Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Separate Peace (RR)

by John Knowles

Started: 19 August 2007
Finished: 27 August 2007

This is at least my third time reading this juvenile classic. I even hesitate classifying this profound work of fiction as 'juvenile'. Much popular fiction which passes for 'adult' these days doesn't come close to being so thought-provoking and unforgettable as A Separate Peace manages to be in a scant 204 pages.

It's a story about friendship and war--and the wars of friendship and the effects of war on friendship. Sometimes the duel themes are so intricately interwoven as to be nearly impossible to detangle, much less identify one from the other. At the heart of the story is the magical and once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two young boys, Gene, the narrator of the story, and Phineas, a charismatic enigma, both on the threshold of manhood during the summer of 1942.

As in all relationships, but especially in close 'best friendships' such as this one between Gene and Phineas, feelings and motives are not always clear from one moment to the next. Sometimes love and hate are opposite sides of the same coin, as are admiration and envy. Without giving away the ending, there is an accident that summer of '42 involving both of the boys--one as the victim and the other as the perpetrator. It happens in a split second, without malice or premeditation, yet the repercussions are to echo down the years.

It's a beautiful, haunting story which deals with the timeless questions which plague all intimate relationships. I don't think it's possible to read A Separate Peace and not be deeply moved by it. As a young person I didn't begin to appreciate its rich complexity, penetrating wisdom, nor even its bittersweet simplicity though I remember how long the book stayed with me after I finished it. Returning to it for the second time as an adult, I find myself still touched, but also awed and even . . . strangely reassured. Read it!


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