The Shortest Distance between Two Points is A Piece of Fiction

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I came across this article yesterday and I thought it was a good read: The Secret of a Separate Peace

If you don't know, this John Knowles book is a staple of high-school freshman English classes in Texas and in the rest of the United States.

"A Separate Peace" affected me profoundly as a teenager probably because I finished it.  Were you to stumble across my copy in a used bookstore today (it has long since been lost to the sands of time), you'd discover underlined lines of dialogue and description, notes scribbled in the margins.  This was unusual.  When it came to class-assigned texts, reading all the way to the last page--and certainly being engaged enough to comment--was rare for me. 

At the time, my public school upbringing felt pedestrian and ordinary, a world away from the uppercrust, entitled student lives depicted in the novel.  To my teenage sensibility, school days lacked even a hint of glamour. By contrast, Gene and Finny appeared put together, bigger than life.  The story provided me an escape I think, and thus got to me somehow. 

The "separate peace" of the title refers to the military service the main characters face following graduation.  Sitting in Baghdad as I am now, the idea of war looks different to me (Not that I am really "at war."  For the record, I make Powerpoint slides for Generals.  Not exactly Battle of the Bulge, action hero kinda stuff).  When I consider my current occupation and look back toward days spent in literature classes and drama workshops, a certain nostalgia floods in.  I wonder if I had it better than I thought.

I don't necessarily agree with Metcalf's comments on the homosexual undertones in the text.  The relationship between Gene and Finny, as I recall, revolved around an intense sibling-like rivalry, and the inexplicable but all too understandable guilt and disastrous consequences associated with that competitiveness--not the brand of affection Metcalf describes.  Time may have colored my appraisal on this point, or I may never have understood the text in the first place, but that is how I see it.  Nonetheless, having not read the book in twenty years and likely making these comments out of ignorance, I think it advisable to investigate further.

So yesterday, quick as lightning, I flashed over to Amazon and ordered a used copy of "A Separate Peace", plus a copy of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" (long on my TBR list) for good measure.  No doubt, they are winging their way around the globe as we speak.  A report, in greater detail, will follow.

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