- Title: A Separate Peace
- Author: John Knowles
- Genre: Classic literature
- Pages: 204
- Format: Paperback
- Other: GoodReads, Amazon
- Grade: B (4/5)
A Separate Peace is the novel that John Knowles was remembered for and at its center is a debate about intent. Did Gene mean to do it?
If you want to know what “it” is, read the book.
Gene and Finny, though opposites, are best friends and students at Devon, a boy’s boarding school in New Hampshire. Where Gene is introverted, Finny is outgoing. Where Gene is reserved, Finny is adventurous. But it’s the summer of ’42, and there’s a war going on, haunting the men serving in it and the boys who will eventually be in it themselves. Ultimately, A Separate Peace is a coming-of-age story about friendship and the loss of innocence.
It’s surprising how low of a rating this novel has on GoodReads (3.6) because I enjoyed it. But I can see why other’s didn’t.
A Separate Peace isn’t a page turner. It has its slow parts and sometimes I found myself bored. But mostly, it wasn’t a “page turner” because some of the material is hard to process. It’s depressing, and there were some scenes that were disturbing. I don’t want to give away the specifics, but it was hard to get through.
But for me, pacing was the only negative.
The characters felt real, especially Gene and Finny. And more importantly, their friendship was real and troubled and raw and totally relatable. And even though I wasn’t crazy about Gene, I understood who he was and what he felt and he never felt like a character. He felt like a real person.
And the writing was gorgeous. I loved Knowles’ imagery and how it tied to major themes in the book. For example, one of my favorite passages says,
“The ocean looked dead too, dead gray waves hissing mordantly along the beach, which was gray and dead-looking itself.
I turned over and tried to sleep again but couldn’t, and so lay on my back looking at this gray burlap sky. Very gradually, like one instrument after another being tentatively rehearsed, beacons of color began to piece the sky. The ocean perked up a little from the reflection of these colored slivers in the sky. Bright high lights shone on the tips of waves, and beneath its gray surface I could see lurking a deep midnight green. The beach shed its deadness and became a spectral gray-white, then more white than gray, and finally it was totally white and stainless, as pure as the shores of Eden” (49-50).
And it’s not like the entire book is like this. I would hate it if it were. But there’s just enough and I love it.
This isn’t my favorite “American classic”. That would have to go to either Of Mice and Men or The Catcher in the Rye. But this is a good one that is worth reading. It’s short and it isn’t too flowery or complex, but there is just enough to analyze for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing. But more importantly, it does have a few interesting things to discuss and a variety of ways to interpret the text, making for a few fun debates.