Timmy and Chowderhead and Peg are lifeguards. They spend summers sitting in those tall chairs, smoking dope and staring at the waves, swatting insects, tormenting seagulls. Winters they work s**t jobs like unloading trucks at Mickey's Deli. At night, winter and summer, they drink. Drink and get rowdy. Then there's Alex, the girl who gets away, not only from old boyfriend Timmy but also from "Rotaway"-on scholarship to a rich-kid's college in New England. One midsummer night when the four are reunited, tensions erupt in feats of daring and self-destruction during the wild, cathartic, near-sacred lifeguard ritual known as the Death Keg. Brilliantly capturing the restlessness and casual nihilism of working-class youth with no options, Jill Eisenstadt's acclaimed first novel startles in its power and originality, its depth of feeling, its bright and dark comic turns.
If Rockaway, at the Atlantic edge of New York City, were a state of mind, it would be energized despair. Or so it seems for the teenagers in this finely tuned first novel who have spent their lives in "Rotaway'' and are unlikely to get out. They drink a lot, do a little dope, talk about sex more than have it and feel no more in charge of their lives at 18 than they did in Catholic grammar school. After high school, only Alex will go away to college. The rest of her group will stay: Timmy, a dropout and a lifeguard, Alex's ex-boy friend and still in love with her; ``Chowderhead,'' Peg and the cruel Sloane, lifeguards too, the horizons of their lives as narrow as the beaches of their summers are wide. When Alex leaves for school, Timmy misses her with an utter and believable acuity; meanwhile, he and Chowderhead work at a deli, the movie theater burns down, and Peg takes a ``hat walk''a drink in every bar on the mile-long boardwalk. In Maine, Alex stumbles through her first semester, going to Dress-to-Get-Laid parties, reading anthropology texts and falling in love with Joenot a Rockaway type. The following summer brings Timmy's Death Keg, a semibarbaric ritual followed when a guard loses a swimmer and the fizzling of the group's annual bridge-jumping stunt. Combining innocence and experience, hope and hopelessness, Eisenstadt's characters seem particularly modern; if her book were a movie, it would suggest both Saturday Night Fever and St. Elmo's Fire. Film rights to Sidney Pollack.