The Duration, Dave Fromm’s first novel, is the quirky, serio-comical story of youthful male friendship tested after some years of separation. Pete Johansson, a young Boston attorney from Western Massachusetts, has just broken up with his California bred girlfriend when he gets a call from Chickie Benecik, a childhood buddy he hasn’t seen in years. Chickie, a troubled youth now a troubled, drug addicted adult, is back home and wants to reconnect. What he really wants is Pete’s help in solving an ancient local mystery that seems to have been an obsession for him ever since they discovered it in a high school research project.
Pete, who narrates the story, returns to his small town home to discover that though much has changed, the friendships of adolescence remain strong. The town, nestled in the Berkshires, has become a tourist attraction featuring an exclusive spa catering to the rich and famous. The old friends still on the scene have pushed their way into responsible adulthood. One of his buddies, owner of a successful sporting goods store, is married and expecting a child. An old girlfriend is working as a kind of concierge at the spa. A childhood enemy has become an upstanding member of the community.
Interspersing stories of the friends’ youthful exploits with his attempts to help Chickie deal with both his drug problems and his obsession with the mystery, Pete finds himself torn between the obligations of friendship and the demands of maturity. What is the obligation of a “buddy” when the carefree pranks of youth don’t always make sense in the adult world, even when that world doesn’t always seem all that reasonable. After all it is a world where a young man can get rich with a scheme like digitalizing smells, where a rhino runs beserk in the Berkshire woods, where a gorgeous Indian movie star shows up for “espresso steams” at the local spa. In such a world odd behavior may not seem so odd. In such a world playing a role in a friend’s drug induced fantasies may well seem a reasonable idea.
In Pete, Fromm has created both a fascinating character and an intriguing story teller with a real flair for narrative. His style is both quirky and imaginative. In one moment he can be reminiscing about his failed attempts to get his hand under some teeny bopper’s bra, and the next he can be describing his efforts to keep Chickie away from his drug connections.
And his prose style reflects his originality. He is fond of inventive comparisons. A yoga instructor is “a surfer Buddha.” A local town is “a bucolic Sudetenland.” The “Pike” sags “like a belt on the belly of the Commonwealth.” One of the wealthy women at the spa is a Picasso. And nothing beats his description of the revelations of one his old coaches’ sweat pants. It is a flippant style that fits the narrator like a fancy outfit from the spa.
The Duration may be Fromm’s first novel, but it reads like the work of an old hand, a professional who knows what he’s doing.