The Saxophone Winter´s long white season is the winter of 1938-39, when The Great Depression has exhausted the people who have lived through it and Hitler´s war, seen on the horizon, appears as salvation from its grip. It is at this moment in the history of his small hometown that Christopher Waterton gets a chance to try to dream his own dreams, but at the same time he must also deal with the distresses and machinations of both his elders and his contemporaries.
This is a serious time.
In a review of the book, Louis K. MacKendrick says, "[These] teenagers, the bulk of [the story´s] cast, are not fumbling, inarticulate, embarrassing gawks; they are sensible, intelligent individuals, with range, depth and substance. They are not miniaturized adults, not children, but simply, believably, teenagers of their time, and the entirety of their lives is both understood and shown in the round. Sensation, not sensationalism."
But fourteen-year-old Christopher is not enclosed in a teenage world. He becomes embroiled with, and must try to understand, what is happening around him among his teachers and other adults who are powerful in Long River (pop 4000). He quite suddenly falls in love (for the first time), and Emily falls in love with him. They flaunt it, and there are repercussions. Two love-starved teachers, trapped in a Calvinist profession, become mean. Christopher´s best friend, Fielder, feels left out; and this culminates in him devising a punishment with unforeseen repercussions. Both Emily´s parents and Christopher´s own are concerned with the intensity of their children´s devotion. When they are discovered to have "necked" in a hammock at a party at Emily´s place, they are forbidden to see each other. They get around this injunction easily - with the help of Emily´s very independent grandmother. But then there is the moment when Emily signals that she is ready "to go all the way." Suddenly, Christopher is being asked to go too far too fast.
When he is gifted with a saxophone at Christmas, Christopher´s life expands. If Emily is one kind of dream that appears to be coming true, the saxophone is another. The lessons he takes from Gabe, who plays saxophone in a local band, are not all about music. Gabe is living through the sad hell of a shotgun marriage. And Christopher´s other good friend, Purvis, is seventeen and an outcast from his family. When Christopher introduces him to his young English teacher, Miss Lee, the story begins its run toward its climax.
Christopher´s father is General Foreman at Long River´s Public Works Yard and is also the chair of the school board. When the high school is gutted by a fire, he awards the contract to refurbish the building to a contractor not approved by the town´s mayor, who is accustomed to rewarding his friends and supporters. Later, he defends Miss Lee, who may or may not have been intimate with Purvis, and the mayor takes his revenge. So, too does the winter itself.
"As much as anything," Patricia Bradbury writes , The Saxophone Winter is a tender love story between the author and the process of adolescent awakening. It can be argued that such territory is one of the writer´s toughest grounds. Such clarity of recall - for the experience of first love (so beautifully evoked here) -requires a masterful hand."
The Saxophone Winter, Robert Harlow´s seventh novel, is good read for anyone from twelve to eighty and beyond.