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"Coming of Age" novel about human vulnerability,
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This review is from: American Boy (Hardcover)
I was raised on a farm outside a small town of 800 or so with two doctors who made house calls. One was so loved that they named the high school after him. I also graduated from high school in 1962, so I could definitely relate to Larry Watson's AMERICAN BOY.
At the beginning of the story, Matt Garth and Johnny Dunbar, son of a local doctor, Rex Dunbar, are bosom buddies. Some call the doctor "Rex Morgan" because of his similarity to the cartoon character. The doctor includes Matt in his family affairs, inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner. Matt's own father was killed in a car accident, and Doctor Dunbar has become Matt's substitute father. The boys function as assistants to the doctor who teachers both about medicine at every opportunity. A young woman enters the picture as Louisa Lindahl suffers a bullet wound in an argument with her boyfriend. The wound is just a nasty scratch and once again the doctor takes advantage of a teachable moment, showing them how close the girl came to serious injury. In the process they catch a glimpse of one of her breasts.
When she recovers, the doctor hires Louisa as a receptionist file clerk. She's definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, and she quickly sets her cap for the doctor. She also buys beer for the boys and helps them drink it; Matt falls hard for her. Matt begins to see that his hero might have feet of clay during a hockey game when the doctor retaliates after Matt checks Johnny into the boards. He then receives a lecture from the doctor who stitches a gash in Matt's forehead.
Matt's mother revels in town gossip. Everybody knows everybody in a small town; I remember the era when most people belonged to a party line. You could listen in on your neighbor's conversations, something called rubbernecking. Anyway, the men as well as the women spread rumors about Louisa's reputation. "She'll do things Mrs. Dunbar won't," was Matt's summary of the details.
Just how similar to Rex Morgan is the doctor? Was the hint Watson gave us during the hockey game a sign of things to come? This is a book with valuable lessons about hero worship, human vulnerability and friendship, and I couldn't put it down.