Separate Peace (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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A Separate Peace
John Knowles, 1959
208 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2010

As a comping-of-age story, I wanted to recommend Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. (Notice how I seem to be recommending it anyway.) One of the great C-of-A novels of modern America, it manages to be side-splittingly funny and tender at the same time—but so focused on the male member and bathroom humor that many find it offensive. (Others' sensibilities are more acutely tuned than mine...so now you know.)

Instead, I offer John Knowles's A Separate Peace, a beautiful rendering of youth, war (within and without), and hard-gained self-knowledge. Published in 1959, A Separate Peace has maintained its power to move us for 50 years.

The story follows two adolescent boys in a private New England school who become fast friends—Gene, a shy intellectual, and Finny, a gregarious athlete. Their innocent summer session is marred when Finny falls from a tree, an accident that may or may not have been intentionally caused by Gene.

Gene both adores and resents all that Finny represents, and the love-hate war within himself—played out against the backdrop of World War II—forms the heart of the story. Brinker, a third boy, represents a sort of adult maturity who gradually spurs Gene's own movement toward responsibility and self-awareness.

It's a wonderful book. And even if you read it in high school...it's time to re-read it as an adult. Lots to think and talk about.

 

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