Cruisin Central, "A Rock 'n' Roll Novel" is a major novel by Charlotte Webb. Title: Cruisin Central, A Rock 'N' Roll Novel
What is it? : A 274 page novel of 50-60's era teens growing up in Phoenix, Arizona by Charlotte Webb.
Technical Quality: Above average. Its a quality trade paperback format with a fine color cover , quality paper, and clear easy-to-read type.
Innovative Quality: Very high. Examples include, but are not limited to: different typefaces that represent different things (see review); using lyrics from rock 'n' roll songs to preface the chapters; a glossary of slang; a bookmark for the novel; and even a mathematical formula for determing the last cool year of rock ‘n’ roll (1963?).
Review: "Cruisin Central" is a complex novel that involves a community of characters - mostly teens - in a concentrated environment - a section of Phoenix, Arizona - during the early years of rock 'n' roll - the late 50's through the early 60's. And it requires some backup information for most readers to understand that insulated world.
Author Webb has supplied those extras. There's a map of Central Avenue where the teens cruise in their souped up cars, indicating all the hot spots. The style of car is very important to status and coolness. There is a glossary of slang including such terms as crewcut, hood, p.t., candy apple red, cherry, church key, lay rubber, rumble, etc. The typefaces are part of the story. There are separate texts for the main body of the story, flashback scenes, typed letters, unspoken thoughts, and lines of lyrics. The novel is set up as a series of entries, each with the point of view of one major or minor character. Webb introduces each entry with a line of lyrics from a rock 'n' roll song that relates to the action. And in a 10 page separate booklet (available upon request with purchase only), she lists all the lyric lines plus the songs they come from, and the artist that made them. In an additional nice touch, the lyric lines , when read in order, tell a story of their own - a secret novel within a novel!
The music quoted is a vast discography of all aspects of not only rock 'n' roll of the early days of the rock 'n' roll era, but other pop contemporary songs. Anyone wanting to know more about that era of music, and that has only heard oldies fare, would be wise to study the list for the real thing. The music is all over the map, and includes, Buddy Holly, Kingston Trio, Connie Stevens, Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, Johnny Horton, Elvis, La Vern Baker, Shirelles, Beach Boys, Marcels, Jimmy Reed, Cookie and the Cupcakes, and many many more.
The novel opens by introducing us to a bunch of teens from Cinnabar High School, Soon we see what is important in their world: cruising Central Avenue in the coolest cars, avoiding the violent 'hoods', fighting when you have to, keeping up with the newest rock 'n' roll songs, staying away from trouble with the police, drinking, girls 'reputations', dating, and sex.
Gradually one girl, Petey Stoner, becomes the main character to watch. She is a thin girl from an abusive family who is known to steal 45's for her vast record collection. Her mom thinks she's a slut but the boys think she is a cold fish - she crosses her legs in what they call the 'Petey Pretzel'. Petey is also very very smart and has to hide her IQ to fit in with her school friends.
The main boy character is Jim Berling, who looks like Rick Nelson, drives the 'Honeydripper', and is a bit of a hood, even though his father is Judge Berling, 'the hanging judge'.
Both Petey and Jim keep files on other boys and girls. Petey notes the cars they drive, and the music they like. Jim notes their SQ, sexual quotient.
Through episode after epidsode the reader sees that everything is here from the 'Happy Days" type world depicted on tv. But unlike that world, this one is seldom happy. It's a very gritty, dark, cold, and harsh world where adults are either suckers or abusive, parents push too hard and have no respect for their kids, teen boys are often extremely violent, girls are either naive or tramps, and most everyone is provincial and living in their own very small narrow world. There seems to be very little chance for a change for the better for anyone.
Excerpt: Petey and Watson “Goin to the river, gonna jump overboard and drown” I was trying to decide on the method of suicide I would use, because life without Denny wasn’t worth living. No one else had ever loved anyone as much as I loved him. But I was not going to give in to him, and risk getting knocked up, and ruin both our lives. Why couldn’t he understand?”
Later Petey hears Carole say the same thing about Mark, “No one has ever loved anyone as much as I loved Mark”, and decides against suicide.
My main concern about the novel would be that no one of the many characters seems to get out - to get out of Cinnabar High or Phoenix, with a normal healthy life, let alone an accomplished successful life. The overriding tone is that of everyone being trapped in a conservative 'buttoned down' world. We, who grew up during this time, often forget how conservative it was, and those of a different generation, don’t know how bad it could be. But as bad as it was, some did get out.
Overall it is an exceedingly rich novel with some amazing detail - for ex. we learn the coolest makeup at the cosmetics counter. And it does a remarkable job of bringing that era to life with a mix of excitement, immediacy, and dread: romance , desire, and passion; and an overall driving hope for escape with someone - anyone. And perhaps nothing better expressed all that then the rock ‘n’ roll music that was playing in the background.