The Haunts of His Youth

This is an update of my first book, Tike and Five Stories, available at Xlibris:  here.

The Haunts Of His Youth are the Midwest and the Sixties when sex, of all sorts, became easier but love only more confusing.  This collection of nine stories and a novella brings back to print Jonathan Strong’s first book, Tike and Five Stories, in a revised and expanded edition.

A fourteen-year-old glimpses the coming sexual revolution when his sister takes up with a college student boarding with his family.  Two teenage brothers, stuck in the country with their parents all summer, look for dangerous ways to let off steam.  Young friends are puzzled by their feelings for each other when they say goodbye at a bus station.  Whether it’s a boy in the bosom of his large family on the Fourth of July or a boy and girl shacking up for the first time, there’s a youthful fever in the air.

Two stories, set in the day ward of a mental hospital, trace elusive bonds of friendship in a world of loss.  A longer story, which in its first version won the third prize O. Henry Award in 1967, introduces a charmer of a street kid weaving his way into the life of an older man to whom he comes to mean far too much.

As for the novella, the New York Times review summed it up this way:  Shy, somewhat lonely, pleasantly soft and sensitive, Tike Larkin lives in a rooming house with his pet, McDog. Tike is drawn out of his shell by Val, another occupant of the rooming house and the most beautiful and sexy girl Tike has ever known.  Val hurts him just enough to provoke a small act of anger, which, in the framework of the story, is a dramatic step.  That’s all.  But Mr. Strong has put the pieces together so artfully that [it] has the immediacy, charm, and believability of a long letter from an old and good friend.

The collection comes full circle in a final story, written in 1975, in which a neophyte soccer coach finds himself trying to inspire a new generation that already thinks of the Sixties as a bit old-fashioned.

These early works of Jonathan Strong appeared in a wide range of magazines (The Partisan Review, Esquire, The Atlantic, Shenandoah, Ingenue, TriQuarterly, The Transatlantic Review), and in nine different anthologies. As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in The New York Times put it:  The world of Mr. Strong’s fiction is warm, relaxed and friendly.  He relies for his effects on subtle varieties of artlessness.  The results from story to story are almost completely successful.

And in The New Leader, Phoebe Pettingell wrote: Strong’s stories are compassionate and moving.  When I say they are reminiscent of Mann or Gide, I do not mean they are imitative, since he certainly has his own style.  Rather, although he writes about modern youth, he does so in a European tradition.  Above all, Strong has a delicate and sure touch; his sadness never turns sentimental, and he never simplifies his characters problems.

Sarah Blackburn, in The Nation, called Jonathan Strong a writer who can speak for the Sixties as Salinger did for the Fifties. . . .  Mr. Strong combines a deceptive surface fragility with a tough, direct, and absolutely authoritative sense of who his characters are and what the world is like for them.  His remarkable, unaffected spareness is possible and successful because he trusts his reader: his material barely runs to book length, yet it is far more substantial than works twice its size by novelists of great reputation.  Only once in a great while does a writer of such immediately evident talent appear.

In 1970, Tike and Five Stories won the Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a prize for a first work of fiction won in previous years by such writers as Bernard Malamud, John Updike, and Joyce Carol Oates.

And in a long review of Strong’s first novel, Ourselves, Richard Locke in The New York Times looked back at the earlier book like this:  In the spring of 1969, when he was 24 and a senior at Harvard, Jonathan Strong published Tike and Five Stories and was immediately acclaimed as an important young writer.  He worked on a very small scalehis subjects were often no more than the first experiences of a quiet and lonely 18-year-oldand his style was so spare and controlled that it seemed as if hed run out of acid before the etching was finished. There was, in his work, the danger of a too self-conscious simplicity, a false naivet, but Tike had power and a tense expectant sexuality, and the very short, shallow-breathing sentences never missed a step.  The echoes of early James Purdy or Tennessee William’s stories, of Hemingway’s sad, deliberate, wounded heroes, of Harold Pinter’s menacing minimality, never obscured Strong’s own careful, resonant voice.  He stopped nearly always just this side of preciosity; he didnt resort to boyish charm or fluent exuberance; he was upset enough and direct enough (for all his art) to seize and hold your attention, slow you down, get you very much inside his characters skin.

In the following decade, Strong made careful revisions of his early short fiction; the O. Henry Award-winning story “Supperburger” reappeared as “Zwillingsbruder” in the literary magazine Plum in 1981. And though long out of print, Strong’s first book was remembered by Christopher Bram, writing in Christopher Street in 1987:  Rereading Tike and Five Stories now, its a pleasure to see how good the book really is. . . .  “Supperburger” seems more remarkable than ever. An 18-year-old boy, Patrick Polo, describes the end of his affair with a married man.  Patrick is gay, but without a gay identity.  He’s a 1960s street kid, complete with suede boots and floppy hat, and accepts his homosexuality with the same careful cool with which he accepts all complications in his life.

Bram continues:  A similar clear-eyed cool or calm shapes the other stories in the book.  This is not the mannered, lockjaw stoicism of recent new fiction, which suggests repressed hysterics, but the deliberate pose of wise teenagers who want to feel all theyre feeling, privately, without making a fuss. Its the voice of Huck Finn, by way of Holden Caulfield, simplified further by a Sixties style of honesty that avoids jokes, irony, and metaphor.  The emotion always comes through, as undeniable as weather, even in Strong’s gestures toward zero degrees of writing, such as the eight different descriptions of a single action which make up “Sayin Goodbye to Tom,” or the abrupt, basic sentences of Tike. Strong’s matter-of-factness can recapture even the awful self-pity of adolescence without making it into anything more, or less, than it really is.

And Bram concludes:  Strong engenders trust.  He writes with such unembarrassed feeling his readers feel protective toward him, patient with his idiosyncrasies, and grateful for the quiet sympathy in his voice.

Now, thirty years after the Atlantic Monthly Presss publication of Tike and Five Stories, with this new edition, revised, reordered, and expanded by four stories not included in the original and under a new title, The Haunts Of His Youth, Jonathan Strong’s first book is once again available.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Haunts of His Youth

  1. How important was Tike? It had me scrabbling through our libraries record collection for Wagner….more magical was the utter beauty of the prose. It is still a book i read often and with more and more love the longer i have it….so thankyou

  2. Stephen

    I met Jonathan Strong in May 1970 at a supermarket book rack in Santa Monica. He was not in the flesh. He was inside a 95 cent Avon book titled ‘tike and 5 stories’. I still have the book with the date of purchase written inside. I remember that I started to read the book as I walked from the store to my car. That was 43 years ago. There was no one that I could talk to at that time. I felt very drawn to the words on the pages. I remembered the author’s name and the stories. But, truthfully I had forgotten the title until I pulled it from my bookshelf today.

  3. Robert Carter

    I’m in my late sixties now, but I’ve never forgotten reading “Superburger” in a magazine and how entranced I was. I thoughts that I had never read a lovelier book, and I hadn’t, at least not until the author poblished “Ourselves.” I still remember every time I’ve played the Fisher-Dieskau-Victoria de los Angeles duets album over the years. It’s nice to be able to thank you, as it were, personally!

    • Dear Robert,
      Are you the Robert Carter from Weld South, 1962, whom I visited in Chattanooga and your mom served me my first grits?? If so, hi Bob! What a long time it’s been, though I’ve heard of you via Jim Davis. If not, thanks anyway for the very nice thoughts about my books. I’m still writing them, though I’m such a luddite I don’t do email and depend on my partner Scott to keep me up to speed electronically.
      Yours, Jonathan

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