Boy’s Life is on My Own Pile of Classic Reads

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’

Boy’s Life is currently only in my ‘virtual’ library’. I am awaiting a hard copy.

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.



The disappointments of Boyhood are rife

A review by Roxanne Daniels

As the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) seems only disappointing, so the movie became disappointing as I watched it. Although nominated for six Oscars and has been ranked as #137 on IMDB’s list of top 250 movies, I did not enjoy this film. It follows the life of one boy (along with his family and friends) for 12 years. What is unique about the film is that it was a 12 year project, using the same actor for the boy as he grew up into a lanky teenager who did all the ‘teenager things’; trying sex, drugs and alcohol.

Mason is exposed to divorce at a young age, seeing his mother (Patricia Arquette) divorce three times from drunken irresponsible men before he leaves to go to university. Although Mason‘s onscreen father (Ethan Hawke) is one of those men his mother divorces, he turns out to be faithful to his son offering loving advice along the way despite his own mishaps.

Even though his mother picks herself up, goes back to school and acquires her dream job in teaching psychology, she offers the least hopeful advice and guidance despite her best efforts to raise her son well.

For the duration of the film there was little hope along the way with none of the chief characters agreeing that they have purpose in this world. They all seemed to bumble along waiting to discover meaning which never came.

Perhaps it was the minor characters that added some light to this film; Mason’s step grandmother confidently gave him his first Bible on his 15th birthday with the thought that it would add direction to his life. A foreign worker who spoke little English when fixing some pipes for Mason’s mother, turned up later in the film having heeded her advice; he had gone to school, learned English and became a manager at restaurant while studying a Bachelor’s degree. He thanked her with happiness.

I was left feeling bereft for the characters whose lives were closely followed, but happy to be reminded that I have my own purpose and meaning in life. I only wish that Mason could have that too.

Boyhood is out on DVD in South Africa and has been nominated for six Oscars. The Oscars award ceremony takes place on 22 February 2015.

Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, the boy whose life is closely followed for 12 years. Photo: Creative Commons.

Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, the boy whose life is closely followed for 12 years. Photo: Creative Commons.