“Boy’s Life” by Robert McCammon – abandoned at the end of Part One (23%)

“Boy’s Life” has been in my TBR pile since July 2016. I’m finally getting to it as part of my 20 for 20 reading challenge to read books that are 20+ hours long. 

I can see why”Boy’s Life” is one of those well-loved books that people recommend. It is a beautifully told story of one boy’s life, eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson, in 1960s Zephry, Alabama. It tells of how he starts to unravel the mysteries of the adult world and to confront the darker things, hidden beneath the surface of his town, as he tries to help his traumatised father.

The storytelling is folksy without being hokey: think Stephen King meets Mark Twain and Stephen King mostly wins.

There is some subtlety here, with things having one meaning in a child’s mind and another in an adult one and Cory occasionally being able to see both meanings at once.

The pace is slow, like the measured tread of the marchers that Cory watches on Good Friday, and the scenes build upon one another, layering meaning upon meaning and enriching the strange little world that is Zephyr Alabama.

I loved the description of the kids going to the Saturday matinee and getting creeped out by the second feature, a movie about an alien invasion in a sort of body-snatcher style, becoming worried that their parents too might be taken and changed. The twist that followed, when a meteor is seen in the sky that same night while Cory is staying at a friends house was inspired and convincing, linking the children’s anxiety to reality as well as fantasy.

I also enjoyed the scene describing what happened to Cory in the flood.

I found the move between scenes a little choppy.

All the same, it’s clear to me that, if you have the right mindset and give yourself permission, this is a book that will transport you back to the childhood you might like to have had, where magical explanations of day-to-day things, especially frightening, not to be spoken about, day-to-day things seemed as likely to be true as any of the alternatives and spoke more urgently to your heart.

I’m abandoning the book because, as far as I can remember, I was never that kind of child, so what is meant to be a nostalgic, semi-magical, semi-spooky remembrance of life when you were coming of age is too far from my experience for my imagination to find traction.

In the first chapter Cory, as the writer of the story and speaking directly to the reader about the story they are about to start, comments that we are born able to see magic in the world but that we have the ability “educated out of us” and that, once that’s happened, we can never get it back. Well, my education must have been so thorough that I find myself fundamentally resistant to this way of looking at things.

I also find that I have very little empathy for Cory. He seems too nice to be true. He seems bright enough but he also seems to have trouble thinking things through. Maybe that’s what eleven-year-olds are like. I no longer know any.

So, I’ve decided not to spend another fifteen and a half hours getting irritated with Cory and missing or rejecting the point of the story. I’m moving on to my next books

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