10 March 2010

A Separate Peace

Sixteen year old prep student Gene spends most of his days in the summer of 1942 doing whatever his best friend Phineas, better known as Finny, dictates. If Finny thinks they should invent their own game of blitzball during PE, then they do. If Finny thinks they should form a Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, then they do. If Finny thinks they should cut class and go to the beach in lieu of showing up for a trig test, then they do. Eventually, Gene starts to suspect that his charming, free-spirited friend's impulsive decisions are a deliberate attempt to sabotage his stellar academic record. Gene's suspicions prompt him to lash back at Finny, leading to tragic consequences that neither of the two friends could ever have anticipated.

Scott recently recommended John Knowles' classic coming of age tale, A Separate Peace, to me, and I read it over the weekend. I had heard a lot of great things about this book (and I love a good coming of age story to start with) but had never read it before. I wish now that I had -- it's a new favorite! I started this book Friday evening and finished it early Saturday morning. Yes, it's that good. I loved Knowles' writing style. His prose is elegant and lyrical yet highly readable. Knowles' description of WWII era New England boarding school life is also realistic and makes for a unique backdrop. The petty rivalries between the students and the outrageous diversions that they develop to stave off boredom especially rang true. A Separate Peace is also a compelling study of the joy of friendship and the insidious influence of envy. It's definitely one of the more moving books I have read recently. (You may want a hankie handy for the tear-jerker ending.) That being said, the book isn't a totally depressing read. There is a lot of wit and humor present as well.

As much as I loved the style, setting, and plot, the real draw for me were the characters, who were complex and exceptionally well-constructed. I sympathized with Gene, the novel's sensitive, intellectual protagonist, but I adored Finny. We all know a Finny, that upbeat, charismatic, and devil-may-care friend whose carefree personality is one that you both admire and detest. I read many novels that have strong main characters, but very few books have as strong of a supporting cast as A Separate Peace. Knowles created a vivid mix of equally interesting and realistic characters in Gene and Finny's classmates, which range from the misunderstood Leper to the enigmatic Brinker to the insufferable Quackenbush (Admit it: You laughed at the name. Don't lie! I saw you giggle as you were reading this blog post.)

I highly recommend this novel. A Separate Peace is a superb book on every level. Well-written and moving, this novel features some memorable characters that are well-worth getting to know.


By the way, I love getting book recommendations, so please always feel free to suggest books to me. I'll read them as soon as possible. :)

Next Week: Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects.

I also have two announcements. Hey, don't run! They'll be quick. I promise. First, you may have noticed the new pages I have been adding to my blog. (Just humor me and pretend that you did. *points covertly to top of page*) I have added "What's All This, Then", which is a history of my blog; "And You Are...", which includes more information about me then you would ever wish to know; and "What's Next?", which is where I will be posting the books on my TBR list that I plan on reading in the not-so-distant future. I plan on adding a few more pages over the next couple of weeks and will point them out when I do get them finished.

Now, for the other announcement. My good friend over at Ergo, Scott, tagged me to predict my future. I have to tag ten other bloggers and make predictions about where I will be in ten years. I would mention that Scott is an excellent friend (and blogger) with an outrageous sense of humor and impeccable taste in books, but he insisted that I am not allowed to tag him back, so I won't. Be that way, Scott. ;)

Hmmm...where will I be in ten years? In ten years I will be thirty -- the age of Hamlet. This intrigues me, because Hamlet is not only one of my favorite characters who I insist upon dragging into every conversation, but I once took a personality test that said Hamlet was the literary character that I am most like. The similarities between the Prince and myself were truly scary. (Of course, I also once scored as Lady Macbeth and Sweeney Todd on similar tests, so maybe I shouldn't take these too seriously...) Regardless, I wonder: When I am thirty will I also develop an alarming case of insanity that involves my being responsible for the murders of several people? (Gee, I hope not...) Will I wander around a spooky Danish castle reeling off witty non-sequitors and shrieking "Fie on it!"? (Gee, I hope so...) Will I be an indecisive emotional basketcase? (Gee, I already am...) I wonder about these things, but the thorny question that I really ponder: Will I still be in college, like Hamlet was? (Gee, I bet so...) That is the question! I mean, I plan on sticking around and earning master's degrees in English and history then getting a Ph.D. in history, so it's very likely I'll be one of those pathetic ABD grad students, slaving away on some dry dissertation that only the insane, drunk, or academic would plod their way through. That's all right, though. Maybe if I am busy writing a dissertation on the political beliefs of Russian Revolutionaries, I will be too distracted to sword fight anyone named Laertes...

Enough of my nonsense! Now for the ten bloggers I have tagged:

Jean (Discarded Darlings) -- for her always amusing observations on writing.

Aly (My Seriously Unserious Life) -- for always being so cheerful and upbeat.

