Let me start by saying that Loss of Innocence is one of Richard North Patterson's better books. He's written over 20 novels. And, although I haven't read them all, I have read most. This one is not as good as Exile and Protect and Defend, which both made my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR) lists. But it's a worthy companion. What's Loss of Innocence about? It's actually a prequel to his last book, Fall from Grace (which, I have to admit, I didn't remember - my bad).
America is in a state of turbulence, engulfed in civil unrest and uncertainty. Yet for Whitney Dane- spending the summer of her twenty-second year on Martha’s Vineyard--life could not be safer, nor the future more certain. Educated at Wheaton, soon to be married, and the youngest daughter of the all-American Dane family, Whitney has everything she has ever wanted, and is everything her all-powerful and doting father, Charles Dane, wants her to be. But the Vineyard’s still waters are disturbed by the appearance of Benjamin Blaine. An underprivileged, yet fiercely ambitious and charismatic figure, Blaine is a force of nature neither Whitney nor her family could have prepared for.
Although it's clearly not autobiographical, it is true that RNP graduated from college the same year as our protagonist, Whitney. In the Afterword and Acknowledgements, this is what he says about 1968, the year the book takes place: "Nineteen sixty-eight, the time of my graduation from college, was the most consequential year of my life, and I would argue, in the recent history of our country." That's pretty strong language. We, the readers, benefit from the importance that RNP places on this particular year. Why? Because he goes into great detail about Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. All of these sections are particularly gripping, especially for those of us who lived during that period of time (I'm 3 years younger than RNP). But you young whippersnappers will also enjoy reading about these iconic historical figures.
This is a coming-of-age story. Whitney's well-ordered privileged life takes a serious hit when she meets Ben, the son of a lobsterman. Everything she's learned from her parents comes into question. And the scenes that include Ben are more compelling, riveting, and emotionally charged than the ones without him. RNP has created a character that jumps out at us. Not to mention that on page 284 (out of 349), something happens that I absolutely did not see coming. I know that I'm not the most perceptive guy, but this development really took me by surprise.
It's interesting that RNP's protagonist is a female. No less a women's libber (that's what we called them in the '60's) than Gloria Steinem says of Loss of Innocence: "Like male novelists of the nineteenth century, Richard North Patterson actually looks at the world through a woman's eyes...In one life of the 1960's, he symbolizes a movement that keeps changing all our lives." Pretty heady stuff, I would say.
Well, as a (very) frequent reader of books written by female authors, I would agree with Gloria. In fact, it was so natural that it never occurred to me that it was written by a man. That's how right-on it came across. And I have to say something else about this book. At about the half-way point, I couldn't put it down. I have read many books that I enjoyed a lot. But that doesn't mean that I couldn't put them down. I think that this is a fairly rare occurrence. In fact, it makes my FFTNFR, Volume VI (which comes out in the next day or 2). I'm giving it a 3.5 and strongly recommending it.
P.S. The 3rd book in the trilogy, Eden in Winter, will be published in early July.
ONE SOUR NOTE: There is one complaint I have to register. There are a ton of mistakes. I just don't understand how an author of RNP's status does not have decent copyeditors. I'm talking obvious stuff - "so" instead of "do," "mest" instead of "meet," "haven" instead of "have." Really? I'll bet you I saw 25-30 errors of this type. That should never happen. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Fortunately, it did not diminish my enjoyment of it.