The early ‘70s, Comanche Beach, Long Island. An American rural seaside community where the teens hang about and young men return home from Vietnam. Jobs are scarce, the young are leaving for the city, and teenager Katie loves a veteran who seems disconnected from the world.
This novel has the longest title I’ve ever come across. The full title is If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go. I’m intrigued whether it was the author’s choice or the publisher’s. I can just hear the conversations about front cover design.
Katie has finished school and is hanging around town for the summer, drinking egg cream sodas at Eddy’s during the day, spending lazy nights at the lounge in The Starlight Hotel. As she and her friends worry about ‘doing it’ and hickeys and mascara, their love interest is split into boys and soldiers. The girls continue to have crushes on the best-looking guys with bleached hair and suntanned arms, but they struggle to connect with these flawed men [mentally and physically flawed] who have seen American and Vietnamese blood bloom in rivers so it looks like lilies. “I see this, like… this giant… blossom, the biggest blossom I’ve ever seen, right on the river, like this unbelievably beautiful flower just floating on the river, getting bigger and bigger, like it was taking over the river, right?” Like the river was a big, fucking, flowing flower!”The narrative spine of the book is Katie’s longing for Luke, a crush on an older boy who goes away to fight and comes back a man, solitary, silent. As her friends get pregnant and marry, Katie continues to long for Luke to look at her, to speak to her. This is a tender picture of growing up, becoming an adult, slowly like Katie or suddenly like Luke. Cut into Katie’s narrative are the stories of the people around her, all come together to draw a picture of a decaying seaside community in 1972 at a time when America struggled to cope with returning veterans maimed in mind and limb. A well-written debut. I will watch out for the next novel by Judy Chicurel [below]. For more about Judy Chicurel, click here for her website.
‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel [UK: Tinder Press, published October 30, 2014]