Testing the Current by William McPherson Online

Testing the Current
Title : Testing the Current
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780671543044
Language : English
Format Type : Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages : 371

Growing up in a small upper Midwestern town in the late 1930s, young Tommy MacAllister is scarcely aware of the Depression, much less the rumblings of war in Europe. For his parents and their set, life seems to revolve around dinners and dancing at the country club, tennis dates and rounds of golf, holiday parties, summers on The Island, and the many sparkling occasions fuGrowing up in a small upper Midwestern town in the late 1930s, young Tommy MacAllister is scarcely aware of the Depression, much less the rumblings of war in Europe. For his parents and their set, life seems to revolve around dinners and dancing at the country club, tennis dates and rounds of golf, holiday parties, summers on The Island, and the many sparkling occasions full of people and drinks and food and laughter. With his curiosity and impatience to grow up, however, Tommy will soon come to glimpse something darker beneath the genteel complacency: the embarrassment of poor relations; the subtle (and not so subtle) slighting of the black or American Indian “help”; the discovery that not everybody in the club was Episcopalian; the mockery of President Roosevelt; the messy mechanics of sex and death; and “the commandment they talked least about in Sunday school,” adultery.In this remarkable 1984 debut novel, the Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic William McPherson subtly leavens his wide-eyed protagonist’s perspective with mature reflection and wry humor and surrounds him with a sizable cast of vibrant characters, creating a scrupulously observed, kaleidoscopic portrait that will shimmer in readers’ minds long after the final page is turned.


Testing the Current Reviews

  • Tony

    This book starts with a kind of Prologue titled Kinderszenen. What follows is indeed Scenes from a Childhood. Tommy MacAllister is eight years-old. It is an age when you are small enough to hide under a dining room table; so you can see everything, even things which you can not quite understand. And answers are not easily gained."What's adultery?" he asked. There was a long pause. The fireflies played, the lanterns burned soft and steady, music and laughter and the sounds of dancing floated out [...]

  • James Murphy

    Veneer is the best word here. This is the rather restricted world of upscale Grand Riviere, MI during the Depression. The hard world outside is exactly that, however. Outside. The novel is this world viewed through the eyes of 7-year old Tommy MacAllister who always keeps in mind what he's been told is the good and best way of conducting oneself with friends and neighbors, and particularly with adults. It's adults Tommy observes most closely, and there the veneer becomes apparent as he realizes [...]

  • Christina

    Perfect! Unmarred by sentimentality, false epiphanies or forced drama, this novel both elegantly depicts a specific class in a specific time and conveys with rare understanding and subtlety the inevitable poignancy of growing up. I can't believe it took me so long to discover this book. If I had a list of favorite books, this would make it easily.

  • Lobstergirl

    I generally dislike novels with juvenile narrators. If I'd known the protagonist of this one would be age 7-8 for the duration, I doubt I would have picked it up.The setting is far northern Michigan, near the Canadian border, in the year 1939. The bulk of the characters are upper middle class Wasps, with one or two Jews and some black and Indian (Native American) help. (Workers/domestics/servants.) Young Tommy MacAllister has attractive parents and two much older brothers. He is friends with the [...]

  • JacquiWine

    First published in 1984 and reissued by NYRB Classics in 2013, William McPherson’s excellent first novel Testing the Current harks back to a bygone age. Set in the late 1930s in a small town in Michigan near the Canadian border, the novel focuses on one year in the life of eight-year-old Tommy MacAllister. Each summer, Tommy’s family and their financially-comfortable WASP friends retreat to a group of small islands in the river that runs by their town, where their days centre on rounds of go [...]

  • Nicholas During

    This is a very solid American bildungsroman. And its success is due to both the strange world it is set in, and the precocious voice of 8-year-old Tommy MacAllister. The setting is a small town in northern Michigan, somewhere close to the lake and not far from Canada. Tommy, his family, and their friends live in town during the winter, and on the Island during the summer. It's set in 1939 or so. The Depression is over and most people here have come out if untouched, though some have lost their f [...]

