****I received a free copy of this book for an honest review****
“A Boy From The Chesapeake” is a collection of literary essays documenting one man’s sexual awakening, if you will. It’s not sexual in that it’s graphic or gratuitous, in fact, most of the stories are fairly romantic in one way or another. But 90% of the essays document either a romantic relationship with a woman, or the narrator is talking about women / general life experiences that loosely surround his ideas of women and intimacy. These essays are almost like reading prose or poetry than short stories with a plot or story line. So keep that in mind, Roszkowiak will not be holding your hand as you read. He does not introduce his narrator nor link the essays together in an overt way to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. So, know that going into this short read. These essays are just that, small snippets of time that is told in a memoir style where the only “point” is to beautifully describe a particular encounter.
Unfortunately, I did not know that going into the book. Despite receiving this as a free copy for review, I was expecting something a bit different based on the synopsis, not something that read like a non-fiction memoir with mild tones of relationship self-help. Ultimately, I think that was the problem I had, I was expecting a story and just got pretty passages, which are fine! A lot of editors and traditionally published books out there cut that kind of language out as it’s seen as unnecessary. I actually like it and Roszkowiak has some extremely lovely phrases, descriptions, and analogies that he uses. But I missed the “point”.
The reader gets that the women and situations he talks about from the first time he noticed a girl, to his love of the Chesapeake, his time in the Navy, and all his various girlfriends and affairs, are meant to be profound moments in the narrator’s life. It’s the account of the woman who broke his heart and inspired him to be a playwright, it’s the death of young love because of disapproving parents, things of that nature. But because the narrator never introduces himself (you kind of learn his name in a very, very subtle way about 80% into the book), you never really know who he is, or that he’s even the same person because, at times, he didn’t seem to age past twenty. I’d like to think that the narrator had meaningful relationships past that point, and he does, but that’s such a brief glance that it’s almost nonexistent. And because these essays don’t overtly appear to have a reason for being in the order they are, you don’t see much (if any) character development for the narrator, either. You just know he really, really likes girl’s and wants to have sex with a lot of them.
Again, the sexual encounters are romantic in nature, this is no bodice ripper after all. But because of the memoir and essay format, it’s hard to be really swept away by the narrator or some of the women he loves. You just don’t see or get to know them that well beyond the basics. Or you do get to know some and then the relationship finally materializes, and Roszkowiak ends the essay abruptly so it’s a bit unsatisfying.
The book ends with a kind of epilogue-like chapter that reads a little wax-poetic about women and why men love them. It felt a bit forced and like the author was trying too hard to be profound when, in the other essays, it came a bit more naturally. This final chapter was what was supposed to tie it all together but it fell a bit flat for me and, as it’s written from a very male eye, I found myself a bit put off, or disagreeing with it, really. But I know not all women will feel that way either so take that for what it’s worth.
This made the book extremely hard to rate for me. The writing is beautiful, but there is no “story”. These essays don’t show me much character beyond cursory glances when I wanted more. Which is why I’m giving this story 3 stars. If the writing wasn’t so pretty, I’d probably rate it closer to 2.5, to be honest. Ultimately, that’s why I didn’t give this book a higher rating either, even though the writing is beautiful, I was missing that story arch or character development that would have tied this all together and shown me really WHO this narrator was and what he really learned from all these women.
These women are all very different and they had an impact on him, clearly, but you never see the narrator as a finished product to know just how he was shaped. I kind of wanted just a bit more hand holding, if you will. These essays stand a little too well on their own, they just never tied together enough for me and I hated having to remind myself that the narrator was still the same guy even as the women and location changed around him. But I think if you enjoy literary work that feels a bit closer to non-fiction/memoir, that you’ll enjoy this story a great deal more!