If the combo of February’s chill and the woke propaganda machine that is contemporary American fiction has got you down, order a copy of the breakout novel Last Summer Boys for a dose of authentic storytelling and adventurous boyhood.
The debut novel of Pentagon speechwriter Bill Rivers, the story is set in the sweltering summer of 1968–amid the political and social chaos that presaged our own–observing a young boy’s efforts to save his brother from the Vietnam draft and his family homestead from crooked local politicians. Hailed as “a rambunctious ballad to boyhood, duty, and family” by retired Marine General Jim Mattis, Last Summer Boys was an Amazon Kindle #1 bestseller in historical fiction–and proof Americans are hungry for poignant stories that explore society’s powerful need for family, faith, and virtuous masculinity.
In a review in The American Conservative, Andrew Cuff said something about the book that caught my eye: “Adult readers will find in Rivers’ story the fictional equivalent of Bryan Burroughs’ Days of Rage or Christopher Caldwell’s Age of Entitlement. He offers us the chance to relive America’s lost childhood in a decade—in a summer—of naïveté forced to grow up fast.”
There’s an unspoken underlying reality of the life in America. It’s the sentiment that underpinned and united Obama and Trump’s seemingly oppositional campaign slogans. “Change we can believe in” held no implicit reference nor reverence for some purer past in the way that “Make America Great Again” did, but it did imply cynicism where recent changes had been promised. Both implied some fundamental change was necessary, and both, at least on the surface, were utterly anti-ironic, embracing a sincere optimism that supporters of both camps found refreshing in a culture so thoroughly informed by Aaron Sorkin monologues and latenight snark.
Wherever I find the chance to read unassuming prose, and fiction that’s more honest than “facts,” I leap. Last Summer Boys is one such opportunity.