Title: Strutting and Fretting
Author: Kevin McKeon
Genre: Coming of Age
Bob—with an untested theater degree—settles into a coveted position with a summer repertory theater in California. He comes with baggage though, as his young marriage has already been rocked by infidelity. With half the country separating Bob from his estranged wife, Gina, he has just the summer to figure himself out and determine what he wants out of life, relationships and his career.
This is a believable and interesting coming-of-age novel that doubles down on both the early 1980’s setting and on the immersion into theater scene—both to great effect. Like the title borrowing from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Bob filters everything through his theater training. And yet, it leaves him struggling to know where he ends and any of the myriad characters he’s embraced begins. His battle to see through his own fiction is relatable. While coming-of-age might seem strange for man with a marriage already on the rocks, it reflects the reality of his delay of adulthood.
It’s the setting, however, that makes this tale. Bob marks the transition into the 1980’s with his keen interest in the music albums being released. What goes unsaid is the spectral cloud on the horizon of AIDS, HIV and even GRID. Half of the theater troupe comes from or enjoys jaunts to the Bay area, and yet the innocence-destroying epidemic never merits a mention. It’s not an oversight or gross omission, but rather the very last chance for Bob and his many screwed up friends to self-medicate with sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. This tale contains a fair share of each of those. And while actions have consequences, this is not a Shakespearean tragedy with deadly consequences.
The supporting characters are differentiated without being wildly diverse. Perhaps, this is a downside to the setting. Side plots of other characters largely get lost into the background noise if Bob’s not actively involved. Most of them, appropriately, involve romances between cast members. And Bob’s lack of investment in the dalliances of others refreshingly minimizes the off-stage drama.
However, one particular subplot involves a mystery, the FBI, and a manhunt. Due to lack of development, or severe editing, it never pays off. It’s unfortunate, because it’s the only thing piercing the repertory acting bubble when neither their audience nor news from the outside world filters down to them.
What’s left is just Bob caroming from one friend or lover to another, and slowly, slowly coming to terms with what has led up to this point of his life. With the guidance of his actor friend, Ripley, along for the summer and his newfound castmates and summer housemates, Bob weaves an intricate dance between social and sexual exploration and personal introspection. All of this leads up to a very satisfying ending—exactly one short chapter before the novel ends. The November epilogue adds little.
Coming-of-age meets “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” to great satisfaction as a young man learns that adulting is hard, but also the right thing to do. With equal parts nostalgia and scandal, the early 1980’s and its unique brand of innocence sets a perfect stage for this quick-paced read.
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