The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
Burke is a consistently strong author who turns out great book after great book. The Jealous Kind is no different.
Aaron Broussard is a seventeen year old Texas boy learning the perilous ropes of life in 1950’s USA. Far from the idyllic portrayal normally presented of this period, Houston of the 50’s can be a dangerous place.
Aaron has to deal with greasers with their combs, their ducktails and their needle-nosed stomps. He has a sadistic teacher who wishes nothing but serious ill to Aaron and his best friend, Saber Bledsoe, who once stuck his dick through a hole in the ceiling into the unfortunate educator’s classroom below (they couldn’t identify the dick – echoes of Porky’s). There is also the not so small matter of rich, white boys and their psychotic dads, as well as their colleagues in the Mob. All-in-all, Aaron has one hell of a time getting through the day.
It is a chance encounter with Valerie Epstein, the most beautiful young woman in Houston, that ignites a chain of events that will fundamentally change Broussard’s life forever. Aaaron falls hopelessly in love in the way that only young people can and is determined that nothing and no one will stand in the way of his courtship of Valerie.
But Valerie’s silver-spoon-in-the-mouth ex-boyfriend, Grady Harrelson, is not going to give up that easily and so begins a campaign of intimidation, harassment and tragedy that our young hero must endure to secure his future with his true love.
It all makes for a very entertaining story as Aaron learns about life, love, and himself. We discover that Valerie’s father is one dangerous hombre. We find that Aaron’s alcoholic father and neurotic mother have hidden strengths not previously shown. We get insight into the family life of Saber, who is one of the starring characters in this drama. We also get taken on a roller-coaster ride of violence, and mischief, and friendship, and crime, and class divisions and schemes.
If I have one minor criticism about The Jealous Kind, it is that Aaron often does things that no seventeen years old boy would ever do. He engages in actions that fly in the face of all good sense and, whilst I was once a teenage boy with little good sense myself, I do not feel that any such young person, who is of sound mind, would do much of what Aaron does throughout this cracking tale.
James Lee Burke knows how to pen a story though. His descriptions of the locations are poetic and keen. The entire vibe of the book feels authentic, for the most part. It comes across as a more truthful rendering of an era often bowdlerized for today’s generations. I really enjoyed this book.
For anyone who has seen American Graffiti, or Porky’s or even Stand By Me, this is a book that will readjust your perceptions of 1950’s USA. Yet the melancholy associated with American Graffiti and Stand By Me is still there in The Jealous Kind. It’s a beautiful book for that.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Highly recommended, especially for those with an interest in the 1950’s, or love, or teenage romance, or someone sticking their dick through a hole in the ceiling.