Another new FFB review from Barry today. Make sure you check out the full list over on Todd's blog after you read Barry’s work below.
THE TWISTED ONES (1959) by Vin Packer
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
The Twisted Ones comprises three separate stories about youths driven to extremes by personal and familial issues.
Sixteen-year-old Brock Brown, a student at the high school in the town of Sykes, New York, is a handsome young man who “dressed meticulously, with a rigid sense of style that he had formulated over the years.” His mother Edith, whose maiden name was Brock, whose family was among the town’s upper crust, and who never wanted children, died when he was seven. His forty-two-year-old father remarried a woman named Clara who is only twelve years older than Brock, and who tries to encourage her loner stepson to participate in normal teenage activities: e.g., to ask Carrie Bates, whom he frequently talks about, to the prom. Brock, who has never had a date, vehemently refuses, contending that Carrie is “fast” and that being with her “‘could get me in a whole big crazy pack of trouble if I didn’t know right from wrong.’” One who thinks of and describes himself as “boy cat, all shook up,” Brock’s rigidity extends beyond superficial style to an off-kilter sense of what is right and wrong, legal and illegal, moral and immoral—with catastrophic consequences.
Charles Berrey is eight years old and has an I.Q. of 165. “The unexpected fruit of Howard and Evelyn Berry’s middle age, [he is going to] make his third appearance on Cash-Answer, the most popular quiz show on television.” Evelyn Berrey is a loving, doting mother. Howard “Duke” Berrey is an ex-Marine who still works out regularly and who sells sporting goods for a living. Conflicted about his son’s success, he appreciates Charles’s ability to win huge sums of money while simultaneously disliking the way people regard him as an aberration. A physically and verbally abusive type, he constantly berates his son about his vocabulary and often talks to him like a drill instructor to a Marine in training. He argues with, and sometimes strikes, his wife. When he orders his son to “spoof” his boss, Paul Carter, the president of the sporting goods company, he inadvertently ignites a flame in Charles, who devours books on a multitude of subjects “like a hungry tomcat devoured mice.” One of the myths he’s read about is a favorite from Polynesia. It drives him to the commission of an act that forever changes lives—his, his parents’, and the lives of some of the residents in his hometown of Reddton, New Jersey.
Nineteen-year-old Reginald Whittier lives in Auburn, Vermont with his mother above their antique shop, Whittier’s Wheel, “as archaic and old-fangled in its appearance as the attitudes and opinions of its proprietress, Miss Ella.” Impregnated by the husband who subsequently abandoned her, she gave her son his father’s first name and her own maiden surname. At her request the town jeweler, Mr. Danker, has become something of a surrogate father to Reggie with regard to certain matters—e.g., the facts of life—although the young man feels uncomfortable around him. (It becomes clear to the reader that Mr. Danker has designs on Reggie of his own.) A stutterer, Reggie has always been shy around people his own age but is nonetheless someone who finds it easier to talk to women than to men. When he becomes involved with eighteen-year-old Laura Lee, who works as a maid at a local junior college, his internal conflict about pleasing her, pleasing his overly protective and possessive mother, and wanting a better life than he’s so far had, results in drastic actions.
A short, absorbing, fast-moving novel, its title and the publisher’s teaser suggest that The Twisted Ones are only Brock Brown, Charles Berrey, and Reginald Whittier. In fact, their parents and some other adult authority figures are equally deserving of that description.
Although I’ve known of Vin Packer (real name Marijane Meaker) for decades, this is the first of her books I’ve read. I hope to read others, which is also a way of saying I highly recommend this one.
© 2016 Barry Ergang
Winner of the 2007 Derringer Award for the best flash fiction story of 2006, Barry Ergang’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. His recent e-books, a story for children called The Boy Who Ate Rainbows and a science-fiction parody, The Vole Eater, are available at Amazon and Smashwords. Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay is available for free at Smashwords.