Monday, January 3, 2011

Book 64: Finished.

I have very mixed feelings about this novel. A large part of me remembers the first time I read this a few summers ago. I was working in the concession stand at the park, and it was one of those hot lazy days, so I spent almost my entire shift parked in front of the AC unit reading this novel. I remember loving it, and I am not sure why.

Now, after reading it for the second time, I am not sure how I feel. I suppose, on one hand, that this book was a big deal, and can be a big deal if you think about it in a certain way. I'm just not sure that the message and power of this book compares to the other 63 books I've read off my list so far (if that makes sense).

For those unfamiliar with the story, Gene and his roommate Phineas are in a New England boarding school for boys during WWII. Gene is a lonely, intellectual kind of boy. He studies and takes things far more seriously than Phineas. Phineas is an athlete and joker. Rooming together, they become friends.

Eventually Gene feels like there is competition between them and begins to pull away. A semi-tragic event happens and Gene must make amends with Phineas. It all spirals from there into eventual tragedy.

I get it. That whole boy rivalry thing. I don't understand it on some level, so I asked Matt about whether he competed with his friends. He said that its normal for men-folk to feel competitive, like a "look how macho I can be" kind of thing, but I don't get it. I don't think I was ever really like that.

But on another hand, I can see where the tragedy of this story is what drives it. A healthy young male in the prime of his life is hurt and will never what he once was. You can take it farther and compare it to the time period the story is set in. During all wars, not just WWII, young men were sent away and didn't come back the same. Something changed them, their lives were different and they were never the same person they once were. In that case you could almost view Gene and Phineas' story as an anti-war story.

"The war was and is a reality for me. I still instinctively live and think in its atmosphere," (40).

"When you are sixteen, adults are slightly impressed and almost intimidated by you. This is a puzzle, finally solved by the realization that they foresee your military future, fighting for them. You do not foresee it," (41).

I think that it is instead a story of change and growth. We all must go through significant moments of change and trial in our lives to become new, and hopefully better, individuals. We cannot contribute to society unless we adapt and change to the circumstances we find ourselves in. In the cases of Gene and Phineas, they suffer from more trials in a smaller period of time. Its just life and why this novel is often labeled as a "coming-of-age" novel.

I hope that all made sense. Since my feelings are mixed about how I felt about this, I'm not sure how to approach writing about them. I will say that if you haven't read this, it is worth a read. Even knowing what was going to happen in the end, I still found myself hooked.


  1. Hmm... I absolutely loved this book - it's one of my favorites. But I haven't read it in "adulthood" yet - I think I probably should re-read this (and many other books), as a lot of literature (unlike other sub-genres, like Sci-Fantasy/Romance, etc) seems to change with us as we change. The few books that I have read multiple times give me something different with each experience. I hated The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, when I read it the first time - I couldn't get through it. On the 2nd and 3rd reads, though, I become enraptured by it.

    It's interesting...

  2. I've not encountered this book at all, so have no preconceptions to bring to it. However, your experience is a reminder of the potential perils of re-reading. Sometimes you can find that your previous reactions to a book are enhanced and intensified and sometimes it just goes the other way. It isn't always a risk I'm willing to take.

  3. This is one of those books where I've heard of the title, but have no familiarity with it beyond that. It sounds interesting, though, although I have mixed feeling on coming-of-age stories in general. It's interesting, though, the way a book can affect us so differently at different times. I guess what's going on in life outside of reading has more affect on our perceptions of books than we might realize.

  4. I *think* this book is on my shelf. I can kinda picture it as a find at a used bookstore. (I read Pajamas, which I really enjoyed).

    Also, I love that you said "menfolk". Hahahahaha. That's great. :)

    Competition. You know I don't even really see that with my middle school students.

  5. I read this in high school and think it may be time for a re-read. I agree that I didn't completely "get" the male competition thing, but I think I would have a different reaction to it as an adult than as a teen.

  6. I keep wanting to read this, but everyone tells me it's a terrible book, so I'm not sure...

  7. gggrrrr. just left a comment and lost it. Let me try again.

    Half of my 9th grade read this but I was in a different class that read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (I loved that). I seem to remember people complaining about this book, but I didn't know much about it. Your thoughts have intrigued me, I should give it a try.