As a patron of used book stores and library book sales, I tend to get greedy in my book buying habits. A twenty-dollar book is easy to resist. Twenty one-dollar books is much harder. The result is two bookcases overflowing with books, two thirds of which I’ve never read. Slowly, slowly, I make my way around to reading them.
The most recent of these yet-unread books that I finally got around to reading was Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning. A blurb on the back hailed it as a humorous coming-of-age story, and that’s an accurate depiction.
Seventeen-year-old Josh Arnold was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, but when his father joins the Navy during WWII, Josh and his mother go to live in Sagrado, New Mexico, where they had previously only spent summers. Josh settles quickly into the routine, befriending Steenie and Marcia, making any enemy of bully Chango, and befriending local artist Romeo and his revolving series of mistresses/muses. His mother, however, struggles with the adjustment in large part due to her Southern-instilled notions of propriety and insistence on only spending time with a select few of the “proper” sorts of people. Her attitudes are racist and class-ist, but Bradford never hits the reader over the head with Just How Bad this is; she is simply a character the product of one upbringing who is abruptly transferred into a very different environment, finding herself unable to adapt.
The characterizations are well-done and the dynamics as well. Some of the best passages are comprised of the banter between Steenie, Marcia, and Josh, as they heckle and bounce ideas off of each other. For anyone who’s ever had a tight core of smart-alecky friends, the dialogue rings true.
If I have one criticism, it is that the ending feels rushed. An event in the next-to-last chapter quickly changes the leisurely pace at which the tale had been unwinding to an abrupt end that, while realistic, just felt jarring by comparison. This is a small criticism of a book that I otherwise enjoyed.