It’s been a long time since I’ve discovered a novel that tugged at me the way Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life did. A young lad called Cory, grows up in a literally-magical Alabama town in 1964. Early one morning, Cory and his father witness an auto plummeting into a lake. His father dives in to save the driver, only to discover that the man was handcuffed naked to the steering wheel, his throat nearly severed by a garotte wire. The dead man haunts his dreams. At the core of the novel, we are led by Cory and his pals to discover who in the has murdered this unknown man. It serves to tie together the novel; each chapter could easily be publishable as its own short story, which reads like a faceted thing somewhat reminiscent with Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and, I realize belatedly, Robert Newton Peck’s much-loved Soup novels.
Part of the strength of Boy’s Life is how firmly it ties itself in the bedrock of 1964. The United States has just lost JFK. Kids hide under their desks in worries of nuclear attack. The town is, for all intents, still segregated (the town’s poet laureate rhymes “kiss his face” with “George Wall-lace”). The population is still very conscious of World War II and Vietnam is but a kernel on the horizon.
I can’t begin to describe the plot – as the the narrator promises in the very first chapter, there are floods and dam breaches, rumrunners, dinosaurs, streakers and secret Nazis, demon wasps, bombs, a centuries-old crocodile, zombie dogs, and even a poo-flinging monkey called Lucifer – everything a boy could possibly desire in the most rollicking adventure novel. And despite this chaos, McCammon pulls all this together, and it works. When you finish Boy’s Life, you end up feeling that, yeah, triceratops probably do roam the Alabama hills.
The only weakness is the last 30 pages, where McCammon ties up the loose ends with 1990s Cory visiting his old town. It reeks of insincerity, like the “what happened after” bios at the end of the horrific 1980s film Police Academy. This section seemed to deflate whatever balloon Boy’s Life manages to achieve in the first 400 pages. Still, this is a minor thing – the novel is wonderful. I laughed aloud several times, especially during scenes depiction 1960s church life, which I understand all-too-well. What the novel has inspired me to do more than anything else is to start writing again. It’s easy to forget that writing is, in essence, just storytelling on paper. So, thanks, Mr. McCammon. I needed that reminder. Great novel.
Five stars of Five.