  • Tom Wascoe

    Beautifully written but not my kind of book. Story is about upper middle class or lower upper class routine doings in 1939. Did not like the voice. Narrator is voice of 8 year old whose musings, reflections, observations and descriptions are not of an 8 year old but rather of an adult who is pretending to be 8 years old. I found it annoying. This is what I call for me a "grind-it-out" book. I never stop reading a book I started because I figure I can always learn something. However, that being s [...]

  • Patricia Strickland

    I could not put this book down. I know some people will say that this is all about upper middle class snobs and racists in upper Michigan, on the brink of WWII, so what. But if you want a slice of a pre-war society that no longer exists, seen through the eyes of a 7 year old boy, and lyrically written, read on. There a number of finely drawn portraits: Mrs. Steer, originally from Denmark, who is the only adult in this small society who is a Democrat and supports FDR; the doctor who has given up [...]

  • Alan

    A worthy read and worth sticking with it. A seemingly simple rendition of a year in the life of an 7-8 year old boy is much, much more. There is everything from upper class snobbery, racism in Upper Peninsula, Michigan and wrongdoing by a major corporation. Introduced to this at book group at Grandpa's Barn in Copper Harbor, MI. One of the members reported that the area in the book saw 5 military bases during WWII. This book ends with the rumblings of war in 1939. Overall, a book full of insight [...]

  • Robert Foreman

    This is a book that I read.

  • Jeff

    Tedious to the extent I couldn't be bothered finishing.

  • Corey

    very wordy, easily skimmed, but good. I fell into its rythm, and loved the characters. A rich country club family set in the Great Depression.

  • Dean Pappademos

    Let me start off by explaining how I came across this book. For my junior year English class, we had the task of reading three books before our finals outside of school. Our final for our class was to write a massive paper as to why one book should be entered into the canon of classic literature. I picked this book as one of the three because it takes place during the Great Depression, from a rich families point of view. I thought to myself, surely this 'interesting dynamic' would allow a sixtee [...]

  • John Irby

    interesting and unconventional story telling by an eight year-old boy. it's 1939, his parents and their friends are wealthy in small town America. they belong to a golf and country club. Tommy tells us all about his experiences with his older brothers, their girl friends, his mother, his father, each of the neighbors, his aunts and uncles, his dead grandparents, the people who work in the club, the servants, and just about everyone who falls into his company. he's a curious kid, thoughtful, a bi [...]

  • Roberta Emerson

    Ambivalent. Was hoping the afterward would address some of my issues but the author complicated things by bringing in information from the sequel. The 7-8 year old narrator distances the reader by presenting the novel in the third person, blunting his responses to all these "end of an era" social issues around him. By the same token, the novel provides a slice of WASP Americana circa late 1930's and is a superb example of roman-fleuve!

  • Liz

    One the finest books that I have read in quite some time. This book reads like the author is right beside you. I was instantly absorbed by the main character and with each revelation, I echoed his emotions(confusion, joy, disappointment). I am sad that this is the only book that is worthy of merit, according to reviews-but I just might try the other anyway. Close to perfect.

  • Linda

    I'm not sure why I stuck with this book because despite the potentially interesting topic - coming of age story during the Depression in Upper Peninsula, the story was tedious and repetitive.

  • Patty Weiser

    4.5 stars. Read this a few years ago. Once I started reading I had a hard time putting it down.

  • Stewart

    An author has to solve a critical problem when writing a novel whose action is seen through the eyes of a child. Most children under 18 are not perceptive or observant enough to record events that would maintain the interest of an adult reader. I wasn’t as a child. William McPherson faces this problem in writing “Testing the Current,” a 1984 novel whose action is seen through the eyes of Tommy McAllister, who is 7 years old at the beginning of the novel and 8 by the end. Tommy is certainl [...]

