This is a first-person narrative related to the reader by Eddie, who, just released from prison, takes us back to 1963, to his high school years and the wrenching events that shattered his life and that of Gene, his best friend and spiritual brother.
Gene and Eddie are sixteen, and national civil rights fires have been ignited across the U.S. As the boys enter this chaotic, critical period in history—and in their lives—they gravitate, bit by bit, to opposite sides of what will be watershed societal changes of the era. In the widening schism, Eddie will cleave to the values of the dominant Anglo culture of the town (and most of the country), while Gene is pulled toward the higher values of equality and civil justice. This evolves into a Cain-and-Abel story: two young men, hitherto indivisible, but now gripped by diverging fates, become tangled in the tailwinds of violence, rape, and murder, which climaxes in tragedy for a doomed friendship.
The story’s tone reflects the “center of the universe” feeling of being young and reckless at the intersection of beachtown “hip” and rural farming ethos of California in the ‘60s, yet it is laden with the melancholy and quiet desperation of crippled pride, lifelong secrets, and a man freed from prison but past forgiveness for his sins. Four decades after the fact, the book persists in the eternal question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”