Monday, May 10

The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys

by Scott William Carter
Simon & Schuster  2010 

Two boys hit the road in a stolen car on a journey to both run away from and confront their parental relationships.  It's practically a teenage Roger Corman film from the 1960s, except it isn't.

Sensitive artist Charlie can't believe his mom is about to marry her stiff accountant boyfriend, while at school he's being menaced by bully Leo because he dared to ask Leo's girlfriend to the prom.  He's about to take a pounding after school when Charlie's ex-best friend turned bad boy Jake pulls up in a stolen car (the principal's) and takes them on an unplanned road trip that leads to a dead kid four states away.

The book opens with Charlie explaining that he has to backtrack a few days to tell you how he ended up killing this kid, which becomes the hook that drags the reader the rest of the way.  Who is this kid that gets killed?  Why and how does he do it?  What happened during those three days that made this inevitable?  Read on, read on... 

Charlie really is a straight laced bit of worrywart, and Jake has clearly become a loose cannon since the days when the boys would pall around beaning people with water balloons.  Jake smokes, steals cars, makes out with girls casually, and generally is the sort of kid Charlie would have to be warned to stay away from.  But when Jake comes to his rescue Charlie can't shake that somewhere beneath this tough boy act is the same kid he used to call a friend.  Being weak-willed, Charlie goes for the ride as they outrun cops, hitch a ride with a suicidal girl they meet on the road, and try to make things right even in the midst of screwing things up with every turn. 

That Charlie, the "good" one of the two, manages to be the one who pulls the trigger (it's self defense, but the boys aren't in the right) underscores the point that if he were truly good he had dozens of opportunities to get out of the car and away from Jake.  Of course, Jake the "bad" one has good reasons for his actions, even if he masks them behind his arrogant braggadocio.  In the end it's a frantic, unplanned, twisted road trip of two teen boys working out their father issues and the unfinished business that broke their friendship.

The story breezes like a screenplay for a two-teens-on-the-run type of story.  It doesn't seem promising when it opens with the typical trouble-at-home, trouble-at-school scenario, but it quickly burns rubber from these scenes and turned out to be better than I had expected.  I don't know what I expected.

Maybe it has to with the title.  The Last Great Getaway would be fine of there were other getaways prior to this, but it's all one, long, single getaway so that seems misleading.  It's also pretty generic sounding, so I understand adding of the Water Balloon Boys, except for the fact that it suddenly makes the story sound a lot more juvenile than it really is.  The first half of the title could be Raymond Chandler and the second half Neil Simon.
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