Simon & Schuster, $27.99, 382 pages, ISBN 978-1-5011-0720-7
There’s a time in everyone’s life that only lasts for a few weeks of a certain special summer that many of us look back upon with nostalgia, affection, and sometimes, a genuine longing. Filtered through the long lens of a half century, we remember those days and weeks and months during the ‘50s as idyllic and near-perfect . . . World War II was over and won, the world was on the mend and the possibilities, as well as the opportunities, stretched out in front of us like an endless chain of diamonds. It was when we all had flat bellies, big attitudes and an unshakeable belief that our tomorrows would be better than our yesterdays. It was our time of forever first love, and author James Lee Burke has captured it perfectly in his latest, and perhaps the best of all his thirty-five novels.
The Jealous Kind, takes place during the summer of 1952, in Houston, Texas. Aaron Holland Broussard is seventeen years old and hanging out with best friend Saber Bledsoe as they finish up their junior year of high school. Their world consists of hot rod cars called heaps, drive-in restaurants, jukebox music and the close observation of members of the opposite sex. That world gets tilted off of it’s axis when Aaron comes to the aid of a young woman named Valerie Epstein, falls in love with her, and runs afoul of her former boyfriend Grady Harrelson . . . son of the local mob boss, and a member of one of the richest families in the state of Texas. And just like that, young Aaron’s immersed in the class war that’s been raging around him as he fights to save all he knows and loves from the violence of the thugs and killers of organized crime, and the depredations of the moneyed and privileged classes who use their wealth to shield themselves from payment for their criminality. Aaron must make the transition from boy to man and somehow find the same courage his father displayed when he went over the top, out of the trenches in World War I.
Written in the lyrical prose style for which he is famous, The Jealous Kind transcends genre. Although it’s crime fiction containing violence, it’s backstoried by a tender and compelling first love affair, a coming-of-age story and includes a social commentary as well. With a debate about class and privilege currently raging in our country and a new President about to be elected, this novel is timely, thought provoking and entertaining. If you’re not already a diehard fan of James Lee Burke’s work, you surely will be after reading The Jealous Kind. It’s the stuff of a literary giant at the top of his form.