NOTE: I wrote this review a few weeks ago and saved it for when I didn’t have time to write any other blog entries. Then I noticed that a new trade paperback edition is coming out July 1, 2008, so here it is. I hope this might spur some folks who haven’t read it to pick it up and experience the magic of a true great American novel. –Chris
There are a handful of books you’ll come across in your lifetime that are magic. They grab your hand and run with you behind them, dragging you down the dusty roads of your youth to worlds of adventure and imagination. They wrap themselves around you, they get inside of you and touch your heart. They make you laugh and they make you cry.
BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon is one of those books. One of my favorite novels of all time. Can I even call it a book or novel without feeling like it’s somehow a betrayal? It’s not just a book, it’s a good friend. The agent Donald Maass wrote that good books are some of the very best friends of all, because they will not age, move away, get divorced, or stab you in the back.
BOY’S LIFE is one of my very best friends.
It’d been several years since I last read this book. Recently, I picked it up again and started the love affair anew. It’s still magic. It doesn’t matter how much time passes between readings, I know that every time I read it, I’ll feel the same thrill, the same yearnings, the same hopes and disappointments, the same fear and same desires, the same raw energy of youth. This novel has everything I’ve ever wanted in a story. It has monsters — human and inhuman — it has friends and bullies and villains, it has gunfights and carnivals and ghosts and mystery. It attaches itself to the core values and inner conflict of America, to the dysfunction of who we are as a country and who we are as individuals, and looks back on its time with bittersweet longing for a simpler age in the face of inevitable change.
So, what’s this book about? Well…that isn’t enough? I guess you’d like for me to be more specific.
I’ve lamented the dangers of writing book reviews, since art is so subjective that someone will inevitably disagree with my assessment. Let me just call this an endorsement, for what it’s worth coming from a little ol’ nobody like me. BOY’S LIFE is one of the great American novels. If it isn’t required reading in schools in the next twenty years, or at the very least mentioned in the same breath with all the great American novels of the past two hundred years, I’ll be surprised. More than that, I’ll be disappointed, and will have lost my faith in the value of academia. If you want a summary, look up the book on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble and read it there. There’re some reviews that give a summary of the plot, too, if that’s what you really want. For me to summarize it at a nuts and bolts level somehow doesn’t do it justice.
Buy this book. Give it to your children as soon as they’re old enough to read. Read it yourself in your spare moments between the rushing madness of your life, in the quiet light of a bedside lamp, and let it take you away on a great journey. If you can finish this book without a tear in your eye, then I submit that you have locked yourself away from others for far too long — if not literally, then figuratively — and the world has made you far colder than you have a right to be.
Thank you, Mr. McCammon, for one of my very best friends, for one of the greatest gifts that a writer can give. I’m sure we’ll be spending time together until we’re old and gray. It’s been quite a journey from the single bedroom, squalid apartment of a mixed-up 20-year-old kid, angry and messed-up and alone, to the bedside of a 37-year-old man with his dear wife beside him, a little less angry but still tired, learning to heal from all of life’s wounds. I’m sure there’s still adventure yet to be had, from now to however old I’ll end up being when it’s all said and done. No matter how old I am, BOY’S LIFE will always remind me of the thrill of growing up, remind me where I came from, and keep alive the child inside me, that I might never die to the magic of my own youth in the face of an onrushing age of technology and isolation and convenience, an age of superhighways and Wal-Marts, video games and cable TV.
For those of you in the know: summer’s here, it’s time to fly.