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Judy Chicurel – If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go

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Hot summers, long titles, and all that life throws at you.

Publisher: Tinder Press (Headline)
Pages: 326
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-472-22168-1
First Published: 30th October 2014
Date Reviewed: 7th September 2015
Rating: 4/5

It’s 1972 and Katie has lived in Elephant Beach on Long Island all her life. It’s nothing special, but it’s home for her and her friends. The prospects aren’t great unless you’ve the money and status to bag a better education, and most people end up at the local college. Getting high is pretty much assumed, cigarettes are smoked by everyone, and everyone’s got secrets.

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go is a book somewhere between a novel and short story collection, that looks at life in a fictional town in the 70s and life at the time for those coming of age.

There is a basic plot running through this book but it’s best viewed as a series of vignettes, indeed if you focus on the idea of a novel having a plot and a main character, you’re going to be disappointed. The stories are mainly set over one summer, with breaks for memories and considerations and reports of the future, and whilst you hear everything from Katie she’s no more important than anyone else. Katie may be the one whose thoughts you know and whose future you’re more invested in by virtue of intimacy, but Chicurel has worked on the whole. It would be fair to say that this book straddles contexts – a book for book’s sake, nostalgia, and a bit of a study.

Not a study as in get your pen and paper and write an essay, more a look at the issues of the time. These are teens still getting to grips with who they are, working through that time between childhood and adulthood and, for many of them, they’re trying to work through the poor hand life has given them, though they don’t always recognise it as such. The drugs keep them living life happy and although the future is discussed, told to us by Katie, everyone is living for the ‘now’. It’s best to. They know they’ve few prospects and that’ll be hard getting out, getting away, though there are possibilities. Many will die young through their various abuses. What all these teens do have, though, is friendship. Lots of it, lots of loyalty. There is a bit of a contrast with the kids from ‘the Dunes’. Chicurel shows us the privileged, the teenagers that turn to hippie living, throwaway boyfriends of less privileged backgrounds and protests for things they don’t have knowledge of, teenagers that were always going to end up as rich as their parents and do.

A new thought occurred to me, that women had all this drama, all this waiting and hoping and crying over things we’d been told, raised on, warned about, these monumental milestones that ended up lasting only minutes in our lives and were never, ever as wonderful or horrible as you thought they would be.

In a way it can seem like there’s a lot going on here, but it works in context. Suicides, overdoses; what we would now call ‘care in the community’; secret abortions where names must not be exchanged (the quote above is from such a scene); running away for a better life to never find it; PTSD. Everything is handled well and with respect in every way.

The affect of the Vietnamese war on mental health is the thread that continues from start to finish. A couple of the characters are veterans and dealing with scars, physical, mental, emotional. Not only does Chicurel detail these changed lives, she shows well how people back home might try but can’t quite understand what would have happened. The veterans, both young, behave in ways unconsidered and the easiest way to show you how the teens are incapable of understanding is to say that Katie fancies Luke something rotten, dreams about their lives together, but thinks trying to get him to notice her will work. You see that Luke doesn’t care but it’s not because he doesn’t like Katie, it’s because he’s got little left.

And there is a smigin of a theme of identity, of finding one’s place. Katie was adopted and wonders about her birth mother – what she’s doing, if she misses her child. The title of the book relates to this.

There are chances gained in this book, but not too many. To make everything work out in the end for everyone would be to negate the very real circumstances the book is grounded in.

I think it’s worth stating that there is a lot of swearing in this book and a lot of very casual ‘yeah, man’ language. I’m stating this, particularly the swearing, because it should be seen in context. Chicurel isn’t aiming to shock or offend, rather she’s setting the book in its era, in its place.

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go. gives you something to think about. There’s nothing we can change now, of course, but it makes you think about similar circumstances nowadays and how the way things are, the privilege, the support, hasn’t really changed all that much and should have. It may not have an ending as such and it may be but a set of memories, but it’s a good read. As much as it isn’t a happy book, it is full of sunshine and friendship. That others would dismiss the friendship and say that it’s a bad place be damned.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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