AMERICAN BOY – “We could have been happy.”February 26, 2012
Milkweed Editions, 2011
$16.32, 224 pages
I am in awe of this book. I thought at every turn, this is where the story will go wrong. After all how many coming-of-age books are there, and with the exception of a Catcher in the Rye or Huck Finn, they all do. Watson doesn’t. In fact I left the book wondering why I had learned so little from my own childhood. It probes family relationships, the lasting significance of that first kiss and what it can really mean when someone says, “We could have been happy.”
Let me add my poem on the subject. I wrote it after reading some letters my deceased mother had written years ago to an aunt who has just died.Best To All Reading old letters from my mother to my aunt who died at 94 last year, I realize there was a gracefulness between women. No mention of my dad’s dementia, of his brother who was engaged to a woman for twenty years—then she left to marry my second cousin. And Uncle Clarence? He quit his job and went out in the woods to die. “We will have our Easter dinner with friends.” she writes. “Can you believe summer is almost here.” The water pipes freeze in winter, a neighbor’s house burns to the ground, cars rust, I play outside alone. But now I picture her with a cup of coffee, perhaps a cigarette, writing at a table, a patch of sun reflecting off of it. Everything is just fine. Everything is all right.