The northern state border of Indiana doesn’t nestle in the arms of Lake Michigan but kisses its bottom curve. And what a kiss it is. “High dune, grass covered, tree crowned” shoreline stretches for miles along the wave-torn lake and it is here that the story of Jerry Engels, adolescent, unfolds.
This coming-of-age story was first published by Simon & Schuster in 1980, but a few years ago it was revived by Other Press and now has just been re-released by Open Road Media in ebook format. Thomas Rogers died at age 79 in 2007.
It is 1950s Midwest. Jerry Engels is White, Protestant, and the son of a Standard Oil executive. His girlfriend, Rosalind, is an heiress and outclasses him a little. Since his early days Jerry enjoyed the company and caresses of his sister, his mother, and his classmates and always felt girls were more interesting and intriguing than boys. An unreflective young man, he has many friends, and his body and urges develop faster than his restraint.
I always felt there was a class of men who operated primarily on orders from their genitals and this book gives us a good example. The time, style, and world created here are reminiscent of John Updike—when White men ruled the world and their desires were the most important thing in it.
Rogers captures something fast in this novel, in both senses of the word. There is something edgy, forward, illicit in the dreams and actions of young Jerry, as well as something lasting and built into our culture: the unconscious privilege of a White man well born. I will not deny a certain impatience with the circuitous, faulty, and deafening logic of a young man ruled by his hormones. But it is as clear a picture of teenaged confusion and angst as we may find without the further complications wiser eyes may bring to a summer idyll. My parents would have said Jerry wasn’t busy enough.
Any joy I felt came from Rogers’ pitch-perfect description of the lake and its beauty, back when summer vacations were just that. Rogers is at his most eloquent when describing the Lake Michigan shoreline—the clarity of the water, the softness and heat of the sand, the nature of the waves, the intensity of the changing skies.
”Pale blue in the calm mornings, cloud darkened in the afternoons, wind roughened and white-capped during storms, the lake was always awaiting him…the sandbars below developed unexpected pockets…through the clear water…against the fine sand on the [sunlit] bottom…[where] only minnows and silver perch and a turtle [could be seen].This might just be the perfect summer read. Imagine discovering this on the shelves of some summer house cooling in the dark shade of fragrant pines. It might cause one to break out the watercolors.
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