman who attempts to make peace between father and son. Will their parallel universes merge?
The two stories play amusing (and different) games with parallel lives, and they include good conversations about the relationship of physics and religion, the nature of triangular friendships, and father-son relationships. The hero is eighteen, but his first-person narrative presents issues at a level for somebody perhaps sixteen. Perhaps part of his problem is that the family he has tried to lie to has "protected" him from the truth about his parents for four years, thus unwittingly extending his adolescent attitudes. Like other Young Adult books with gay heroes that have come out in the past few years, this one doesn't make an issue of Chris's orientation; even the father who is horrified by his one-time experimentation with whippets accepts his choice of lovers without surprise or condemnation. All in all, this a good read, though readers may be pardoned for feeling a little disappointed by the last thirty pages, which ignore a wonderful chance to draw the two versions of the story together, and choose instead to jump to a rushed happy ending.