Boy's Life

Robert McCammon's Boy's Life is probably my favorite novel of all time. I polished it off last night, and that's both a sad and a good thing. I've been excited every night over the last two weeks to return to the story. It's a text that's consistently great and memorable, from start to finish.

It's divided into parts, with titled sub-chapters in each. The text has a murder mystery at its core, but that thread only propels the narrative's greater purpose, which is to reveal the events of a year in the life of an American boy. In our case, Cory Mackenson is a great person with which to spend time.

McCammon's characterization is fantastic, and in particular I admire his treatment of the relationship between father and son. In the story's third act, nothing can quite crush the reader's heart as totally as their meeting on the front porch of the old house.

Death, mythology, magic, friendship, betrayal, mistrust, aging, maturation, storytelling--this novel touches on each of those topics, and it does so with insight and respect. McCammon is a master at work, and I think this is his best creation.

Boy's Life inspires introspection--or at least it did for me. But I find I'm also now looking to interpret what life must be like for my daughter. At two, she'll make her first foray into trick-or-treating tonight. For a week she's delighted in watching the weather forecast on the news, where they place a pumpkin graphic on the Monday marking Halloween.

"It's Monday, Dad! It's Halloween!" she shrieked this morning over her cereal. They are having a party at her daycare (pajamas and healthy fruits and veggies), and then it's on to the night's festivities. I'm dropping by the library to pick up a copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), and we'll be gearing up to have a ghastly good time giving out candy and touring the neighborhood.

I remember that whisper of promise that sticks in the back of your mind when you are a kid on Halloween. I remember watching the clock tick by, waiting and waiting and waiting for the day to end and the night to start. It was a thrill, and I'm excited that my daughter gets to feel that same spark tonight.

Happy Halloween to you, wherever you may be reading this! I hope you enjoy the evening...


Edward said...

Daniel, very nicely written. I, too, feel the same way: Boy's Life is one of the greatest American novels I've ever read. The scene in which Cory finds his bicycle in the junkyard and comparing the place to an elephant graveyard moves me to tears every time I read it.

Your nostalgic recollection of Halloween invoked my own. I think my fondest Halloween memories started when my elementary school teachers would hang our black and orange construction paper cutouts of jack o'lanterns, witches and black cats on the school windows.

For nostalgia's sake there is another book you might want to check out. It's called An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges. I was a kid in a neighborhood suburb in the mid to late 1960's, and Mr. Hedges captured this time and place perfectly in his book.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Hi Edward,

Thanks for stopping by!

I will definitely look at An Ocean in Iowa. I really enjoy these stories that not only communicate the universal themes of family and maturation (and Boy's Life is as good as anything Twain ever wrote in those areas, in my view), but also capture a time and a place so vividly. I'll read the Hedges novel when I'm through with Gone South (Man, those first five chapters!).

We did some of the art you mentioned from your youth with our daughter this weekend. We had a great time together, and those pumpkins and witches and proudly hanging in the front window! I hope these activities leave the same impressions on her that they did on us when we were kids...

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