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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Living (and Learning) on Tulsa Time

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For we who know Tulsa solely from attempts at two-stepping to Danny Flowers' country classic, one of the many joys of Benjamin Lytal's lithe, literate, heartfelt debut novel, A Map of Tulsa, is “meeting” an American mid-tropolis that's apparently as blue-collar-complex and quirkily irresistible as, well, Milwaukee.  Just as I sought to serenade circa-1980 Cream City in Planet of the Dates, through his own coming-of-age novel Lytal brings his own hometown ('90s version) to bracing breathing-life.

And just as there's an “L” at the center of T-U-L-S-A, “Ls” aplenty populate the core of adolescence: love (of a new kind), lust/libido, longing, lessons, lapses, leadership opportunities, letting go, leaving, loss, languishing, leaps, and (sometimes) LGBT experiences. In other words, learning.

All of the above challenge Jim Praley, Lytal's thoughtful, restless, occasionally exasperating protagonist, a Tulsan returned home from freshman year out east. In short order—owing to the near-hypnotic influence of dropout-heiress and painter/singer Adrienne Booker—Summer “Break” takes on, for Jim, new meaning: he breaks with expectations (his parents' and his own), precedent, and prior plans when he falls head-over-heels—as we do, too—for the artful Adrienne.

Jim's back in his familiar hometown … yet his world is forever altered. In other words, he's coming of age.

Lytal will read from A Map of Tulsa at Boswell Book Company, 7 p.m., June 26, with Andrew Sean Grier (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells).