Excerpt – Book Review of A Root Beer Season

by Annie Frances Wesko
Published in Freefall Magazine, April 29, 2014


Sparkling dialogue written in the authentic voice of a fifteen-year old narrator Sonja Pfeiffer is what carries this novel set in Edmonton in the summer of 1967. Sonja is a typical teenager of any year, hormones budding, but still under control, desirous of being independent of scrutiny by her parents, who in her case, were born in war-torn Germany, clinging to a strict, unforgiving religion, Gemeine Alles Gottes (GAG) that restricts almost every enjoyment. While her father deviates from time to time, listening to Patsy Cline on the Motorola, and insistent on having a television, her mother nags her and her two sisters, Hanna, two years older, and Nadia, two years younger, into submission; but they find ways to freedom.  Only the eldest sister Brigitte acquiesces. In contrast to this strict Christian dogma is the new age wisdom of Edgar Cayce. When mother discovers his book hidden in Sonja’s bedroom, she considers it tantamount to the worst kind of treachery, akin to treason.

Such familial tensions are inescapable, and Truman unflinchingly creates the perfect ambience necessary to tell her story, along with language and vernacular totally suitable to the story. Sonja, like her older sister Hanna, works as a carhop at the local A&W, shops at Woodward’s or Eaton’s, and dreams about being with Bernie, with arms wrapped around his waist, as he careens down the street on his brand new Yamaha motorbike. Sonja is crushing on Bernie because of his brand new Yamaha motorbike. She is saving up to buy a motorbike of her own. But Alexander in his spiffy red Camaro comes along and Bernie is easily forgotten. Speedy vehicles and how they work are what excite Sonja, the guys who drive them just incidental.

While Sonja longs for a motorbike or a shiny red Camaro, her best friend and confidante Audrey longs for love, hopefully with Woodward’s bag boy Seamus; instead, she falls for a 23-year old blond teacher of her younger brother Clarence. “We did it, you know”(204). The repartee between these two girlfriends is hypnotizing. Audrey, wrapped up in dreamy afterglow, expounds on the beauty and sexiness of Nicholas Palacios, while Sonja tries desperately to imagine “what ‘doing it’ was like” (205). Then Audrey disappears. Later that summer she writes a letter, with no return address, telling her “she’d gone to Saskatoon to stay with her Aunt Rosemary”; a second letter “said she wouldn’t be returning to school”. Sonja’s naïve response, “Holy! I thought.  Her auntie must be at death’s door” (215) speaks volumes of both her and Audrey’s innocence.

With astonishing skill, usually attributed to veteran storytellers, Truman allows the reader to compare and contrast this love story to that of Sonja’s own parents during WWII in Dresden that resulted in the birth of older sister Brigitte. Her mother’s confession in nine pages serves two purposes:  One, as an expository of Hitler’s dominance over the lives of Germans and, more particularly, over the lives of a soldier and his girl during desperate circumstances and, two; to warn her daughters of the dangers of promiscuity in 1967 in a free country. Somehow, the telling, the confession, the flawed mother, was heart-warming to Sonja.


Copyright © Annie Frances Wesko, 2014