Kenneth Koch's The Beverly Boys' Summer Vacation

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First part of a review of Kenneth Koch's The Collected Fiction
Laura Steele

The Collected Fiction contains a novel, three collections of short stories and two miscellaneous works. Because summer is the time to ponder Kenneth Koch, I'm going to consider each work separately. The first fiction is a curiosity, by far the shortest piece here:

1. The Beverly Boys' Summer Vacation (1958)

Twenty-one chapters in six pages: this reads like the wide-eyed text to a beautifully illustrated picture book, each chapter a short paragraph, a summer vacation in postcards.

Chapter 2. A LAST WINK

The Beverly Boys knew it was their last night at Town Hut, where they had had so much fun in previous summers. In the morning Bobby didn't want to get up right away because it made him so sad to leave the summer home. Aunt Bertha let him stay in bed an extra five minutes, so as to have a last wink of sleep at Town Hut.
The tale begins with the slight emotional and physical displacement which has launched a thousand children's books. Instead of the summer at Town Hut, by the lake, the Beverly Boys are to spend the summer at Roundup Hut, "in the interior of the woods". So the narrative question is, Will they have a good time?

Of course they will. And there is no slip in the tone of telling; no mixing of registers: Bill and Bob Beverly will see a lizard, meet an orphan called Tugboat Ted, and even climb up Top-Notch Peak. If produced as a picture book, I can imagine a sticker saying "Ages 2-4", and a sigh of relief as parents discover that at least this specimen of the genre is crisply written and fast-paced. The Beverly Boys' Summer Vacation is the form of breathless summer adventure set into chaos by Ashbery in Girls On The Run. In this collected volume, it stands as an invitation to read further: the boys' adventure story will be elaborated on at length in The Red Robins (1975), a novel about a group of young aviators who fly around Asia. But there are no such extensions here; instead, a crystallised sunniness is seen to bleach a little as it fixes into place:


On the ride back everyone noticed how green the trees were. "It is September already," said Aunt Bertha smilingly, "and yet the leaves have not yet begun to turn. Maybe the trees are like us, and want to remember and enjoy as long as possible the fun they have had during the summer."

[ISBN 10:1-56689-176-0 $18.00 6 x 9 408 pages Paperback Coffee House Press]

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