Novel November

Boy's Life

by Robert R. McCammon

Reading Review by Michael Channing

Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon

Remember all the best things about being a kid? You named your bike and swore it sometimes had a mind of its own. You stored your priceless treasures in a special box you decorated yourself. Your pet was your best friend. Your dad was the smartest and bravest and best dad in the world. The world, by the way, was exactly the size of your hometown but still held adventures, wonders, and mysteries from end to end. Adults were mostly boring, often confusing, sometimes frightening, but you had yet to have the sense of magic scrubbed, spanked, and educated out of you.

Boy's Life is overflowing with the magic and marvel associated with the doe-eyed innocence of youth. It's a coming-of-age novel as well as an homage to movies, myths, and music of boyhood, as well as a look at the civil rights movement as seen through a young boy's eyes. Multiple plot lines diverge and occasionally meet again as our protagonist Cory comes face to face with the KKK, a water demon, a monkey named Lucifer, a dinosaur, a voodoo witch, a ghost, a fugitive Nazi, and more. Imagine if all of Calvin and Hobbes' pretend adventures were real.

The main through-line begins one early morning as Cory accompanies his father on his daily milk delivery. (The demise of the milk man as an occupation touches on one of the themes of the book: the inevitability of change.) He and his dad see a car veer off the road and splash into a lake. Cory's father dives in after the car, hoping to save the driver. He barely escapes being sucked down with the sinking car, but he returns with a chilling story. The driver had been murdered and lashed to the wheel with barbed wire. There is a killer in their sleepy little town.

Just as there is a dark secret below the surface of the lake, a vein of evil runs through the town itself. Cory and his friends cross the paths of white supremacists who plan to blow up a black church. Several of the grownups Cory always thought he could trust are revealed to be quite evil.

Death is a big part of this book. In a coming-of-age novel where the hero has a dog, you just know the dog is going to die and provide our hero with a valuable lesson. But this book handles that in a way you will not anticipate. I don't want to spoil it. It's truly touching.

There is one scene in particular that occupies a bright corner of my heart. On the last day of school, the final bell still echoing in their ears, Cory and his friends flee the imprisoning halls and run to a field where they often play. When they get there, their wings, which had been repressed and bound almost to the point of withering, sprout full and strong again from their backs. One after another, the boys leap into the air and fly free again like eagles. Their dogs (you better bet every boy in town has a dog) also unfurl their wings and follow their masters into the perfect blue sky. Of course it's just for play. The boys are really running in circles in an open field, but the joy and life that McCammon puts into that scene makes me weep every time. Even now as I'm writing about it, I'm fighting not to cry.

There are many scenes of such pure beauty, sometimes joyful, sometimes angry or sorrowful. This is a book to be cherished, a book to return to again and again. As you grow older, it will speak to you in different ways. But it will always stay with you.

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