Melissa Rudder's Reviews > A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
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Aug 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: teach-it
Read in August, 2011 , read count: 5

There's something about John Knowles' A Separate Peace that makes me not review it. When I reread it to teach it last year, it was already after I had started the tradition of book reviews, but I never did one for it. This year, I finished it over a month ago and have yet to review it. Even as I start this belated review, I'm not enthused. And it's sad. Because A Separate Peace is a stunning book: it's painfully honest, with magnetic prose.

A Separate Peace conveys a complex theme through its dynamic and compelling characters. With World War II raging in the back of their minds, these nearly draftable young men must fight their own wars, with reality and with themselves. The cast of characters is fantastic: Leper, the naive outcast who lives in his own peaceful world as long as he can; Brinker, the politician and leader who is always passionate about his ever-changing views; Finny, the embodiment of youthful innocence, love, and peace, wrapped up in an attractive, charismatic, and athletic frame; and Gene. Who seems vaguely familiar. And whom the reader may start to hate. Until they come to realize where their war is truly fought.

This novel of friendship and conflict also stands up to an alternate reading. My students, with their very self-conscious and sadly homophobic fear of any overt acts of affection between boys, always ask if Gene and Finny are gay. And I wish I could just say no and move the conversation back to metaphors and dramatic irony, but I think that there's enough evidence to make the argument that Gene is attracted to Finny and confused by this attraction. It also helps explain Gene's very strange behavior. I'm not saying that that's Knowles' intention, but I am saying that it would make a pretty interesting analytical paper.

Reading the book, for the most part, is very entertaining and engaging. Finny's character, as it should, draws the reader in. Gene's internal monologue, while occasionally annoying, is insightful and colors the narrative. Situations thick in dramatic irony and foreshadowing are both amusing and thought provoking. The plot unfolds at a good pace for the most part. Toward the middle, it seems to stall. But that makes sense, thematically, because of a crucial absense.

A Separate Peace is a good read. And it does its job. As the reader is dragged through the darkness of Gene's mind, the mindful reader realizes that he/she might need to better explore his/her own.

(This book review is from 2008 or 2009. I've since revisited the book.)
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