As we grow older, we tend to think of childhood as a golden time, when the hours poured through our fingers like water, glistening and plentiful. Summers were especially wonderful, those days when school was out and there was nothing to do but play. But when we call up specific memories, they never seem quite so golden; our friends never seem quite such good friends; and there are terrors that we have worked hard to forget. Perhaps that’s why so many books have been written about that time when we transition from childhood to young adulthood, the moment when we begin to regard our childhood fancies as childish.
For Jackie, the main character in Rick Hautala’s Reunion, that “moment” comes in late August, just a couple of weeks before he is to begin attending junior high school. Jackie is camping out in his backyard with his best friend, Chris Hooper. Chris has a great plan: after everyone’s asleep, they’ll steal away and head for the country club, where there’s a high school class reunion going on. They’ll swipe themselves a couple of steaks and have a great time. Jackie’s not sure why he’s so completely opposed to this plan; it’s not that he’s chicken, and he’s no goody-two-shoes, either. It just doesn’t feel right.
John is getting ready to attend the same high school reunion, but he is attending as someone who graduated forty years ago. He is scared to death of this gathering, for reasons he won’t divulge. His wife doesn’t understand it; why did they spend all the time and money to get back to Rockport, Maine from California if he’s so reluctant to actually go to the party? And circumstances seem to be colluding to ensure that they don’t get there at all: a mechanical problem with the plane, no car at the rental place, a mixed-up hotel reservation, and then, to top it all off, a tire blows out when they’re finally on the road. But John is determined to get to the country club despite how frightened he is, because he has a task to accomplish once he’s there.
Jackie ultimately doesn’t have much choice about going, because Chris insists. As they run up and over the bridge, Chris far in the lead, they pass through a strange fog. Isn’t fog supposed to stick to lower places, not higher ones? And why does this particular fog seem so strangely greasy? Why does Jackie feel – changed somehow after that run through that cloud?
Jackie and John are about to collide, thanks to the fog. If I said any more, I’d spoil this lovely, nostalgic novella. The story has a mood that matches that of Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life or Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night, one that brings memories of climbing trees, roaming in the green woods, and doing stupid things that we should never have survived – but most of all, of that special moment when we started to recognize that childhood was ending. Hautala remembers the awkwardness of feeling betwixt and between, no longer a child but not yet an adult, and he conveys it with pitch-perfect dialogue, both interior and exterior. And Hautala also knows how to write about the yearning for childhood adults experience as they remember those long, lazy days before they were old enough to work, when summers stretched out almost endlessly. Reunion is a lovely story.