Disaffected youth don't come much more disadvantaged than 18-year-old Cuzzy Gage. He's living out of a sleeping bag on a town beach, in a depressed Adirondack backwater called Poverty. He has been relying on the kindness of relatives since the age of 12, when his mother died, shortly after his father, a road crew worker and Baptist lay preacher, tried to become "at one with the blacktop" and was duly institutionalized. Into Cuzzy's literally hand-to-mouth existence comes a stranger borne on a silver Porsche. In town to organize the papers of his dearest friend, a local scion who recently died, Tracy Edwards offers Cuzzy, in quick order, a ride, a job, a home and a life enriched with music, poetry and unlimited horizons. Though it takes some doing, eventually Cuzzy is able to cast off his almost feral distrust. Just as he begins to form a bond with his benefactor, his past catches up with him, in a fast-paced and horrific finale.

With startling authenticity and even beauty, Halpern has stripped the narrative down to a hard, tight core encompassing the compelling questions of human existence: why we're here, how we're meant to treat one another, and, in the words of Cuzzy's father, "Why is everyday life so goddamned hard?" Halpern finds living proof in the person of this confused, inchoate boy, a preordained "loser" that the struggle matters, on whatever level it's carried out. Sandy MacDonald is a writer in Massachusetts.

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