A Bomb Shelter Romance
Patrick M. Garry
Inkwater Press (2008)
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (11/08)
I know I am going out on a limb by saying this; but “A Bomb Shelter Romance” by Patrick M. Garry is the best book I have reviewed in a very long time! This is a profoundly bold statement coming from a jaded book reviewer who often finds it difficult to finish the books I review without drowning in literary regurgitation. But I have two strong reasons for making this statement and they are described below.
The first reason is that the book introduces an extremely loveable cast of characters that most anyone can relate to. The principal character is Ben O’Neill, a high school senior whose life is awash in self doubt, diffidence, and raging hormones; who falls in love with a summer visitor Suzanne, a beautiful girl who is so self-confident and so out of his league, that when she expresses interest in him he is absolutely clueless about what to do next. (Been there, done that!) Ben has a large family that includes his mother Joan, a serial pessimist; a brother fighting in Vietnam; a sister who is living in a hippie commune in California; and another sister who is thinking about dropping out of college to support her boyfriend who is allegedly a communist. But wait, there is more! Add to the cast of characters Hank, a regular resident in the local jail for harassing his many ex-wives; Brad, a blind man who is hopelessly in love with Franny, a 280-pound woman with a moustache; Feldon, a one arm handyman who suffers from unrequited love for Ben’s old maid aunt; and Suzanne’s mother, the local femme fatale who is the mistress of the happily married and extremely jealous mayor.
The second reason the book is so great is the plot, which begins when Ben’s mother volunteers to oversee the construction of a bomb shelter, a structure many believe will be the last bomb shelter ever built in America. It was 1970 after all, and Cold War fears were beginning to fade. Once started, the bomb shelter becomes the center of all the action. It was there that Ben and Suzanne consummated their love; and it was in front of the shelter that two unlikely groups joined forces to protest the shelter as somehow being pro-war: namely, a group of women attending a seminar on fulfillment (read that, orgasmically-challenged); and a passing group of pot smoking, hippie anti-war protestors. When the dust cleared, the sleepy, Midwestern town of Pinestock would never be the same.
“A Bomb Shelter Romance is only 228-pages long and I knew I was in trouble when I started to read more slowly to make the story last longer. At times, I snorted with muffled laughter so loud that my wife finally asked me to leave the room. But the author played a dirty trick on me. In the final pages, he summarized the lives of all the characters several years hence and the result was so poignant and touching that I finished the book with tears in my eyes. This, I was not expecting.
So, what was the book all about and what did it mean to Ben? To put it in his words, “In the summer of 1970, I fought the Cold War. I worked on a bomb shelter that had already gone bankrupt. I read romance novels to a blind man. And I chauffeured around a suicidal inmate of the city jail. And in the course of all that, I fell in love. Which has since led me to conclude that love comes only when you are doing everything possible to discourage it.”
“A Bomb Shelter Romance” by Patrick M. Garry is a great read; but be forewarned that once you start reading it, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s that kind of book.