Synopses & Reviews
There are times when an outright denial does not work. Then there are times when the best way to lie is to say something so bad about yourself that no one would make it up because it means you will get a big punishment. But that's still going to be a smaller punishment than you would get if the truth came out. This was clearly one of those times. Fortunately for me, Mom handed me my lie on a platter by jumping to conclusions. "Calvin, you've been touching yourself!" Suddenly Mom grabbed my puff and pulled it off. She stared at me for a moment, then pointed to my pajamas with a shriek of dismay. "Look!" Mom gasped. Dad stared. I glanced down. Only then did I realize that I had squirted my precious seeds while Eva was on me! I had been in such pain that somehow I had not felt it happen. My light green pajamas were stained dark and were soaked with big sticky patches. I waited a moment and thought out my lie as carefully as I could. Dad was looking at me in a tired sort of way. Mom was all aquiver and seemed to be vibrating. You have to keep your head in these sorts of circumstances. There is no margin for error when you are discovered in a hotel room with your pajamas soaked with telltale stains, a broken picture behind the bed and your mother and father standing over you, looking at you while your mother's hands are full of women's undergarments, including an extra large lacy white bra smelling of unfortunate Europeans. "Where did these come from, Calvin?" Mom yelped.
Calvin Becker is back in a timely, timeless story about the volcanic sexual curiosity of a fourteen-year-old boy born into a fundamentalist family so strict that he has never seen a movie, watched television, or danced (and has to hide his five copies of Mad magazine in the attic). It is 1966, and Ralph and Elsa Becker, Reformed Presbyterian missionaries from Kansas, are stationed in Switzerland, and on a modest ski vacation with their children: tyrannical eighteen-year-old Janet, angelic Rachael, and our narrator, the irrepressible Calvin, a fourteen year-old who puzzles over his sisters' bras, as they hang on a line hidden away "so that I could not get a good look unless I ducked under the sheets ... to the feminine heart of the laundry maze." But at the Hotel Riffelberg, high above Zermatt, Calvin falls into the hands of a waitress who, while bringing him his breakfast each morning, serially initiates him into ecstasies he can barely comprehend. The resulting family crisis triggers a larger crisis of faith in his fundamentalist father, leading to a climax which rips Calvin out of his childhood. With echoes of Irving and Roth and its own uniquely human voice, Zermatt is a gem.