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Astral Projection

by Edward O’Connor

Poignancy alert! Astral Projection is a novel about an adolescent boy’s coming of age in the early 1960s. The fiction field is already overcrowded with finely crafted quasi-memoirs of confused boys in confused times, and if the book’s action takes place before hippiedom arrived, readers are bound to find themselves in well-trodden Salingerland.
The scenery looks familiar: Dad and Mom are given Ozzie and Harriet to live up to; transistor radios set kids free; and girls grow bumps, whereupon they become mysteriously connected to the rhythms of the universe. From playtime to Playboy: this is the usual literary sum of times past, guy-wise. The first half of Astral Projection adds little that’s new to the genre. As the book progresses, however, the story gathers a certain scrappy appeal, and by the end many readers will be charmed by this long-ago evocation of suburban anxiety.
With dim prospects, no siblings, and a poky little Miami house in which he dodges his drunken parents, 15-year-old Goodwin DeFoe feels teenage oblivion creeping up on him until he discovers music. Aiming to become a professional jazz guitarist, Goodwin hooks up with a womanizing, hard-living thirtysomething music teacher named Buffington. Things get complicated when Goodwin’s sad-sack mom has a brief affair with teach, and Goodwin grows up and away from his mentor. Meanwhile, Goodwin is blessed or cursed – he can’t make out which – by mysterious episodes of astral projection, in which his mind is freed from his bedroom-bound body and left to wander and wonder over the suburbs.
O’Connor’s gifts lie with his grasp of place and a feel for the natural world; his flat notes result from a lack of originality. But Goodwin is a character that we want to see more of – perhaps next time O’Connor might continue where he left off, tackling the adventures of Goodwin the budding L.A. session musician, 1970s coke culture and all. Now that would be an out-of-body experience to look forward to.