Seventeen: A Tale of Youth and Summer Time and the Baxter Family…, by Booth Tarkington

I remember being seventeen. It was actually pretty good for me, which is not to say I wasn’t a bit of an ass. Who isn’t, really? Tarkington’s opus is a little slice of the life of a seventeen-year-old boy in a semi-rural community in the early twentieth century. The displacement in time and place means things were a bit different, most jarringly for a modern audience the casual racism. Leaving that aside though, we have a story whose generalities are fairly universal in capturing adolescence.

The central character is ridiculed pretty obtrusively in the story, which is admittedly hard not to do, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot. Anyone can make youthful infatuation seem ridiculous (it usually does it without authorial help, here in the real world). Make the onject of that infatuation a simpering idiot, and the paramours callow and self-centered, and, well, that’s where it turns into cheap shots, really. This sort of silly summer romance would be an impressive feat if Tarkington had tried to make it romantic, or even respectable, but playing up its absurdity isn’t much of an accomplishment.

That having been said, Seventeen has strengths in setting and voice. The characters have distinctive attitudes and voices, even if a little too much use is made of accent. And it also captures effectively its time and place, giving a pretty solid picture of a life which, honestly, doesn’t resemble much of anything I know about.

See also: Project Gutenberg e-text, Wikipedia.

Advertisements