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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Boy's Life by Robert R McCammon

A month of so ago Trish reviewed Boy's Life by Robert R McCammon. We were just about to leave for vacation and despite my misgivings on the size of it, I picked up a copy and took it with me. It's not very often that a review makes me pick something up immediately and then actually read it, but I'm glad I did. It's a huge book and there are a lot of things going on. For much of the book I was wondering how McCammon was possibly going to tie it all together, but I think he managed. I'm about to get very thinky with this review, so if your brain doesn't already hurt you might want to skip the long version.

So what's it about? The narrator of the story is 11 (12?) year old Cory Mackenson, resident of Zephyr, Alabama in 1964. As the story opens, Cory and his father witness the cover up to a murder. The murderer isn't found and the identity of the victim remains a mystery. Cory is, understandably, very curious about what happened and as the story progresses there are tiny little clues that start to add up to the big finale. In between there are four friends, a summer vacation, a ceremony for a river beast, a flood, some voodoo, a naked man, some deaths, a monkey, the Beach Boys, some ghosts, a story writing contests, a little girl named "The Demon", some Nazis, racism and a shiny new bike, among other things. It's a big book.

The short verdict? I enjoyed it. I didn't love it, but I very much want to talk about it, so go read it.

The long version: Did I like it? Did it work for me? I'd say it mostly worked. There are a few moments that are either magical realism or the fantasy of a 12 year old and if it's the former then no, but if it's the later then yeah, it worked. It's hard to say which it was because it's all told like fact, but I like to think that it's how a 12 year old remembered it when writing the story as an adult. There is a strong theme of not growing up too fast, and as a fictional adult writing from his perspective as a child, adding those elements would make sense. Cory is definitely writing a story. He wants to be a writer and he addresses the reader directly on occasion, both as an adult and as a child. For most of the book you can forget this (and are supposed to), but there are moments where you have to wonder if it "really happened" or not. (Ok, yeah, this is a hard thing to explain. Of course it didn't happen, this is fiction. But it's hard to tell if it really happened to Cory Mackenson, the writer of the story in the story. Follow?)

The writing is excellent. If he didn't write such large books, I'd probably read another McCammon to see if the voice is McCammon's or Cory's. The scenes are drawn well and I can easily put myself into Zephyr, Alabama and see it all happen (ok, almost all of it.) There were some events that didn't really affect the story that could have been left out, but in hindsight perhaps they are events that were important to the 12 year old narrator? It's hard to tell. There are moments of perfect description and moments of heart-stopping terror. There is even a little bit of romance, if you count The Lady and the Moon Man.

One of the plot lines in it is a bit about a local writer and how publishers, and by extension readers, didn't want books about local towns, they wanted something fantastic to happen in them and I wonder if the whole book isn't really that same thing? A great book with Southern flavor with a heavier murder plot to make the reader interested, but the book is really just about the town and growing up in it. This is all getting very meta, but are we really supposed to believe it all? The small Southern town part is very well done. The other parts are much more heavy handed, like maybe a 12 year old inserted them. But, intentionally heavy handed. I am REALLY bad at explaining myself here. Maybe this isn't how everyone else who reads it sees it. An example of this, for those of you who've read it, is the thing from the carnival. While still very well written, it seems an obvious departure from say, the description of his last day of school and his old teacher.

If you're at all interested in it, be sure to check Trish's review, as her's is much more about the book and not so much about my tired brain seeing things that probably aren't there. You could also read CJ's review at My Years of Reading Seriously. Neither of them got all thinky like I did, so perhaps I am seeing things.

Boy's Life by Robert A McCammon
Thorndike Press
837 pages
Large Print


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  2. I read this book when we lived in France and I loved it! Looking back, I'm not sure if it was that the book was so good or that I was starved for a book in English.

  3. Ok, my dear. I'm typing this comment as I'm reading your post--so hopefully it makes sense.

    1. Glad you mostly liked it.
    2. The flying bit was a little weird for me but the rest of the magical elements worked--the whole Midnight Mona bit I really liked. I would not classify this as magical realism, but I'm not really sure about that. But Cory also mentions in the book that some of the things that happened when he wasn't present were either heard second-hand and sometimes even he just filled in the blanks himself. Knowing this upfront helped me keep things in perspective a bit.

    Ok--gotta go grab some ice cream (for dinner)...

    About the heavy-handedness, I agree with you in terms of the wrapping up of the murder mystery. I don't want to say anything here in the comments, but all that bit about Hannaford, etc etc just seemed to come way out of left field. Although I think McCammon did tie up most of the loose ends, it didn't feel like it was keeping in tone with the rest of the book. The carnival? I don't know, I saw this as more a boy's overactive imagination. Now, the creature saving the day? Please!!

    I try not to get too thinky. See what happens? I eat too much ice cream.


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