August is all about Saratoga in the Capital Region. Fortunately for us, local author
Eric Luper’s newest novel, Bug Boy, is being released just in time for track season.
Although Bug Boy is being touted as a young adult novel, readers and horse racing enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy this lively, fast-paced story of a boy working at the Saratoga Racetrack during the Depression. Jack Walsh, our protagonist, is 15 and has been working with horses ever since he left his home in Syracuse three years before. When the story starts, he is an exercise boy for Mr. Pelton’s stables. When a freak accident incapacitates the stable’s primary jockey, Jack is promoted to bug boy or “apprentice rider”. From that point on, Jack’s life changes. He is no longer a lowly exercise boy; he has ascended to the exalted rank of jockey, and as such, he is admitted to society. Elizabeth Reed, a stable owner’s beautiful daughter who had scorned him before his elevation, starts to date him, and their relationship is splashed all over the social pages of the local newspapers.
Jack is now well-dressed, driving an expensive roadster and hitting all the hottest nightspots, but there is a dark side to his good fortune. Eating at the ritziest restaurants in town isn’t nearly as fun when you have to purge after every meal to maintain a jockey’s weight, and the higher profile a rider is, the more pressure there is on him to throw races for the benefit of the biggest gamblers. Pressure mounts when Jack’s father and Mr. Tweed, his first mentor, arrive in Saratoga and offer to manage Jack’s career.
Bug Boy is filled with the scents and sounds of the racetrack; its historic setting and its liberal inclusion of Depression-era slang make it almost a lesson in Saratoga track history.
Throughout the novel I had to keep reminding myself that Jack was only 15. Perhaps the Depression forced children into adult responsibilities too early, but readers of any age will be impressed by Jack’s maturity at the end of this coming-of- age novel. It isn’t a substitute for going to the track, but reading this book will only make the experience richer.
Jonathan Tropper’s, This Is Where I Leave You, comes out this month. Ever since I read his second novel, The Book of Joe, I have been a fan of his work. I am not quite sure why he hasn’t become more popular; perhaps it is because he writes family stories la Sue Miller and Alice Hoffman, but from a man’s perspective. In this, his fifth novel, Judd Foxham has to return home after the death of his father. For the first time in 10 years, his whole family is in the same place, and in order to honor their father’s dying wishes, they remain in the family home for a week to sit shiva. The ensuing proximity takes its toll on a family that was never particularly close to begin with, and the family secrets, resentments and affection that bubble to the surface make for a gripping story. Tropper’s characters are flawed, but self-aware enough to know it and the family dynamics are emotionally resonant. If you enjoy well-written domestic drama spiced with humor and pop culture references, this is the book for you. Or you can start with any one of his previous books, all of which are available in paperback. They are all fun, entertaining reads.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.