It’s no surprise that Michael Cunningham offers high praise for Kermit Moyer’s The Chester Chronicles on the book’s dust jacket—Moyer’s precise prose and eye for historical detail place it naturally alongside such works as Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood and his Pulitzer Prize winning The Hours. Yet Cunningham isn’t the only author Moyer’s coming-of-age novel-in-stories evokes. The style of The Chester Chronicles is reminiscent of authors as diverse as Tim O’Brien and Don DeLillo, while the subject matter hearkens to Stephen King’s The Body, Christopher Meeks’ The Brighest Moon of the Century, and Heather Sellers’ Georgia Underwater. Needless to say, I liked this book a lot.
The Chester Chronicles follows a young boy named Chester Patterson as he struggles through his early childhood and into his teens during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Along the way, he grapples with all of the big issues that were coming to a head during those times (and, it seems, are always coming to a head in one way or another): sex, race, and religion, chief among them. Thus, The Chester Chronicles isn’t just the story of a boy but the story of an era. It’s Leave it to Beaver if television knew how to tell the truth, Happy Days without the saccharine veneer of nostalgia.
By giving us the character of Chester Patterson, Moyer gives a set of innocent eyes that are growing less innocent by the minute through which to watch the evolution of American culture on the smallest and most personal of scales. The author brings the era to life not by offering sweeping generalizations about the time, but by focusing on the minutia of his life: the cowboy hat, the life jacket, the first beer, the first kiss, the first (and, okay, only) lunch with Ralph Ellison. As Chester comes of age, so too does America and, in a way, so too do we.