A Novel by Gary Wells
Have you ever been to a class reunion or casually met an old school friend you haven’t seen in a very long time? If the answer to any of these questions is YES, you know way too well how it feels: awkward moments, all sorts of memories flooding back to you (mostly bad for some reason), idle chit chat and reflections on how the world has changes (as well as you).
This is exactly the situation our protagonist Nick Taylor finds himself in. A retired Media PR expert and former journalist, he is reluctantly attending the 50th high school reunion of the Class of 1969. Despite a successful career in a relationship-based profession, Nick is an introvert by nature and finds it challenging to interact with his former classmates, especially those he hasn’t seen in ages (he actually keeps count of how many people he’s managed to talk to during the evening, so he can tell his wife). Nick has also a fatal flaw: he remembers absolutely EVERYTHING: events in the past down to the tiniest detail, songs (lyrics, singers, writers and trivia) and futile information nobody else would normally remember – basically a living encyclopaedia.
Utilising copious references to 60s songs and key events in American history, Nick – who narrates in first person – explores crucial parts of his past, gradually telling us more about him as the story progresses. It’s coming of age in reverse: page after page, we discover how Nick evolved from a chubby, insecure teenager with several interests (mostly music and sports) and a small bunch of friends to a more mature, self-confident (but not quite) young man. The narration also focuses heavily on the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s, from the Vietnam War and the Mobe activist movement, to student protests (especially around Kent State, given our protagonist went to college there), the Moon landing and even Woodstock. In all this, we also gauge his thoughts about a potential face-to-face encounter with “THAT Girl”, his high school sweetheart who rarely attends reunions: will she turn up this time? Nick reflects on his friendship with those who were there for him all along like the very social, charming Tom Baker, (almost his polar opposite), those who have just appeared briefly in his life and those he’s never shared a moment or memory with.
‘The Reunion’ is not an easy read, especially if you are not well versed in American culture (being originally from Southern Europe, it was a crash-course in 60s history, politics and music). However, I mean this in the most positive way: Gary Wells is an extremely gifted writer, his style showing enviable wit and a complexity I honestly haven’t come across in any other self-published author so far. Real-life, historic events are masterfully intertwined with the protagonist’s many personal memories brought to the surface every time he meets somebody new – the level of detail in describing each one so impressive it’s almost disturbing (and perhaps overwhelming at times).
While Wells drew from his own life experience for inspiration (see his Amazon bio here), there are certainly elements of his book we can all relate to, regardless of our age: moments in the past that stayed with us forever, the inner struggles of being a teenager, the difficulty to socialise and be true to ourselves, fears and expectations around the future or something as simple as a specific soundtrack to our memories. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the fact that I too remember everything: my friends find it mostly entertaining (and sometimes annoying, exactly like Tom in the book) but some things are better left in the past where they belong. Well, Gary/Nick seems to think otherwise: “Preserve your memories, son. They’re all that’s left you”. Want to find out what’s yours? I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy and start reading now to find out.