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by John Knowles

A Separate Peace (1959) is a novel by John Knowles. Based on his earlier short story "Phineas", it was Knowles' first published novel and became his best-known work.
Download A Separate Peace epub
ISBN: 0553121103
ISBN13: 978-0553121100
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Classics
Author: John Knowles
Publisher: BANTAM DOUBLEDAY @ DELL; 45th Printing edition (1978)
ePUB size: 1306 kb
FB2 size: 1355 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 952
Other Formats: mbr doc lrf docx

Here is an excerpt from the book. While reading, please keep in mind that this is coming from the view of the main character, Gene Forrester, a 16-year-old boy...
"I threw my hip against his, catching him by surprise, and he was instantly down, definitely pleased. This was why he liked me so much. When I jumped on top of him, my knees on his chest, he couldn't ask for anything better."
I have heard speak of this title for the longest time. I have never had the opportunity until now to actual read it. I received my copy rapidly and efficiently and cannot wait to find a moment in my hectic schedule to dig in. The book although used was in excellent shape.
Gene, an introverted teen at a boarding school in New England, befriended his polar opposite, Phineas, whose reckless and carefree attitude is admired by everyone. During World War II, these boys struggle to maintain their childish innocence in a time where teenagers were expected to grow up fast. Knowles puts parallels between one summer with the boys and the war that rages on across the ocean.

So, this is another list book, and I can’t say I was thrilled to read it when I began. It seemed… boring. And it is.

Like I said, I already went in with low expectations, so I wasn’t really starting it out with 5 turtles. The book dragged on and on, and the characters weren’t likable. I’m sure this is a literary masterpiece, but for me, it didn’t seem all that riveting.

First of all, I always expected them to go into the war, which they never did. It’s always hard when you expect a book to turn one way and it does something completely different. For instance, I once thought I was reading a historical fiction novel on the Titanic, but it turned out to be science fiction. Whenever a drastic change like this occurs, it throws me off and I end up not loving the book as much, which is kind of what happened here.

The characters are dull. I didn’t like any of them, and I didn’t feel connected to Gene throughout any of the book. Even though it’s written in first person point of view, I never knew what Gene was really thinking. The reader only really read the surface of the problems, and I feel like there’s a lot of guessing and inferring involved, which probably makes it “great” literature.

The whole book feels pointless. Since I was always expecting a change in scenery to the battlefield, the novel felt like an extremely long exposition to me. Nothing actually happens.

It’s almost Catcher in the Rye-like because it’s purpose is to make the reader think and get the metaphor across rather than the story concept. I adore Catcher in the Rye, but this one didn’t even really make me think. I just read it, rolled my eyes because of the lack of events, and moved on.

So, back to it being great. Why? Don’t get me wrong; I see how someone could enjoy or love this book, but why is it still around as “great?” Since all pivotal literature is metaphorical, this one is as well.

I think the big marker event where **SPOILER ALERT** Phineas falls out of the tree and breaks his leg because Gene shook the branch may represent the psychological turning point in the war for the young man who fought in it. At first, it seems exotic and heroic, but once the first injury or first real battle occurs, it’s no longer all daisies and rainbows. No, now it’s war, and all innocence is shed for protective gear and a fast gun. This is also seen in one of the boys who goes to war and comes back arguably senile. The guilt of hurting Finny (shooting someone) drives Gene crazy, and the agony of the broken leg (or bullet wound) is driving Phineas crazy. At the same time, on a level that relates more with the plot of the story, Finny’s fall may represent Gene’s betrayal in their friendship and the way it destroys Finny. **END SPOILER**

Of course, the writing is beautiful and the descriptions and quotable material is plentiful. It flows like sand between your fingers with eloquent word choice and stunning observations. You could point to basically anywhere in the book and find that passage quotable.

Overall, I think it’s writing extremely well and has an important metaphorical level to it, but I don’t consider it “great” because nothing really happens to the characters.
Although I was an independent school teacher for years, I always avoided this book. I must have had a sixth sense that I would dislike it. Recently, looking for something to banish insomnia, I pulled it off the shelf and discovered that my sixth sense was right. This so-called coming of age novel is showing its age.

There are some things to admire, of course. The centrality of the relationships among the students at Devon, going about their studies with a keen awareness of the war awaiting them, is psychologically astute. Headmasters, teachers, and parents are peripheral figures, even helpless ones. Most of the time, they don't have a clue as to what's going on. Leper's mother can't save him from a psychological breakdown; the doctor can't save Finny. Brinker's father, railing against his son's choice of the Coast Guard for his military service (in contrast to the father's "glory days" in World War I) is a pompous fool. For the boys at Devon, their peers constitute the real world.

However, it's hard to imagine this book appealing to students any more, even though it continues to appear on many a reading list. It isn't just the boys' prep school setting, the tony buildings and "playing fields of Devon," that seems dated. Simply put, it's hard to imagine what Gene admires in the cold and arrogant Finny. And Finny is so opaque, in his old money Boston reserve, that it's impossible to know much about him. In this novel, good old Devon is as sclerotic as the moneyed class of people it serves. The only thing that invades Devon in the novel itself is the war, in the form of recruiters and a parachute shop, but we know that---thank goodness--female and minority students will be invading real schools like this in the years to come.

Requiescat in pace, Devon---and ditto "A Separate Peace" and all the high school reading lists on which it molders.

M. Feldman