By Christine Lewis
Christine Lewis is a journalist, researcher, writer, and photographer. This review by Christine appeared in the Merrimack Valley Magazine July/August edition 2010 along with the first chapter of the novel and a write-up about the author.
If memoirs are the reality TV of the literary world, self-published memoirs are the local cable TV version. The show could be raucously enjoyable, but who’d know to watch it? Such is the experience with a recently discovered gem of a book, A Summer with Charlie by ex-Lawrencian Richard Edward Noble. Published by Noble in 2004, the book tells the story of a young man, Charlie who spends his last days with his boyhood friends at a Salisbury beach summer rental. Charlie has been discharged from the Navy, sent home to die and wishes above all to be “treated normally.” Eight young men do their best to accommodate Charlie during the summer of 1961 and in return receive early lessons on how to live and how to die with grace.
Noble begins the story by providing a humorous background of growing up with the street corner gang in the city of Lawrence. The reader is introduced to the crazy hothouse characters that populate the local YMCA, a hangout more hospitable for the maturing young men. There’s “Harry the Walker” who mysteriously materializes everywhere, bearing a spooky resemblance to an Alfred Hitchcock cameo. Or “Fat George” who shares his encyclopedic knowledge of dirty jokes for hours at a time, never telling the same joke twice. As appealing as these characters may be, the siren song of Salisbury Beach draws the gang to its shores, providing the perfect troika of summer fun: booze, babes and beach.
Charlie reunites with his gang at the Y and asks to be included in the rental when he hears there’s one bed left. The gang says yes but with apprehension: born and raised as Catholics, they want to have their fun and not worry about eternally damning Charlie’s soul due to their debauchery. Charlie spit shines the cottage, the streets and indirectly, the guys with a quiet, unassuming charm. Neighbors begin speaking with the guys, inviting them over for backyard barbecues, even asking them to briefly babysit their kids. Young women are no longer fearful of walking by the cottage or attending parties hosted by the guys. All of this is met with shock on the part of the group, who still like to think of themselves as a wild wolf pack.
While the females are featured indirectly in this story, there’s never any doubt that the women are strong and in control. Niki, the local striptease artist, is clearly capable of holding her own with this crowd. Helen, a young woman who falls in love with Charlie, is artfully fleshed out through her gestures and actions, while the dialog, strictly Lawrencian, belongs to the guys.
The reader is introduced to the inevitability of Charlie’s death in the first chapter, the author surprises instead with how Charlie’s final days lead this group together to manhood. This is a coming of age story that is both tragic and funny and charmingly local.