JULY 27, 2017 – If you know Salem or lived through the 1970s, this eccentric and engaging memoir will take you down familiar lanes. If not, the book will bring them to life for you and make them seem familiar.
“Man of the Year” is the debut book from Lou Cove, a seasoned writer and gifted campaigner. His family’s move from New York City to Salem in 1978 was the eighth in his childhood and became the setting for a crucial period: the year of his bar mitzvah. It comes as no surprise when this scion of a liberal, unaffiliated, and non-practicing family declares he will not be heading to the bimah. But there is more to the story, one that is at once laugh-out-loud funny, complicated, and poignant.
Nominally, this is the unlikely but true account of the campaign by a teenage boy trying to help a visiting family friend win the title of Man of the Year for Playgirl Magazine. But even the book’s title is layered, a play on words referring also to the narrator’s own coming of age. The boy, too, is a “man of the year” who must absorb new insights and take on new responsibilities. Indeed, the campaign scenario serves, in part, as an excuse for a reexamination of a pivotal time in the life of the writer and his family: In the author’s own words, “The last best year in the life of my nuclear family.”
It is a raw and real narrative, holding up a mirror to the unraveling of a loving Jewish family, and the clash of cultures between the staid but eccentric New England town of Salem and two West Coast counterculture escapees, Howie and Carly, who move in with the Coves. We come to know, warts and all, young Lou, his parents, brother, and sister, his girlfriends, and even the neighbors and townspeople.
These are real and recognizable. Even “the Official Witch of Salem” has a supporting role, though some names have been changed.
The story comes vividly alive not only because it is narrated in the present-tense voice of the young Lou, but because of the rich stitching of its fabric. The author’s years in journalism show in the sustained sense of immediacy as well as in the meticulous approach to his writing.
Cove drew heavily on contemporaneous notes in the journal he has kept since childhood, on copies of publications and broadcasts from the era, and on recorded interviews with his family and other central characters. He shared the manuscript and sought feedback from these same people. The dialogue rings true because Cove has an ear for authenticity and much of it is in the actual words of the principles. If only more of the current flood of memoirs were written with such care, and flair.
Lou Cove will be familiar to many for the role he has played as a fund-raiser in Jewish philanthropy and as an innovative social activist. I interviewed him in Amherst, where he settled after attending UMass. Out of a past has emerged a present committed to Jewish continuity.
“I want to help bring the rich tradition of Judaism into the 20th century,” he told me. Among other projects, he helped the Grinspoon Foundation launch the popular and highly successful PJ Library, and his family was among the first 200 in the initial rollout of the program.
“Man of the Year” is a five-star read, even for those, like me, who are not usually drawn to memoirs. Start reading page one and you will not put it down.
Larry Constantine’s 10th novel, “The Intaglio Imprint,” will be released in September under his pen name, Lior Samson.