Book Review: Four Months in Brighton Park
Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 12:55PM
Windy City Reviews

Four Months in Brighton Park. Larry Ehrhorn. Madison, Wisconsin: Madijean Press, September 14, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-Book. 247 pages.

Reviewed by G. F. Gallagher.

Larry Ehrhorn’s Four Months in Brighton Park is a fictionalized memoir of a high-school senior’s life-in-transition from insecure social misfit to college-bound adult. It is set equally in Chicago’s South Loop and southwest-side Brighton Park neighborhoods in the 1960s. It centers upon the adventures Kelly Elliott, a pimple-faced underdog at fictional Talbot High School. Ehrhorn tells his tale in a breezy, almost comedic style, firing off one-liners at a blistering pace, whether contained in Kelly’s nonstop mental musings or within occasional dialogue between an ensemble of characters.

At first blush, Four Months in Brighton Park presents more as a sequence of vignettes in chapter form than as a unitary story. There is cohesion between these vignettes though, owing to the fact that they illustrate an interrelated chain-reaction of otherwise disparate events, all flowing from the fateful day the protagonist, in an almost out-of-body moment, engages and challenges Joe Swedarsky, the school bully. In Kelly’s words, “During the next few months this one reaction perpetuated another, and I was hurled along, caught in the wave of affairs that carried me through adolescence. It was like the tumbling domino effect—nothing could deter the progression once it had begun.

The story thus told is that of a quiet and introspective boy meeting life’s challenges full-on, forced by circumstances and fueled by a surprising and previously undetected inner strength. The chapters are, essentially, stories-within-a-story, each serving to sketch out a new challenge and provide a context for Kelly to innovate his response, always with varying degrees of success.

Through the first ten chapters, Ehrhorn showcases a flair for humor and glib monologue, mostly via Kelly’s internalized observations. Told with the protagonist as narrator, there is an authenticity to Kelly’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings; he is, for the bulk of the book, a 17-year-old male, and true to form for most 17-year-old males regardless of time period, his thoughts and motivations are just about all sexually generated. Whether through his own internal voice or through relating accounts of the foibles of others—such as an infamous liaison between one of the coaches at Talbot High and the secretly-sensuous librarian, or the lust-driven frustrations of his best friend, Jerry Hogan—Kelly channels the author as master of the one-liner. Just about every other paragraph, if read aloud, would cry out for a rimshot at the end.

It’s toward the conclusion of the novel, however, that a tenderness shows through, as an arc—more like a rainbow—begins to form across the last three chapters, taking the book from an almost slapstick style to that of a true story, generous in emotion and rife with possibility. Throughout the book, the illustrations of the older women in Kelly’s life—in particular his mother, Doris, and a reluctant stripper named Mary Harker—take the reader to a deeper level of storytelling, one that is a welcome transition and that makes the reader wish for more of the same.

By the end, we learn that Kelly Elliott has made a quantum-leap in his maturation process, and is now bound for college. Curiously, it seems that a core group of characters—Laura LeDuc, the former femme fatale of the cheerleading squad; Joseph Swedarsky, Kelly’s tormentor and scourge of Talbot High; Linda Martinsen, Kelly’s girlfriend and emotional anchor; and even the now-reviled Jerry Hogan—are all bound for Northern State as well. Hmmm. Sequel in the works? Only the author can say. 

Four Months in Brighton Park is a fun and engaging read, one which shows a genuine affection for and understanding of both the time—the 1960s—and place in which it is set. Larry Ehrhorn is an author blessed with a boundless, and clearly irreverent, sense of humor, which is brought to bear in this entertaining book.

 

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