Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Separate Peace

I ran across A Separate Peace (1960) on our shelf when moving some of our book collection around.  It turns out to be a fairly popular selection for high school English classes, but somehow I missed the bus on that one.  At any rate, the description sounded fairly interesting as I'm always one to enjoy a good boys' school drama a la Dead Poets Society.

The novel, a fairly quick read, is the story of two friends at a boarding school in New England during World War 2.  The two main characters, Gene and Phineas, are a study in opposites: Gene is the more introverted, studious type, while Phineas is a gregarious athlete.  The two have been drawn to one another, and as the novel opens are enjoying the carefree days of the summer session at the Devon School.

Toward the end of summer an event occurs that will change both of their lives forever.  Finny conceives of a club whose members must prove themselves by jumping from a tree into the river, a fairly dangerous affair as the tree is set back from the banks of the river.  As the co-leaders, Gene and Finny contrive to impress everyone by jumping from the tree in tandem.  While making their way out on a limb to do this, Gene inexplicably bounces the branch, causing Finny to fall onto the ground below and badly break his leg.  The remainder of the novel is really a character study of Gene and the ugly truths he discovers about himself in the wake of the tree incident.

It becomes clear that Gene is extremely jealous of Finny's very natural good-natured approach to life.  Gene convinces himself that Finny has plotted to bring about his academic downfall by goading him into spending time away from his studies on various pursuits.  This jealousy eventually manifests itself physically in his treacherous act on the tree over the river.  Gene's character is starkly contrasted by Phineas, who is an innately good individual, even going so far as to deny Gene's act when Gene visits him to confess.  Another traumatic event forces Gene to come to terms with his character, and we are left with the hope that he will try to grow from his experiences with Phineas.

I enjoyed the overall message of the novel, but it was a fairly dull read.  Since I have chosen to base my hamster scale mostly on my enjoyment of the reading experience, I give it only three hamsters.  This is not to say I don't recommend it, but a thrilling read it is not!

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