374 pages, Kindle Edition
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
It was sometime in the year 2000. A group of us were gathered at our student digs and were listening to music. There was a girl there... I think her name was Penny. She wasn't part of our close circle of friends and the only reason I can think of her presence at this particular gathering was that one of the lads was trying to nail her. Hell, my memory is so bad these days that it could well have been me. Anyhow, Penny is nosing through the stack of CDs on the floor when she pulls out my Buddy Holly Golden Greats album and bursts out laughing.
“What the f*ck is this? Not even my parents listen to this.”
The room erupted with laughter. Not at the CD but at her. In our student digs, Buddy Holly was rated as highly as Black Sabbath or Jaco Pastorius. The CD went into the player. Penny was handed a drink and told to shut up and listen. Was another Buddy Holly fan created that day? I like to think so but as I said, my memory is pretty ropey these days.
I've been following indie writer Fred Limberg since I reviewed his rather splendid “Ferris' Bluff” and interviewed him for Booksquawk. When I heard about his Buddy Holly novel, I was more than excited. He was good enough to send me an advance copy of “The Last Analog Summer” shortly before it was released on Kindle. The book has been out for nearly a month now and I've been telling everyone that will listen (and sometimes those who don't and try to run away from me) to download this cracking novel.
The novel opens on that snowy night in February 1959 as Buddy Holly prepares to board the fateful plane that robbed the world of the first great rock star. We see how Buddy's legendary Fender Stratocaster guitar “Lucky” gets separated from him and how it ends up being left in a small farmhouse in an obscure corner of Iowa.
Prologue out of the way, the novel skips forward to the present day where we are introduced to the main protagonists. It is the last day of school and Kevin, Tandy, Deke and Ivy are preparing for a long, boring summer in the small town of Dodge. There's not a lot going on in Dodge. It's a farming community situated smack bang in the middle of nowhere. It's a fair drive to any of the neighbouring towns and not having jobs, the youngsters can't really afford to travel far. To make matters worse, Dodge is a digital dead-zone. There's no computers or internet, no televisions or videogames, no ipods or CD players. Due to a peculiar electromagnetic interference that the locals put down to an enormous lodestone that lies beneath the town, any complicated electrical item has a seriously short lifespan in Dodge. The townfolk's cars are all pre-1960s antiques and the antiquated radio station (run by the bible thumping “What Would Jesus Do?” church, known locally as the “Widgers”) provides the town's limited musical entertainment.
Understandably frustrated by their situation, Kevin and his friends are always on the lookout for a way to get out of Dodge. This comes in the form of a certain special guitar that they find for sale in a house clearance. Knowing the guitar is valuable, the kids try to buy it but find themselves outbid at the last moment. When the guitar falls into the hands of Widgers, the youngsters find themselves embroiled in a complicated scheme to retrieve the guitar and break free from the “analog gulag” they call home. Matters are further complicated as they learn that the story of lodestone is merely a cover-up for a sinister research facility on the outskirts of town. Naturally, the research facility is run by shady military types who will stop at nothing to keep their work a secret.
“The Last Analog Summer” is a delightful book. Just as he did in “Ferris' Bluff”, Limberg creates a totally believable small town. The cast of characters are equally charming and quirky. The blossoming romance between narrator Kevin and Tandy is handled tactfully and Limberg shows a deal of insight into the mind of a teenage boy torn between the urge to lose his virginity whilst still respecting his girlfriend's desire to take things slowly. Deke and Ivy are also great creations and Limberg manages to make them so much more than mere sidekicks. Deke is a guitar virtuoso who falls head over heels in love with the Fender whilst Ivy's wide-eyed enthusiasm and unfortunate lisp (“No thit?”) provides welcome comic relief to balance out the teenage angst.
The novel is aimed at a young adult audience but “The Last Analog Summer” will find numerous older fans too. Part of me is a little concerned that the novel's gentle pace, lack of extreme violence and portrayal of a simpler way of life might well alienate a proportion of the teenage readers who are accustomed to the visceral thrills of “The Hunger Games” and its imitators. This is such a shame as I'm hard pressed to think of a book, YA or adult, that has entertained me as much in recent months. I'm a fast reader and I can normally tear through a novel in a couple of days. The fact that I took my time with “The Last Analog Summer” is testament to how enjoyable it is.
Hereward L.M. Proops