A Separate Peace

(No Series)

An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.

Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.

“There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream.”

Gene, you suck. It didn’t take long at all for me to despise you.

I had no idea what to expect going into ‘A Separate Peace’. I’d never heard of it before an enthusiastic friends-of-the-library volunteer recommended it to me when I was shopping at the yearly book sale. Since then I’ve learned it’s actually a classic that’s slipped under my reader’s radar. The length isn’t intimidating and the book reads quickly, accompanied by a slightly distant yet talented writing style that could just as easily been used pen a book of poetry with its technique.

The first chapter/story was difficult to get into - story didn't start off with much of a bang, more of a literary whimper. The author’s style didn't suit me much but now it's grown on me as the story has grown. This coming-of-age tale is set during WWII at a sheltered boy’s school. There the boys face themselves, each other, and their future. Before even entering the war, they are corrupted by it - psychologically, physically, spiritually.

It paints a glorified picture of WWII, where, if you can’t serve, it’s considered a disasterous, dishonorable, lifelong failure. The school is set in an isolated way, filled with talk of joining the war and enlisting when they come of age, and until then sheltered from parents and outside peers, joining in the world’s efforts from news bulletins, the radio, and encouraging professors. This classic takes the world war and instead focuses on the true war – that within ourselves, a silent war no others see but that an individual must face.

“It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart” 

Gene is a king in the school, a brain who’s best friends with the brawn, the top athlete who excels so naturally at things he doesn’t always want credit for them. They have a unique friendship that Gene starts questioning, as the inevitable testosterone-filled challenging nature of males intertwines with the bonding of friends.

There is a disaster – a sad one - that happens. I could even forgive this, maybe, if Gene didn’t later turn from the tales of another tortured friend. I found little sympathy in the character, but there was thankfully ample growth. At the end, it’s so haunting, so consuming, that it’s poetic justice.

Overall this story didn’t get into my psyche immediately, but once it did, the painful rollercoaster kept speeding up. Slow writing didn’t make a difference since I couldn’t turn away from the crash I knew was coming. Such a bleak and brutal novel, I can see why it’s termed a classic. Little is uplifting; of course it’s never a rule a book must be, but the bleakness is painful to read, which is suitable for a novel set during the false glories of wars.

   Book Quotes:

“I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.”

“Everything has to evolve or else it perishes.”

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