The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

Hits all the right notes, all the inside jokes, all the nostalgia of the 1990s.

I was gripped by The Rome of Fall for a quick day and a half. Told in two threads, thirty years apart, in the life of Marcus Brinks, high school senior/ washed up rock star…

1994: Marcus is forced to move to his mom’s hometown of Rome, Alabama, and enrolls in football crazy Rome High School. He’s resigned to stew on his new-kid and son-of-newly-divorced-parents status, but he hooks up with an eclectic crew. Jackson, the backup to the backup QB and Silas, a former athlete who is now suffering from muscular dystrophy. They spend their weekends cruising Main Street, playing NBA Jam, and sometimes going to church youth group (for the girls). Oh, and let’s not forget The Crush. Becca, the starting QB’s GF.

2017: Marcus has returned to Rome after twenty-three years. A meteoric rise to rock star fame… and then a decade and a half as a recluse in Jamaica. But Marcus has now taken a job as an English teacher at his old high school. His relationship with his mother has been a series of ups and downs (even a number of years of silence), but now that her illness has taken a turn for the worse he has moved back in to take care of her.  Some things in Rome have stayed the same (football, small-town gossip, Becca is SINGLE!).

I have no idea how Gibbs remembered all the mid-90s sayings, references, and music, but it came flooding back to me in a heartbeat. This book got me… Ummm, I graduated high school in 94 and I’ve been a high school English teacher for the past 21 years. Some of the most interesting juxtaposition in the book is the difference in technology. The pre-cell phone era vs the social media world we live in now. My high school Friday nights revolved around a lot of HORSE games and playing Madden-NFL on Sega. And now as a a teacher, I experience the distractions head on every day. Gibbs gets this perfectly in his novel.

And the plot: both threads build slowly and at the end there an equally shattering climax that is just awesome. It’s great… and not to downplay it at all, but it’s the atmosphere that got me and kept me going. The references to Weezer, “sad bastardness,” and the trying to discuss Shakespeare with 9th graders. (I just taught Romeo and Juliet last month.)

Pick this up for lots of laughs, some bitter-sweet symphony feels, and a heavy dose of one guy with a guitar, a notebook, and that one girl.

5 out of 5 stars

Thank you to the author for an advanced copy for review.

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