|Vintage Pulp||Nov 8 2023|
He's about to have a growth spurt.
We were unable to learn who painted this Belmont Books cover for Edward S. Fox's 1963 novel Thus a Boy Becomes Man, but it's nice work, possibly a crop and zoom of a larger piece. We vacillated about buying it. We'd never read anything by or about Fox, and we weren't in the market for a simple romance or coming-of-age novel, but in the end we took a flyer, the international mails operated without problems, and the book appeared at our door. It turned out to be a short novel, brief enough to be knocked off in an afternoon, but despite its brevity it was a tale we enjoyed.
The protagonist is young Gil Stuart, who has no experience with women, until two appear in his neck of the Florida Keys—teenaged Georgette and twenty-ish Christine. Georgette is a new Florida resident who lives on a nearby key, while Christine is a seasonal arrival, daughter of a rich Boston railroad executive heading up a project. Both girls are pretty, and both fall for Gil, but he's resistant to them, mainly because he lacks acuity in sexual matters. For that reason, though he's in his early twenties, he feels more like a mid-teen, like a sixteen-year-old. And for that reason, it feels like Fox was shooting for a subtropical Holden Caulfield.
Any book set in the Florida Keys has to be concerned with real estate, seemingly, and this one has a parallel plot about the building of a rail line cutting off bay drainage and subjecting residents to catastrophic flood peril. When appeals to the railroad company yield nothing, some of the conchs decide, as hurricane season approaches, to dynamite the embankment being built for the train tracks. This is a compelling backdrop for Gil's story, as both plot threads suggest that the future—whether bringing romance or trains—is inevitable. Subtle? Maybe not. But it basically worked, faux Caulfield and all.