Friday, February 27, 2009

tale of two summers sets coming-of-age story in wheaton

"It's been a crummy first day of you not being here in crappy old Wheaton, Maryland. If there is any place more boring on earth to spend a sweltering summer by my goddamn self, I can't think of one . . . the sheer deadliness of our little 'burb is really starting to bug me out." - Hal, Tale of Two Summers
I was researching Wheaton Plaza online last December when I stumbled on Tale of Two Summers, a 2006 young adult novel by Brian Sloan set in Wheaton. As uncomfortable as I felt rummaging through the Young Adult section for this book, I felt even stranger reading about all of these actual places that I have actually visited.

Tale of Two Summers is the story of two sophomores at Einstein High who've grown up together in Wheaton and, for the first time in their lives, have to spend the summer apart. Chuck, a classic over-achiever with a flair for the dramatic, enrolls in a theatre camp at the University of Maryland, while his best friend Hal, lazy, cynical and recently out of the closet, stays at home to get his driver's license.

The conceit, at least for the first half of the novel, is that Wheaton is VERY VERY FAR from College Park, so Chuck devises a blog (called "Tale of Two Summers") to communicate with Hal. While he starts off complaining about how boring and uncultured Wheaton is (seemingly ignorant that CP is like, seven Metro stops and a transfer away), Hal's perspective quickly shifts when a dashing French parkour enthusiast named Henri literally falls into his lap outside of the [former] P&G Cinema.

They become fast friends - erm, "friends with benefits" - and Henri introduces Hal to a new side of Wheaton, taking him downtown to visit a sex shop, a Moroccan coffeehouse, and a gay bar called De Lounge. Henri's curiosity (and pot-smoking habit) start to chip away at Hal's frustration with his life, his shitty suburban upbringing and his sexuality.
"On his suggestion, we headed across Veirs Mill Road into the heart of downtown Wheaton. Yes, that's right-Wheaton! (Cue horror-movie music.) . . . Sure, downtown Bethesda's cool and Silver Spring is even manageable, with that new minimall and movie megaplex . . . but crappy ass, nowhere-central Wheaton? I think not." - Hal and Henri leave the confines of Wheaton Plaza
"A gay bar? In Wheaton? Surely you jest," I say, laughing as I read. But then, a few weeks later, I was pumping gas on Georgia Avenue when I looked across the street and, lo and behold, there was De Lounge. (How many times have I been to Paul Kee Restaurant next-door and never even knew it existed?) It's especially confusing that Sloan name-drops so many real places in Wheaton while fudging everything in College Park, where Chuck lives in St. Ann's Hall and updates the blog at McKibbin Library. You'd think the University of Maryland was trying to shut him down or something unless he made up the buildings on campus.

I used to avoid Young Adult fiction when I was the right age for it, so I don't know if there have been other books written a) about Wheaton or b) with a gay protagonist, but I appreciated both thoroughly. It's nice to see writing about Montgomery County, even if it doesn't lend itself as a backdrop to literary masterpieces like New Orleans in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Books are just one way that we develop our local culture and establish ourselves as a diverse, vibrant place to live. It took Hal a little while to figure it out, but he came around.


Dave Murphy said...

From the way you describe it, I'm not so sure that I'm on board with this one. But it seems like a rather progressive premise for a young adult novel.

A gay bar? In Wheaton? Thank God all those obnoxious Good Counsel students aren't there anymore.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan wrote:

> The conceit, at least for
> the first half of the novel,
> is that Wheaton is VERY VERY
> FAR from College Park, so
> Chuck devises a blog
> (called "Tale of Two
> Summers") to communicate
> with Hal. While he starts
> off complaining about how
> boring and uncultured Wheaton
> is (seemingly ignorant that
> CP is like, seven Metro
> stops and a transfer
> away),


Hmm, this is rather amusing.

Even many years ago (pre-Metrobus,
which was pre-1972), there was transit bus service between
Wheaton Plaza and Beltway Plaza
(in Greenbelt) via Campus Drive
though the University of Maryland.

Back then, it was route
J8, and it ran along University
Boulevard, detouring down
Riggs Road then East-West
Highway and into Prince George's
Plaza, then north to the campus
by way of Adelphi Road.

Now it's route C2, which probably
runs with better headways than
the old J8 ever did.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dave Murphy wrote:

> A gay bar? In Wheaton? Thank
> God all those obnoxious
> Good Counsel students aren't
> there anymore.

Hmm, you don't think that the
entire student body of Good
Counsel was straight, do you?

Thomas Hardman said...

This is hilarious.Thanks for sharing, Dan!

I couldn't tell you much about "Young Adult" fiction other than I read one such, by none other than the curatrix of the Aspen Hill Library's children's section at the time, the really excellent "Blood and Chocolate" by Annette Curtis Klause. The film adaptation is in heavy rotation on cable, but please don't judge the four-star book by the one-star film.

Interestingly, Ms Klause sets her Modern Urban Werewolves Story in Riverdale, This was mentioned on local news one night and the reviewer spoke highly of the novel (which had won some awards), and then said, "But set in Riverdale?". The lady anchor said something to the effect, "don't act too shocked, you never know what they might have out that way" in tone that meant "wouldn't surprise me none".

With my taste in literature being what it is -- very much into Suspense and horror -- I've been tempted to write something set in Maple Ridge, Maryland, a suburb of itself-suburban Rockpile. I was thinking of something along the lines of a seemingly pleasant and gone-to-seed older suburb, with an unfortunate but well-kept secret. It's where the "Bloody" Bender Family originated, with the infamous Kansas branch of the family only being one little pod that split off from the main body, and being the only ones ever recorded as caught.

I could maybe make a slightly less obvious and longer version of my infamous short-story "Strangers In Town" but then again everyone expects that sort of twist from me by now. Amazing, it's been 22 years since I wrote that. (zOMG WTF LOL !1!1! sometimes the google-ads throw ridiculous stuff onto that page...)

But Dan: you should hang out over at "Life in Scenic Wheaton" more, they've mentioned "De Lounge" pretty prominently a few times. Not my cup of tea, but it's not like there aren't any GLBT people in Montgomery and they can't all drive downtown every time they want to get together and have a beer.

Probably best to not mention it, though, unless you want the shower nuts to stake out the place and start gangstalking folks...

Dan Reed said...

I did mean to read Blood and Chocolate, along with Rockville Pike by Susan Coll, whatever George Pelecanos writes that's set in Silver Spring, and In Stereo Where Available (I think that's what it's called) by "Becky Anderson" (who writes Becky's Bowie Blog. Strange that this area yields so much chick lit/crime lit/YA lit.

Thomas Hardman said...

Blood and Chocolate might not be typical of YA novels. Not only is it a fine and innovative take on the genres of "loups-garou" (wolfen shapeshifters) but it's a well-done and modern look at the whole "growing up different because of being a secret alien" thing. Furthermore, the plot is exceptionally tight through all of the twists and turns and it's a fairly sweet little romance on top of a murder mystery and jockeyings for position worthy of a royal-courts novel.

See a review here if you feel the need.

The explanation for all of the horror/crime stuff written about the general DC area is easily explained if you look at the history of the District from the 1960s onward, and especially during the height of the Crack Wars around 1988 or so, though I think that the actual peak "Murder Capital" years were more around 1985 or so. Then starting in the early 1990s, the District lost about one-sixth of its population, most of it moving to the 'burbs to get away from the violence, but to some degree bringing the violence with it.

As for Chick Lit, well, remember that females outnumber males almost 5-to-1 down there, last I checked.

As for Lit in general... well, the whole area is awash in talent.

montek said...

Sadly, De Lounge is no longer there.