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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Summer of Crud is a new adult literary fiction novel written by Jonathan LaPoma. With college behind him and the not-too-exciting future of beginning a teaching career looming before him, Danny was more than ready for a road trip. It would be the road trip that evoked the mood and magic of Kerouac. They would head west, through the flat prairie lands of the central states, climb over the Rockies in Ian’s aging Camry and finally reach the Pacific, the land of dreams. Danny wasn’t really that surprised though when Ian called hours before their scheduled departure time and announced that he was outside and ready to go. He didn’t even really work that hard to override Ian’s mandate that Danny not take his tent, but he did insist on bringing his guitar. It was, after all, part of the odyssey that soon he’d be playing his music in somewhere sunnier where he’d be appreciated. Danny knew instinctively that Ian was bad for him, that Ian thrived on tormenting him, kept him around to humiliate, embarrass and feel superior to him. But still, even Ian couldn’t spoil this.
Danny follows the imperative to Go West that so many in their twenties, and beyond, eventually find the courage and vision to follow through on, but Danny seems to have so much to overcome. He’s from a home where a domestic abuser terrifies his mother, and by extension him, and his choice of traveling companion in the violent and abusive Ian continues the chain of abuse. His medical condition is as humiliating and shameful in his mind as it is painful, and is also something Ian is quick to point out to the people they come in contact with. As I set out on this flawed yet ultimately hopeful road trip, I couldn’t help but recall my first impressions of Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine with its mocking celebration of all that’s tawdry and soiled -- and hidden underneath the guise of gentility. We see past the golden sunlight to the street kids with their broken dreams, to the panhandling in the Haight and the ghost of Kurt Cobain haunting the streets of Seattle.
Danny’s odyssey, his metaphorical Summer of Love, is both marred and enhanced by the reality of his physical condition and that of the world. At once unworldly and preternaturally wise, he sees past the trappings into a reality that is not entirely unexpected considering his life up to that point. In Southern California, he’s briefly brought back to remembering better days as a child in a Florida, where palm trees and bright blue skies were similar to what he’s experiencing in the City of Angels. This brief passage says so much about this unexpected hero who, somehow, the reader can’t help but hope will survive all he’s experiencing, and that he might even find some modicum of happiness in his life. The Summer of Crud is most highly recommended.