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Kirkus Reviews



Eric Burns
AuthorHouse (210 pp.)
$26.99 hardcover, $13.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-5462-3465-4; April 5, 2018



Burns’ (Someone to Watch Over Me, 2017, etc.) first foray into fiction tells the story of a man driven mad by the changing fortunes of his Pennsylvania steel town.

On Oct. 1, 1965, Arnie “Stats” Castig runs onto the football field in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and tackles a majorette during a halftime salute to John Philip Sousa. He says he just wants to hold her, but she’s understandably horrified, and Arnie is dragged away into a jail cell. A psychiatrist who writes a journal article about Arnie wonders, “But why her, someone so young, young enough to be his granddaughter? And why there, at halftime of a football game?” The novel seeks to answer this question as it presents the events of the week leading up to the game. It addresses an accident three years before that cost Arnie his job at the steel mill, rumors that the whole industry will be upended by cheaper steel from Japan, a switch by his favorite radio station to a new kind of music, and the emergence of a local kid from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania—one Joe Namath—as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. The week becomes a flash point for all the love and resentment Arnie feels for his corner of Western Pennsylvania during a time of irreversible change. Burns’ prose captures the rhythms and worldviews of Arnie’s time and place, as when he ruminates about Namath’s small-town origins: “You know how far Beaver Falls is from here? Less than ten miles, that’s how far….We lived in Beaver Falls, we could be friends. Maybe I’d still have a job. You can never tell how things might’ve worked out.” Overall, it’s an idiosyncratic novel that follows an idiosyncratic protagonist, and Burns does not shy away from the parochial fixations of his and other characters; indeed, he leans into them. Even so, he manages to capture not only their quirkiness, but also their universal humanity. Any readers who live in a place that feels overlooked—or who’ve seen the world of their youth slip away—will relate to the people who populate this tale.

An absorbing novel of aging and postindustrialization.