All Summer Long

ALL SUMMER LONG might aim for a “gentle-on-my-mind” mood, but it strikes one of thoughtless whining. Written by newspaper and magazine columnist Bob Greene—who over a 20-year period has set himself up as sort of a spokesman for the self-conscious Baby Boom generation—this first novel is both uncomfortable and unhinged. The reader will ask, “Why trail along any farther?” and cringe at the sense of voyeurism which the narrative seems to invite.

Through his narrator, television reporter Ben Kroeger, Greene once more reflects on “The Wonder Years” and their meaning and impact. As in his previous book BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL, Greene indulges his infatuation (and many readers’ interest, judging from his popularity).

Three lifelong pals from Bristol, Ohio, meet up at a 25-year high school reunion and decide to take off the summer and take off across the country to sample the world and each other, and maybe recapture “the best years of our lives.” Besides Ben, there’s Michael Wolff, a teacher struggling with self-worth as well as household expenses, and Ronnie Hepps, a cocky, cigar-chomping multimillionaire who married into money.

The nostalgic tour moves from the Ohio State Fair to Las Vegas, from Independence Day in Iowa to Wrigley Field in Chicago, but it’s really looking for the elusive Good Ol’ Days of the 1950’s and 1960’s. What it finds, finally, is the power of friendships, the nuisance of selective memory, and a quiet hero: Michael emerges as one who makes a difference in people’s lives.

Despite being written rather seamlessly, ALL SUMMER LONG rarely evokes feelings other than melancholy, lurking beneath the surface. It’s mechanically flawless but flighty, a boring travelogue of remembrances and regret, deep thoughts and shallow people.