Pans are more fun than praise. My column Wednesday on Leonard Pitts' new novel, "Grant Park," was hobbled by the fact it is a pretty good book. The review referred almost wistfully to another novel by another columnist—"All Summer Long" by Bob Greene. I couldn't resist the urge to dredge up my infinitely more satisfying treatment of it, which ran in the Reader 20 years ago. I loved the fact that it was presented deadpan as a review that just happened to be written by Bob's nemesis, Ed Gold, as if it weren't the latest link the clanking chain of malice that was BobWatch. The bit of publishing gossip beginning the third paragraph was possible because Bob and I shared a publisher at the time.
All Summer Long
By Bob Greene
(St. Martin's Press; $5.99)
Reviewed by Ed Gold
There were moments while reading this unremittingly awful novel that I just wanted to close the book, turn my face to the wall, and die.
Staring hour after hour into the Freudian cesspool of Bob Greene's psyche, delivered in a septic stream of 437 pages of predigested prose--devoid of a single metaphor, sharp image, or fresh idea--was practically a soul-shattering experience.
All Summer Long was said to be the coveted novel that Bob extracted out of Doubleday, his pound of flesh in return for Hang Time, the highly lucrative kissy-face to Michael Jordan. The two years that passed before paperback publication, plus the novel's devolving to the inferior St. Martin's Press, point to its vanity press nature. As do the blurbs from publications such as the Cape Cod Times, the Flint Journal, and the Muskogee Phoenix and Times Democrat.
The plot is pure Bob wish fulfillment. The thinly disguised Bob character, an aging TV journalist named Ben Kroeger, dragoons his two best friends into abandoning their families and spending "one last summer" in a journey across the country. "We had said that it was going to be the best thing we had ever done," writes Bob/Ben, as if the three men were bringing vaccines to impoverished African villages instead of lounging around motel pools.
Bob's fake premise is further undermined by his insistence on presenting the lark as a pure, shimmering quest, a search for the grail that everyone immediately grasps and then reveres. The irony of these three boobs trying to regain the sort of magic summer now being denied their own cast-off and fatherless children never occurs to anybody, least of all the author.
Falsity sprouts on every page. The wives of both friends have obligatory little scenes where they give their blessing to Bob/Ben. One wife, with two small children, says, "I think it's important that he gets out for a while and sees some things. . . . I want him to have this summer." The other says, "Ronnie works hard. Ronnie deserves to relax." Bob's ersatz women are fake in a way seldom seen outside pornography, but then again, so are his men. In fact, the book has only one character—Bob Greene—given different aliases and manners, but all reflecting back, hideously, to the same pulsing pathology.
Mercifully, only a hint of the book's complete wrongness can be conveyed here. Much will be familiar to Bob readers: the scenes whose sole purpose is to recycle old columns, making patties of the regurgitated mash of past fixations—Elvis, television, baseball, television, the Beach Boys, more television. I kept waiting for Baby Richard to toddle past.
A special warning must be added: Bob procures a love interest for himself. Mary, a 23-year-old "really beautiful" tanned athlete jogs up to Bob/Ben on the beach and breaks through his natural midwestern reserve with a fusillade of praise for his high-caliber journalism. She's hip—she listens to Taylor Dayne. She calls him "chief." They go through a high school romance, holding hands. Mary, laughing, pokes Bob/Ben playfully in the arm. Bob/Ben solemnly explains the magic of Brian Wilson.
They hop into the sack, but not before Bob/Ben mercifully draws the veil, so to speak, as Mary is taking off her shirt and rubbing her bare chest against his. Only the numbness caused by the preceding 200 pages kept me from leaping out a window at this point, the way young men were said to do after reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Heck, perhaps Bob has established a new genre here: unintentional horror. Parts of All Summer Long are as terrifying as anything Stephen King ever wrote, grotesque enough to make the most blood-drenched P.D. James novel look like Pat the Bunny.
Read it at your own peril.