Kevin Fenton came of age in the sort of small Minnesota town he describes as a “pocket of meaning and happiness,” and his memoir moves between that idea and the idea that “nostalgia is a sidekick of self-righteousness.” It’s a moving snapshot of an American childhood and an American dissatisfaction with what follows.
Fenton, who works in advertising and also writes fiction — and who recognizes these jobs as two sides of the same coin — shifts the narrative back and forth in time. Memories from the perspective of an innocent boy are followed with memories from the eyes of a narrator jaded by hardship. The first chapter, “The Golden Age,” moves from warm memories of cocoa in winter, listening to 45s, and siblings easing each other to sleep with knock-knock jokes, into more adult considerations — a car accident that changes everything for his father, the verities of ethnicity and religion, the frustrations that come with the long ending of childhood.
His childhood didn’t go down without a fight, though: “The Beatles were winning. Laugh-In was winning. Twister was winning.” The family, working to sustain a farm with all the challenges that entails and further handicapped by the repercussions of the father’s injuries, finds ways to shelter the small pockets of happiness against the odds. It’s a testament to the efforts of his parents that Fenton felt, even to the age of 12, that he had only seen what children of that age should see.
Fenton’s innocence began to crumble, though, under the pressures of intense writerly self-awareness and doubly intense teenage boy preoccupations. Small-town dabbling in drinks and drugs took on a bigger role, and he found himself at the mercy of being “without self-control, but [not] without self-knowledge.” He becomes aware of the bigger tapestry of life around him — of how, during all those hours Fenton spent playing ice hockey outside, his father’s injuries kept him inside the house, alone, missing the life going by.
It’s a life story that could easily succumb to kvetching, but Fenton’s writing elevates it to a holy kind of consideration. “Leaving Rollingstone” is a long gaze into, and at, the looking glass. Fenton puts the past, warts and all, on a pedestal while remaining fully aware that this nostalgia for when “things were better” is an illusion that each generation nurtures. Fenton’s book is a treasure for readers who want to strike that balance between memory and awareness.
Matthew Tiffany is a writer and psychotherapist. www.condalmo.com