Frenchtown Summer By Robert Cormier Delacorte Press 113 pp., $16.95
"You expect me to read an entire book of poetry?!"
Young readers may no longer scoff at that prospect when they discover Robert Cormier's powerful novel in free verse.
Cormier writes in his well-known tough and readable style, but the lyrical verse gives this story an unexpected degree of warmth and tender-ness. Rendered with sparse but vivid detail and full of subtle mystery, the memoir tells stories from a hot summer when the narrator, Eugene, was 12 years old. It was a time in the boy's life many can relate to: "when I knew my name / but did not know who I was."
Eugene gets his first glasses and rejoices in seeing clearly until a neighbor calls him "four-eyes." He falls in love with a nun who visits town to teach piano. He and his brother visit the grave of a young woman, murdered before Eugene was born, and ponder the mystery surrounding her death.
The mystery Eugene most wants to solve, though, is his father, a man whose habitual silence and inattention makes Eugene wonder if his father really loves him. Though he regrets his seeming invisibility, this allows Eugene to witness otherwise private events and to keep safe "all the secrets of Frenchtown," including a dark secret about a beloved uncle.
Readers will revel in mo-ments of joy and reconciliation, but may note a subtle yet disturbing suggestion: Besides love, dark secrets can also be shared without telling. Intrigue and ambivalence are more typical of Cormier's work than a happy ending, and, as with all good poetry, this haunting novel-length verse leaves the reader with much to ponder.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society