‘50sVille by Dr. Paul Ibbetson is an audiobook or Kindle mobi file in five volumes. Each volume has approximately two hours and ten minutes of listening content or, in print, under 70 pages. It fits into genres mystery, fantasy, time travel, and, most importantly, nostalgia. One could think of the entire series as a cozy mystery in that there is no foul language, sexual language, or violence. There are high school fights between gangs but without weapons involved. I don’t count that as violence. There is kissing, but all parties keep their tongues in their own mouths, so minimal sex. This review looks only at Volume One. The content becomes increasingly complicated for each volume through Volume Four.
Benjamin Granault is from a wealthy family if one counts a family as father and son only. Mom died in childbirth. Ben was not happy in his relationship with his father because the two rarely met. Franklin Granault ran a hugely successful sprawling multi-faceted company and was on the road all the time. Ben had to be content with living in the family mansion where he was attended to by a staff of five except for two weeks per year.
For two weeks, Ben and his father attended an Oldies Day Festival in Verndale, Indiana. For the days of the festival, the sign for the city name would be replaced by a new one with the name ‘50sVille. Ben and his dad had attended the festival together for six years. The only time Ben talked with his father was on the trip to and from the first and last festival day. When they arrived, Franklin said goodbye to his son until the last day of the festival. Franklin was there to work; Ben was on his own. Company staff would transport Ben to and from the festival up to the last day when he would rejoin his father. There were only a few rules which Franklin thought he had to emphasize to his son.
‘50sVille was like a county fair with many things to do from noon until 7:00 PM. Ben had to report every evening to the welcome center by 7:00 PM. This first rule was strictly upheld. The second strict area of regulations was all-encompassing and related to conduct and dress. Ben was not allowed to bring any electronic items that were not present in the1950s into the town on festival days. That meant nothing more than a watch. No cell phones. No computers. No kindles. As far as dress, Ben had to wear plain T-shirts, no logos, no band names. When speaking with town residents, Ben was not allowed to talk of current events, technological advances, political news or anything that had not appeared or would not have been known to people who lived in the 1950s. This last was the most difficult because Ben developed friendships.
Just as Ben could not talk of current events, thus giving information to residents of Verndale; he was advised not to ask questions that might be embarrassing or impossible to answer. Why were there only two or three haircut styles for all males? Why were there no cars in the town later than those from the 50s? Ben and his father arrived for the festivities in a 2013 Ford truck, but it was parked in an individual parking lot outside of town not accessible to town residents.
For Festival Day ceremonies, all Verndale residents wore clothes from the 1950s. Food and drink were from the 1950s, something that Ben liked a lot as he drank specialties from one of the local malt shops. Ben made friends, a group known as the “Clankers,” a name that Ben came to know indicated the members were social outcasts at their school. Ben was not there for school, and he became close friends with a group of four. His favorite was Cathy, the only girl in the group. Over six years she became more and more his favorite, especially after their first kisses. The group was able to explain some of their slang to Ben, all of it from the 1950s. “Daddy-O” was widely used. Ben even came to enjoy the music of the 50s, although he did not fully appreciate why Elvis was “the King.” Ben would like to spend more time in Verndale other than the two weeks, but that was not allowed. He would like to be able to see Cathy for more than two weeks, but that was not allowed. He wanted to phone Cathy at times when he was not in Verndale but … (you get the idea.).
Changes were coming. Each time Ben returned with his father from the festivities, his father seemed more tired and looked older. Franklin worked too much. Then there was the accident in Verndale during the celebrations. The family lawyer woke Ben to inform him of the seriousness of the accident and tried to prepare Ben for the inevitable. Ben was able to talk briefly with his father before Franklin died. Then life became very serious very fast for Benjamin Granault. He was too young to take over the company. There were many secrets, some involving Verndale, that could not be revealed; the fates of Verndale and the family company were linked.
Joshua Canterbury, the family and company lawyer, gave Ben a choice. He could go to live in Verndale with a family who would take care of him and treat him as one of their own until he was old enough to assume responsibility in the company or he could receive a one-time financial settlement and be banned from all further contacts with the company and Verndale. If he chose Verndale, he was forbidden all contact with the outside world until he was ready and old enough for company responsibilities. It was a requirement that Ben fit into Verndale and act at all times in a way to not upset a community that lived in a ‘50s culture. He must learn to speak their language, wear their clothes, go to their schools, and, always, not upset anyone. Ben had to make a choice immediately; he had one hour to choose.
Canterbury gave Ben a mobile phone which could only dial one number, Canterbury’s. It was only good for one call and was to be used in an emergency. If Ben used it, an extraction team would arrive in Verndale to “rescue” Ben, but he would then be sent out of the country, and all connections between Ben, Verndale, and his family’s company would be terminated. There were hints of a darker negative outcome for Ben should he make the one-time call.
Ben decided to join an adoptive family in Verndale. The adoption is at approximately the 50% point of the Kindle Volume One and the audiobook. The rest of Volume One is rich in detail about the daily lives of the 1950s residents of Verndale when no festival was going on. Did they abandon their Festival Days behavior? (Nope) Ben will enter Verndale and live with an adopted family, the Goode family. Just so readers don’t get lost in a haze of nostalgia, there are hints of very dark happenings near the end of Volume One. Dark possibilities are why there are Volumes Two, Three, Four, and Five.
This novel displays a remarkable exercise in world building. It is a world baby-boomers know well, so this read, or listen is a warm nostalgic wallow for those who believe everything was better in the “old days.” (Spoiler= No, it wasn’t). I couldn’t stop with only Volume One. The short reads are page-turners or whatever the equivalent is in an audiobook. I gave all of them five Amazon stars and will review the other volumes later. I highly recommend all of them in whichever format enjoyed.