Bar Maid
by Daniel Roberts
Arcade Publishing

"The night after he first kissed Monica Miller, he walked home with a smile on his face just like this religious kid’s. He wondered what it would be like to feel that way without needing a girl to get there."

Charlie Green is looking for a life-changing adventure. The privileged son of wealthy French emigres, the eccentric eighteen-year-old is dropped off at Philadelphia's ivy-league University of Pennsylvania but never sets foot in a classroom. He is eager to draw a line between himself and the "haircuts," a catch-all term for the callous and shallow, much like Holden Caufield's "phonies." Sidestepping freshman orientation activities on his first day, Charlie takes a cab to Center City and wanders the grease-soaked streets, encountering sirens and monsters in the forms of surly locals. He meets Paula, the light-eyed girl of his dreams, and fights to win her kiss, if not her heart. But then the true adventure starts.

It takes time and tragedy to make a grown-up, though, not just one night's odyssey. Charlie wakes up the next morning, and the next, and the next, alternately stumbling and soaring. As he begins to grow out of the egotism of youth, the narrative blooms in the second half of the novel. What starts as an amusing if slightly adolescent romp grows into a deeply felt coming-of-age story in the style of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys or even a great John Hughes movie. And like Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful, this poignant romance is set in the cynical and selfish 1980s, throwing the genuine sweetness of the characters into high relief. Bar Maid drinks its way through the angsty end of adolescence, lighting signal fires in the darkness with laugh-out-loud moments and unabashed sincerity.

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