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Edwn Charles
The Star Poolroom Boys
This coming-of-age story centers on the bond between a mother and her son--and the son’s world after losing her. After his mother’s death when he was thirteen, Fast Eddie descents into a debilitating depression. His sisters and father fail to deal with the tragedy much better. By the time he’s eighteen, Fast Eddie is experiencing hallucinatory psychotic episodes which force him to see a psychiatrist twice a week. The psychiatrist is sixty miles away over a two-lane highway winding through the lower Appalachian foothills. Fast Eddie drives a GTX, a late 1960’s muscle car, a gift from his father, the local Plymouth dealer. On a December day in 1969, Fast Eddie, accompanied by two friends, makes the sixty miles drive, and finds himself racing a notorious criminal maniac with a car even faster than Fast Eddie’s. In the course of this race, his subsequent hour-long session with his psychiatrist, and the race against the same nemesis on the way home, Fast Eddie confronts the central horror of his past.
This riveting coming-of-age debut delves into the tumultuous life of 17-year-old Fast Eddie, a young man from a small Alabama town, grappling with profound loss and its devastating aftermath. Following his mother's death at the tender age of 13, Eddie spirals into a debilitating depression, which fractures his family and leaves him navigating his teenage years in a haze of grief and mental illness. Eddie’s friends—16-year-old Cory, a wildly successful bootlegger, and Mike, a 17-year-old Marine headed to Vietnam for his senior year in high school—are largely just along for the ride, as Eddie finds himself sequestered with them in his brand new 1969 Plymouth GTX, while headed to his bi-weekly psychiatrist appointment.

Charles expertly writes scenery that seethes with action and heart, whether Eddie’s describing his mother’s failing health or speeding along the mountainside with his two friends in tow, racing Corey’s second cousin, Manfred—a law-breaking, risk-hunting young man who barrels into the story like a hurricane, full of reckless abandon and a sort of frenzied wildness. When Eddie runs into a woman from his past, bringing back shocking memories from his mother’s death, he finally succumbs to the trauma, in palpable scenes wrought with intense emotion that will stay with readers long past the novel’s end.

The climax is a high-stakes, death-defying car race, serving as both a literal and symbolic confrontation with the darkest aspects of Eddie's psyche. The tension is palpable, and Charles captures the adrenaline and desperation of a young man on the edge, fighting not just for victory but for his sanity and a semblance of peace. This is more than just a tale of youthful rebellion and high-speed chases; it confronts the enduring impact of loss as much as Eddie’s arduous journey toward mental health and self-discovery, in writing that is both heart-wrenching and hopeful.

Takeaway: Electrifying story of a young man’s journey through trauma and loss.

Comparable Titles: Chris Offut; Bill Rivers’s Last Summer Boys.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-