It’s the 1960s and Robbie Clark is a golden boy: young, handsome, popular, and rich. Tommy Donahue hails from an impoverished family and goes virtually unseen among his schoolmates. Theirs is an unlikely friendship. Robbie and Tommy have at least two things in common: they both want to fight in Vietnam and are attracted to the same girl – a gorgeous college freshman named Reggie Albach. The trio’s relationship grows even more complicated after Robbie meets Tommy’s sister Debbie and falls in love with her.
So begins Matthew Taylor’s LEVIES OF DEVOTION, a heartfelt novel about four teenagers caught between the summer of love and the horror of the Vietnam War. Author Matthew Taylor vividly the depicts tender joys of young love, as well as the sadness of a broken heart. Robbie, Tommy, Reggie, and Debbie are clumsy and callous as only teenagers can be and end up both loving and hurting each other. But LEVIES OF DEVOTION is also a story about growing up, coming to terms with the many disappointments of life, and trying to move on regardless of the pain.
While Taylor’s story is captivating and characters relatable, his writing is far from perfect. He puts a lot of effort into his prose and wants his readers to notice. Consider the following passage which is Taylor’s description of a kid working his first job in a car dealership:
“The steady work left him with pockets full of cash… and self-esteem; the society of colleagues proved a spring board from the friends of his youth. This new beginning ensconced an understanding that the world of adolescence was fleeting. Having tasted snippets of independence, he began to know the future was this seed sown in a pasture of pubescent rain and nurtured in a sun of masculinity.”
Such flowery language is appropriate for a love story like this one, but it is far more effective when used sparingly. Here, it overstays its welcome like an intoxicating perfume until it grows cloying. Worse, Taylor’s overwritten prose dulls the very emotions he wants to convey, since almost everything is described similarly – from lovemaking to domestic violence. However, this criticism comes from this reviewer’s preference for a simpler, more straightforward style of writing. Undoubtedly, many readers will love this novel. And rightfully so. In LEVIES OF DEVOTION, Matthew Taylor depicts first love with all the passion and seriousness of a teenager. Simultaneously, he looks upon it with the weary wisdom of an adult. Because of this, what might have been a story about four kids fumbling with love and sex instead becomes a grand romance.
Matthew Taylor’s prose may sometimes come off as needlessly overwritten, but there’s no denying the epic sweep of LEVIES OF DEVOTION, a love story that will capture reader’s attention as it weaves a tale spanning two continents, three generations, and five decades.
~Danijel Štriga, for IndieReader