Some books serve as scripture for one’s life. They are the kind of books that provoke change, or sum up a way that we intend to look at the world. For me, A Separate Peace is reverently kissed and laid alongside a number of such books. In fact, one of the two primary characters, Phineas, tends to look at the world exactly like that, with intent, not as merely informing him, but as it ought to be.
If the book has Phineas as its object, its subject is Gene. Gene is everyman, but not nearly so generic. Gene is the kind of man that can look at a Phineas and love him, but in the way that one loves a life that he can’t replicate – perhaps always a jealous, hungry kind of love. It’s a book about the perils of friendship. Phineas is the saint. He lives what, to characters like Gene, is the unlivable life. Except, Phineas lives it. Every moment of it, he lives. Every moment, his life is the impossible but actual and present that one cannot help but hold in amazement. And amazement so often precludes genuine love, the kind of love that needs a thing to continue to exist more than it needs the world to make sense.
The author will wound you, if you have ever loved like this. But like one of the characters in the books learns, or should learn – it’s hard to be sure if he ever got it – it’s better to be wounded, if it means having the truth out, than to live a blissful, mad life of selective honesty. It’s a book that seethes with honesty. If you’re a person who seethes with guile, you won’t like this novel, not unless you intend to change. And self-delusion, that’s guile too, even if you’re getting away with it.
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