Author: John Knowles
One of my favorite works of classic American literature, and a rare book that was both moving when we were required to read it in school & touching when I reread it for the first time as an adult, A Separate Peace is a special book, a melancholy lament on lost youth and innocence, and a reminder that we all grow up, sometimes leaving the best parts of ourselves behind. This novel gives me an unusual sort of nostalgia for a life that wasn’t mine and is only representative anyway, a longing for something that’s pure metaphor but has more of a sense of real life about it than most things we encounter every day.
During a summer session at a boarding school in New England, two boys, Gene and Finny, cement their friendship by being complete opposites, therefor driving each other, pushing each other, and melting into one, complete person. Gene is studious and reserved, while Finny is a magical, Peter Pan-like boy, full of perfect athleticism and constant charisma. Finny is everything Gene isn’t, until an accident brings brings him down from perfection to Gene’s level, causing a complete shift in their relationship. With WWII raging overseas and the boys of the class racing toward draftable age, youth is swiftly left behind, with bitterness replacing what once unique, idyllic, and free.
This book always affects me, each time I take it down from the shelf again; it’s powerful beyond anything I could hope to describe. It’s short, to the point, and completely symbolic of so much that we’ve each gone through; destroying something beautiful with no understanding as to why, growing up without the knowledge of what to do next, loathing the parts of yourself you can’t change while hating those who exhibit what you’re missing. It’s a novel of self reflection and self destruction, with symbols around every corner and awful, imperfect, brutal humanity dominating every page. I think when I read it in school it just made me sad, and perhaps I wasn’t even sure why, but now that I’ve left childhood behind, I feel that nostalgic, sometimes-bitter longing for youth and the peace that comes before knowledge, and I understand my own pain so much better. A book that you can’t take emotionally lightly, A Separate Peace is something almost accidentally perfect, capturing so much in a small moment that we don’t even have the power to process it all, but we keep coming back to try again, hoping, perhaps, that this time we will finally understand, and ultimately be able to let go.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★