The Lost Boys Symphony By Mark Andrew Ferguson, $26.
As a teacher of journalistic writing, I frequently wince when I read fictional attempts at it. Serious writers might deride the crisp, customary formula of hard news stories, but few can carry it off. Travesty cuts the cords suspending disbelief. That can be a problem when you end a time-tripping tale with a tin-eared news brief.
Fortunately, that is the only time I found myself grumbling, “Oh, come on,” in reading The Lost Boys Symphony. Mark Andrew Ferguson’s first book revolves around a love triangle “unstuck in time,” as Kurt Vonnegut memorably put it. A good movie pitch for the novel might be “Jules and Jim meets Slaughterhouse-Five.”
Sensitive percussionist and Rutgers undergrad Henry starts hearing intensely (and in color) everything around him, a compelling musical overture to time travel, at least if there’s a bridge nearby. The George Washington Bridge serves the first time, at age 19, but other bridges allow future iterations of Henry to encounter, question and cajole earlier and later selves. The eldest, 80, beseeches him to help remake his past and in the process redirect his own future.
“Our lives will multiply faster than we can understand them; our passage through time will tangle like a string,” 80 tells his erstwhile self. “That’s when your question of where it all stops becomes much more urgent. We need to be united.” Mucking around in the past like this creates new memories for him: “a strange crackling deep in his skull as his knowledge of the world rearranged itself.” But it also inevitably plays havoc with the fortunes of Henry’s best friend, Gabe, and his ex-girlfriend, Val, whose transfer to NYU triggers Henry’s first episode. Gabe and Val suspect he has a mental affliction, and when he disappears, they develop, awkwardly, their sublimated affection.
Future Henrys appear independently to Gabe and Val, leading the former to think he might have contracted insanity from his missing best friend. Ferguson’s feel for how the assaulted psyche might analyze evidence in such a fix is among the book’s pleasures. Reflecting on what the future Henry has told him, Gabe reasons, “It seemed like something a hallucination might say to protect itself.”
The Lost Boys Symphony examines the subjectivity of experience and memory, and it delivers an existentialist warning from age to youth: choose well and live fully. (It wouldn’t hurt to read a newspaper now and then, too.)
Find more by Chuck Twardy at chucktwardy.com.