In an interview with Robert McCammon, about his book Boy’s Life, the author relates a touching story:
A woman wrote me several years ago to tell me that her elderly father had passed away, and that she wanted me to know he had asked that a copy of his favorite book be buried with him [- Boy’s Life]. He had read it over and over, she said. So many times that it was no longer a book. It was a constant companion.
In that same interview the author said that years after he had written Boy’s Life he walked into a bookstore, went to look at ‘The Classics’
table and there, amongst Dickens and Hugo and Steinbeck, was his very own book Boy’s Life. Well, on my own little pile of classics in my small library at home I have recently added this one of McCammon’s. It’s a treasure I now love. I want to show it off and keep it close.
I read Boy’s Life recently at bedtime. Instead of dozing off as is my wont I found myself laughing and crying at the story of protagonist, 12-year-old Cory Mackenson, and the many, many characters that peopled his life. I identified with the depiction of 1960s childhood in southern USA, and delighted in exploring the imaginary world created by the author.
‘Imaginary’ or ‘magical realism’ is an important element in this book. It’s a device used to show the main character’s transition from childhood to adulthood. Therefore, many scenes are written in such a way that the reader is not quite sure if what happened was real or simply in the character’s imagination. Did Cory really defeat a huge water monster? Did a triceratops really save him from a kidnapper? Was the mayor a sinister character or not?
Whether the experiences were real or not, the move from childhood to adulthood for Cory involves the uncovering of both evil and good. Law enforcement gone bad. Dodgy grandparents. Racism. Gambling, moonshining and gangsterism. Loving parents. Bravery. Spiritualism. Forgiveness. Cory stumbles across or is faced with all of these in the children, adults and townspeople of his hometown. And the real-life murder that Cory and his father, Tom Mackenson, come across in the opening pages of the book forms the basis for all these different strands of the tale.
But very importantly, the author gets across the message that children can grow into adults without losing the magic of childhood. Whatever good or bad they uncover they can retain that magic. The main character says in the introduction to the book: When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future.
And that past for Cory takes the reader through delightful tales of summer with friends, hilarious church experiences, schoolyard fights, bicycle rides, writing competitions, love for pets, loss of friends and death. Boy’s Life covers it all. The universal human experience. Perhaps that’s why it was on ‘the classics’ table of a bookshop McCammon visited. It’s certainly why it’s on mine.