I’ve discovered a great new writer these last few weeks: Robert McCammon. After sailing through a book of short stories (some of them really good), I quickly hopped on to one of his best reviewed novels: Boy’s Life. I wasn’t disappointed.
Boy’s Life is a beautiful book. Thinking it to be a horror novel, I was slightly little disappointed at first. But I soon got over that, and began to savour the finely drawn characters, a well-realised small-town world filled with magic, fantasy, and legend, sharp prose.
A very personal story of a 12 year old named Cory Mackenson, probably modeled on the author himself who grew up in the same state (Alabama), Boy’s Life stuns you with its fine details. It is almost like vicariously experiencing Cory Mackenson’s life day by day.
A lesser author would have bored one with death with verbosity. But MacCammon takes great care to make the world as believable as possible with few words, and at times I forgot I was reading a novel and not actually stalking a 60’s kid.
And it is no ordinary kid’s tale. Cory lives in Zephyr, a town where things happen. Where monsters-deities inhabit the murky waters and legendary creatures can be seen frolicking in forests. Fantasy coexists with the hard reality in Zephyr. Where people are friendly and nice and no crimes more serious than theft happen.
Until Cory and his milkman father witness a car with a dead man tied to steering wheel disappears inside a river. But not before Cory’s father has had a good look of the man’s face. He is horrified at the brutality inflicted to a fellow human being, and in good little Zephyr of all places.
The collective illusion shatters. People are stunned. It becomes the talk of the town. Who killed that man? Nobody knows. The sheriff can’t figure out anything either and has no stomach to actually delve beneath several hundred feet of murky water to find out. This incident changes something inside Cory too. And he becomes particularly involved after picking up a potential clue.
It is hard to categorise Boy’s Life in a genre. It has ghosts, but the tone is lighter than a typical horror novel. It has magic, but it is scarce and of an elusive sort. It has legendary creatures, but they might not be real. It begins with a brutal murder, but that murder takes a backseat for most of the novel.
The only category I see Boy’s Life comfortably settling in, at least for me, is “Must Read Books.”