Saturday, August 25, 2007

Boyhood 2

"Yet school was fascinating: each day seemed to bring new revelations of the cruelty and pain and hatred raging beneath the everyday surface of things."

As I mentioned in my previous post about Boyhood, one of the things one looks for in a novelist's memoir is a set of clues to how the author's childhood and youth made him or her into the writer he or she became. The "mercilessness to himself" that JMC ascribes to his boyhood self can then be read as a generalization about the author's own self-understanding.

Here, then, JMC's memories of school in Worcester (in fact, his pubescent self's own memories of that school after a move to Cape Town) point toward what could be considered a standard pattern in JMC's work: his attention focuses on what "rages beneath" the everyday. Still, even as I think and write that sentence, it feels like a cliché: "oh, things are never as idyllic in the suburbs (or in a small town, or in childhood) as one thinks." The contrast with school in Cape Town, though, which is just boring and frustrating rather than revelatory, might redeem the idea here. Further, the sentence may read like a comment on the adult author's literary attitudes, but in fact, he never seems to be tracing out a "surface-depth" figure, whereby the surface is innocent and the deeps are cruel. His characters are never involved in "keeping up appearances despite everything"; they may look away from horror, but they do not try to "paper over" it.

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