Bec (Propose With Oreos) -- for her funny, informative "How to" articles

N.A. (Zac Serves it right) -- for her original, engaging series on Zac the cafateria worker.

Math is a Plentiful Harvest (Math is a Plentiful Harvest) -- for her superb poems and essays.

Ryan (The Dark Corner of the Mind) -- for his always excellent take on writing.

Jourdie (I Read This!) -- for his great book reviews and literary analysis articles.

Rose (Shadowland) -- for her haunting, beautiful poems.

Lucy (Amusing Seth) -- for her amazing blog posts and great links.

Glenda (Schemer's World) -- for her hilarious take on writing and life.



  1. Ah! A Seperate Peace! I'm having flashbacks to my high school dissection of this poor novel. Yes, it was a good story. :)

    Thank you for the tagging. I shall have to ponder this. hmmm.

  2. Holy crap! I was tagged! Aww... thanks Zella!

    I'm going to check this book out at the library. I'm really want to read it now. Great job!

    In ten years, I'll be twenty-six. Let's hope that I can check some dreams off my list!
    You'll probably be an award-winning professor in ten years, Zella!

    Let's give it up to Zella, who is so informative and so smart and fabulous!
    *crowd cheers*

    Peace and hair grease,

  3. Yay Zella! I agree 100% with everything you said about this novel. And thank you for the plug! Yay for no tagbacks. ;)

  4. Jean - You're welcome! LOL I remember you telling us about that infamous high school dissection. I was thinking of you when I wrote this blog post.

    Aly - Awww, thank you! You will accomplish a lot in ten years! :) Do tell me what you think of this when you read it. It's a great story.

    Scott - You're welcome! I keep my promises...usually. ;)

  5. You're welcome Zella!
    Hopefully they have it in the library. If not, I'll buy it.

    I feel a little more confident because of you. :D 10 years is a long time, but I'll try my best!

    Thanks a lot!

    Peace and hair grease,

  6. Aly, If they don't have it at your library, ask for an ILL. I work at a small public library, so we rely on these quite frequently. Basically, your library will borrow the book from another library. As popular as this book is, you shouldn't have any trouble getting it. :)

    You're welcome. Your comment made me feel better about myself, too. Thanks, Aly! :)

  7. Lady Macbeth? EEP.
    Anyway, I liked a Separate Peace. I read it in seventh grade, but a lot of my classmates didn't like it for no apparent reason. Well, that's seventh grade immaturity for you. :)
    And I say this as if the guys in my class are any more mature. Blasphemy. That's why, when we were replaying commercials (Yes, it had commercials that were related to Macbeth! Like Out Out Damn Spot Cleaner--with a FREE Out, Out, Brief Candle extinguisher! And there was Axcel!) and the song summaries, one guy decided to repeat the scene where Lady Macbeth says, "Unsex me here!" over and over.
    My libraries are pretty awesome. There's the "real" city library (as in it's in my city) which is three stories tall. And then there's the other library in a neighboring city that is linked to a county system. So, it's pretty neat.
    That's all for now.

  8. I'd like to see you blog Catching Fire sometime! I have a copy right next to me right now that I thought I lost...but somehow it was under this stack of books that I'm positive I checked!
    Hm. More proof of fairy goddesses. I think they like my books. They stole my Half-Magic copy, too, but we found it before it was due...in my dresser drawer. Sheesh, fairy goddesses, if you're going to steal my books, at least be a little bit more cautious! Don't go putting them in places I know the books couldn't have been in!
    Silly fairy goddesses. But I'm sure they've learned. And they're sure better than those Heffalumps and Woozles. Tigger did say that they stole honey, but really, they steal books. And honey. But mostly books.

  9. LOL *cough* I scored that on a "Which Shakespearean Character Are You Most Like" Facebook quiz. I was sort of disturbed by it. :S

    Sana, sadly, guys don't get any more mature in college either. *rolls eyes*

    Ah, Sana, that's a great book suggestion! I read it back in November and truly did love it. Tell you what, my spring break is coming up in a week and I will try my best to reread it so it's fresh in my mind. Thanks so much! :D

  10. Hah, Zella, that's what I suspected. As my former math teacher used to say, "Some boys just don't start growing up until they are 35." I think we ought to prevent their genes from polluting the gene pool. I don't mean to kill them, just sterilize them. We want our society to advance, not regress...I wonder if we can unsterilize them later, when they're mature?
    I just finished Catching Fire. What an ending! I can't wait for the next book to come out!

  11. Sana, that's an interesting idea. One of my mentors told me that boys are worthless until they're thirty. Not sure I 100% agree, but he may be on to something. :D

    OMG! I know! That just totally threw me off! And now I am dying to know what happens next! I really do want to do a Catching Fire blog over spring break. If I can't fit it in, I'll try this summer. :D