  • Gregg Sapp

    The classic formula for a "coming of age" novel involves a young person whose world order is somehow shocked and, from that, a new, more adult awareness evolves. It has always seemed to me that growing up consists of a lot of days where not much happens, though. That's how it was for me, anyway. I spent a lot of time waiting for something to happen. In that respect, I could relate to the Tommy MacAllister, the young protagonist in William McPherson's "Testing the Current." He is inquisitive and [...]

  • Margaret

    Testing the Current develops slowly. It's a coming of age story with a perceptive main character, Tommy, who witnesses the varieties of life in his WASP centered upper middle class life. His family has made it finically through the Depression, but things are of course only calm on the surface. Tommy notices things about his neighbors, as well as things that don't quite add up about his family, and because of his age points them out. The mood of a Midwestern US/Canadian border town permeates this [...]

  • Jan Kellis

    This is the story of a year in Tommy McAllister's life, beginning when he's 8, then going back to his 7th year and ending just past where it begins. It takes place in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which is called Grand Rivere, in the late 1930s. Tommy's family is wealthy, so they didn't feel much effect from the Depression, but some of his classmates and neighbors did. He's careful not to show off in front of those who have less than he has. Tommy is trying to figure out life, and he learns a lot [...]

  • John

    It's the story of a summer in the life of a boy growing up in a well-to-do family in a summer vacation town in Michigan. The story is told by a narrator, but the field of vision is entirely limited by the 8-year old's eyes and heart - and the boy misses nothing - so neither do we. His understandings and conclusions are all right out there, as they would be; the reader's are all between-the-lines, where they create an enormously protective attachment to young Tommy. The narration perspective NEVE [...]

  • Dpdwyer

    An unusually compelling read in a novel where not much happens told from the point of view of an eight-year-old boy from a well to do family in Michigan in 1939. His father owns and manages the local chemical factory. They live in a large house with live-in staff, they belong to the local country club, and they summer on the nearby “Island” in the river with the other wealthy families. For the most part the author manages to convincingly describe the people and events through the eyes of an [...]

  • Barbara Backus

    Seen through the eyes of narrator Tommy McAllister the years 1938 and 1939 in a wealthy town in Michigan are all about country club dances, golf lessons and the proper way to hold dinner parties. Tommy listens to the adults talk, he asks questions, forms friendships with a few of the women in his parents' circle as well as with the children of the poor, the black help and the Indians who help in the annual pilgrimage to a nearby island for the summer season.Beautifully written, this book is a lo [...]

  • Ellen

    Solid writing and characterization, but not much happened. Obviously there was some darkness to Tommy's idyllic little world, and World War II began in the final chapter, but I'm interested in finding the sequel to see what transpires between all of these characters in the future, if the undercurrents of resentment and imperfection are dealt with in the future. This seemed to be more of a great prologue. However, all that said, the style in which it was written was beautiful, and some of the cha [...]

  • Sally

    Only about 1/4 through, but really like it so far. Very well developed characters. Finished the book, and while very well written, I found myself skimming through overly detailed descriptions. Definitely a 'coming of age' book, with a couple of pretty graphic areas, but I kept waiting for the story to develop into something with more substance. Considering the protagonist was only 8 years old, maybe I was expecting too much.

  • Ed

    I enjoy coming-of-age novels, and this was one of the best I've ever read. The setting is a bit different for this kind of novel - a small boy in an upper-class family in the Midwest, members of the country club set just before WW II. McPherson does a masterful job of conveying an adult world through an 8 year-old boy's eyes, and subtly reveals the darker corners of his family's sunlit, privileged world. Great to read any time of year, but would make an especially good summer book.

  • Susan

    Wonderful book by an author I'd never heard of, set in northern Michigan in the late 30's. Tommy is the youngest son in an upper class family. He is trying to understand love, sexuality, grownups, class issues, racial issues ( there is a local Indian community.). The family, their issues, conflicts are beautifully portrayed through the eyes of this young boy.

  • Amy Koch

    This is a wonderful novel about a young boy from a "good" family in the Midwest learning the social mores of his class in the late 1930s. The characters are sharply drawn and the writing is wonderful.