AUTHOR: Paul Castellani
PUBLISHED BY: Pyramid/North Country (310 pages)
HOW MUCH: $19.95
“Sputnik Summer” reminds its readers that being a teenager and being the parents of a teenager is a complicated business.
This is the first novel by Paul Castellani, a Capital Region resident who spent childhood summers in the Adirondacks. It chronicles the experiences of 17-year-old Kevin Boyle and his parents in the fictional Adirondack village of Hawk’s Cove during the summer of 1958.
Kevin, a high school junior, is trying to determine what colleges to apply to and what kind of adult life to live. His parents operate a small summer resort called Iroquois Lodge; his father is a high school teacher the rest of the year.
What is fascinating about this book is the way that Castellani deals with the idea of change. The book’s headliner change is the Soviet satellite Sputnik and the way that life changes for teenagers. Kevin’s family’s experience with the resort suggests how the Adirondack economy is going to change. Over the course of the novel, Kevin’s father, Thomas, struggles with running the resort as people cancel their stays. This captures how the postwar Adirondack resort economy changed as people became more mobile and less likely to return to the same place for a vacation each year.
Castellani gives Kevin many challenges. Kevin and his friend Buck want to get accepted by the village’s cool crowd. They visit the Rock, a lakeside hangout and talk their way in, likely because Buck’s older brother Duke runs with the crowd.
Kevin has a short, steamy and passionate affair with Maxine, a young woman whose parents have sent her to live with relatives in Hawk’s Cove. Maxine has a wild streak; her parents hope living with relatives in Hawk’s Cove will settle her down.
The village has tensions between town residents and the out-of-towners who have summer homes. Father Donovan, a new priest, is eager to ferret out Communists. He is also a pedophile and is giving Kevin unwanted attention.
But Kevin’s biggest challenge is something he accidentally walks into — a brawl between year-rounders and tourists.
A group of out-of-towners attacks the locals hanging out at the Rock. Kevin hides, but hears and sees some of the fight between Duke and Skip, the son of well-to-do parents who summer in Hawk’s Cove.
During the fight, Skip falls and is killed when he hits the rocks below. The police and coroner try to determine if Skip slipped and fell, as Duke asserts, or if Duke pushed him, as the out-of-towners assert.
When it emerges that Kevin is a possible witness, both sides pressure him to testify. Kevin’s effort to determine what he witnessed from his obscured hiding place and what he will say at the inquest are two mysteries that keep readers turning to the end of “Sputnik Summer.”
My main concern with “Sputnik Summer” is that it is slowed down by too many subplots. For example, too much space is devoted to Father Donovan, whose character does little to move the book along.
Castellani is a strong writer and captures the feel of the Adirondacks in the summer. I particularly liked his description of a night on the village beach where Kevin and most of the village watch the sky to see Sputnik II.
He generally does a good job of developing his characters and keeping his readers interested in them — and sympathetic to their situations.
Castellani will sign copies of “Sputnik Summer” from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Open Door Bookstore, 128 Jay St., Schenectady.