by Alan Zendell
I have not put into the site more than one review per author, and I didn't intend to start now. But The Portal cries out for it.
Alan Zendell gave me a copy of Wednesday's Child to review, which I did. As almost an afterthought, he included The Portal, which he never asked me to review. I almost didn't read it, but with my Kindle out of books, I pulled it up. In almost every way, The Portal is a much better book, one which ranks up with some of the best fiction being written today. I found myself totally caught up in the tale of Harry Middleton in a diminished United States.
The story starts out with a young Harry in a United States where a century of economic decline has changed the landscape. Despite huge technological advances, most Americans have a very low quality of life. With a mother who doesn't seem to connect with him, Harry's saving grace is his grandfather, a man who takes him under his wing, a man who understands him. When his grandfather's declining health relegates him to a nursing home, Harry is lost, and he watches with despair as his grandfather's mind slips away. Then he meets Lorrie, a young, pretty girl with whom he starts a slow-burning, slow-developing relationship, one which gradually grows into love.
Unfortunately, an incident takes Lorrie away from him, and his anchor is broken once again. Harry has one huge advantage, though. He can play baseball, and along with Carlos, a teammate at school, he gets a scholarship, then gets drafted into the bigs. While the future salaries are not what present major-leaguers make, still, the hefty salary opens many doors for him.
While this is going on, the nation is captivated by a star mission, a step out into the universe which is supposed to pull the country out of its depression.
Harry grows up in the story. He makes a good living, has his loves, children, and experiences life. He starts a microfinancing company with Carlos, and becomes a posterboy for economic development, which the president is only too happy to recount. Despite his life, though, there is always the ghost of his long-lost love, Lorrie.
One thing I like about this novel is that when Harry is a child, the book rings true. I feel I am reading about a child, not a hollow construct of an adult pretending to be a child. This is rare in fiction. And I really care about what happens to him.
Zendell's portrayal of the USA is very interesting, and unfortunately, a possibility. I don't think it is a probability, but it is certainly reasonable given current trends.
While the term "microfinancing" is never used, Harry and Carlos set up a classic microfinancing venture. Zendell's description of it is pretty accurate.
While I really enjoyed the novel, one aspect jarred my sense of reasonability, and that revolved around sex. Harry, in many ways, is sexless. Oh, he has a lot of it with his university girlfriend, and that seems OK, when he is younger, he has no real interest in it, and decides to wait for it with his relationships. Not many teenage boys in my experience could be described as having the same outlook on the subject. But there are other things as well. The impetus for him to break up with his university girlfriend is when she sleeps with another man (one not in as good physical condition as Harry). This might seem reasonable, but couple that with the description of a swingers party young Harry and Lorrie see, where the tone of the writing is that anyone swinging is utterly and hopelessly depraved, well, the outlook on sex is a discordant note the otherwise smooth narrative, perhaps more especially in that Zendell so admirably refrains from being preachy when writing about the economic, plitical, and criminal decline of society.
Despite that one conflict for me, this is really a superb story, better than the novel Zendell originally asked me to read. It is at heart a love story, but it is so much more. I highly, highly recommend it.
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