My 14th book of the year was Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley (Boston, 2000).
Summary: "Tony Earley made his debut with Here We Are in Paradise, a superbly understated collection of (mostly) small-town vignettes. He returns to the same terrain in his first novel, Jim the Boy, setting this coming-of-age story in a remote North Carolina hamlet. The year is 1934, and like the rest of the country, Aliceville is feeling the pinch of the Great Depression. Yet neither Jim nor his mother nor his three uncles -- who have split the paternal role neatly among themselves since the death of Jim's father a decade earlier -- are feeling much in the way of economic pain. Indeed, if you stuck a satellite dish on the front lawn, the story might be taking place in the New South rather than the older, bucolic one.This isn't to suggest that Earley is deaf to social detail. Indeed, there are all sorts of wonderful touches, like the decor in Jim's classroom,with its 'large, colorful maps of the United States, the Confederacy, and the Holy Land during the time of Jesus.' But Jim the Boy is very much the tale of a 10-year-old's expanding consciousness, which at first barely extends beyond the family property. Earley has a real gift for conveying childhood epiphanies, like Jim's sudden apprehension of the wider world during a trip in Uncle Al's truck: 'Two thoughts came to Jim at once, joined by a thread of amazement: he thought, People live here, and he thought, They don't know who I am. At that moment the world opened up around Jim like hands that, until that moment, had been cupped around him; he felt very small, almost invisible, in the open air of their center, but knew that the hands would not let him go. It was almost like flying.' The simple lyricism and anti-ironic sweetness work mostly to the book's advantage. There are times, it's true, when Earley sands his prose down to an unnatural smoothness, and we seem to be edging toward the sentimental precincts of a young-adult novel. But on the whole, Jim the Boy is a lovely, meticulous work--a song of innocence and (eventually) experience, delivered with just a hint of a North Carolina accent."
My reaction, in a nutshell: Appreciated it on a literary level, in that it was well-written with (cough) luminous prose and what have you, and much of the description, both of landscape and emotional states, was understated and lovely. Not enough of a plot for me to really love it, though.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.