Iconic monument raises brooding teenager’s fragile hopes

Ascent, by William Welsch. Book Broker Publishers. 324 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

This delightful and disturbing novel, set in St. Louis in the autumn of 1965, is essentially a coming of age tale focused on David Miles, a high school junior who defines himself as something of an outsider. The year is significant, as the Civil Rights Act had gone into effect only one year earlier, marking a kind of coming of age – though a tortured one – for the United States. It was also the time of a symbolic coming of age for the city of St. Louis, symbolized by the completion of the famous Gateway Arch, itself a symbol of a continent-wide nation.  ascentcover

The book, which takes its title (and cover art) from viewing the arch as a symbol of ascent and inspiration, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the arch. However, the crisis of race relations that is portrayed in the narrative has only amplified in this special anniversary year. One wonders: perhaps David Miles has grown up a bit, but has St. Louis and the country really matured?

When Douglas Findley, a new English teacher at Glendale Prep, challenges his students to widen their horizons by exploring beyond their comfortable neighborhoods, David is awakened to the sorry state of race relations and the enormous wealth and opportunity disparities in St. Louis. When his family’s Afro-American housekeeper and cook Dorothea, felt to be a second mother, is not invited to the wedding of David’s older brother Chip, the hardened barriers between White and Black St. Louis are potently underscored.

WilliamWelsch

The portrait of David as a shy, sensitive, academically weak high school student is amplified and rounded by his many other rolls: neighborhood baby sitter, stumbling seeker of young female companionship, dreamer, follower to nonconformist risk taker Jim, occasional assistant in his father’s furniture store, driver of Dorothea (the housekeeper) from and to her home in the “colored” district, brother in the shadow of the “perfect son” Chip, comforter to his cancer-plagued mother, and aspiring writer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ascent

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