Education: Fitchburg State Teachers College, 1943-1944.
Associated Press Award for best News Story in New England, 1959 and 1973.
K. R. Thomson Newspapers, Inc. Award for a Human Interest column, 1974.
Maxi Award for The Chocolate War, 1976.
honorary Doctor of Letters degree, Fitchburg State College, 1977.
finalist in California Young Reader Medal Award for I Am the Cheese, 1981.
National Council of Teachers of English Adolescent Literature Assembly (ALAN) Award, 1983, for “significant contribution to the field of adolescent literature.”.
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway nominated for Carnegie Medal, England, 1983.
Fade nominated for World Fantasy Award, 1989.
We All Fall Down nominated for Edgar Award by Mystery Writers of America, 1991.
Margaret A. Edwards Award given by American Library Association for The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and After the First Death, 1991.
California Young Reader Medal for We All Fall Down, 1993–94.
In the Middle of the Night nominated for Edgar Award, 1995.
In the Middle of the Night nominated for California Young Reader Medal, 1995–96.
Phoenix Award for I Am the Cheese given by The Children's Literature Association, 1997.
Catholic Children's Book Award for Tunes for Bears to Dance To, Germany, 1997.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Now and at the Hour (New York: Coward-McCann, 1960).
- A Little Raw on Monday Mornings (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1963).
- Take Me Where the Good Times Are (New York: Macmillan, 1965).
- The Chocolate War (New York: Pantheon, 1974; London: Gollancz, 1975).
- I Am the Cheese (New York: Pantheon, 1977; London: Gollancz, 1977).
- After the First Death (New York: Pantheon, 1979; London: Gollancz, 1979).
- Eight Plus One (New York: Pantheon, 1980; London: Lions, 1988).
- The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (New York: Pantheon, 1983; London: Gollancz, 1983).
- Beyond the Chocolate War (New York: Knopf, 1985; London: Gollancz, 1985).
- Fade (New York: Delacorte, 1988; London: Gollancz, 1988).
- Other Bells for Us to Ring (New York: Delacorte, 1990); republished as Darcy (London: Gollancz, 1991).
- We All Fall Down (New York: Delacorte, 1991; London: Gollancz, 1992).
- Tunes for Bears to Dance To (New York: Delacorte, 1992; London: Gollancz, 1993).
- In the Middle of the Night (New York: Delacorte, 1995; London: Gollancz, 1995).
- Tenderness (New York: Delacorte, 1997).
- "Forever Pedaling on the Road to Realism," in Celebrating Children's Books: Essays in Honor of Zena Sutherland, edited by Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kay (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1981), pp. 45-53.
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS--UNCOLLECTED: FICTION:
- "The Eye of the Beholder, "Sign Magazine, 36 (March 1957): 40-43.
- "My Father's Gamble," Sign Magazine, 40 (April 1961): 36-40.
- "Pretend, a Verb: To Make Believe," St. Anthony Messenger, 73 (April 1967): 32-40.
- "No Time to Be Far from Embraces," Extension, 62 (November 1967): 36-41.
- "The Day of the Fire Engines," St. Anthony Messenger, 78 (January 1971): 32-34, 58-61.
- "Creating Fade," Horn Book 65 (March/April 1989): 166-173.
- "Foreword," Crossroads: Classic Themes in Young Adult Literature (Glenview, Il: Scott, Foresman, 1995), pp. vi-xi.
[This entry was updated by Sylvia Patterson Iskander (University of Southwestern Louisiana) from her entry in the Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, volume 6, pp. 34-51.]
"Teen-agers' Laureate," the title conferred upon Robert Cormier by Tony Schwartz in Newsweek (16 July 1979), is fittingly bestowed upon this widely read and critically acclaimed author in the somewhat amorphous genre referred to as young-adult literature. For many years a journalist, newspaper editor, and author of fiction, Robert Cormier never wrote for a young-adult audience until first his agent, then his publisher, suggested that The Chocolate War (1974) would be a fine young-adult book. Although Cormier did not change any aspect of his writing--perhaps a key to his success--he became known as a young-adult writer. Treating subjects such as terrorism, fear, power, betrayal, death, and courage, Cormier creates unforgettable stories that are suspenseful, psychologically thrilling, and bleak in outlook. Although Cormier's subject matter and pessimism sometimes give rise to controversy, there is no controversy about the clarity of his style, with its vivid figures of speech, lack of sentimentality, and refusal to patronize, or the wholehearted acceptance of his novels by teenagers.
The question arising most often among adult readers is: What kind of person could write such harshly realistic and pessimistic books for young people? Young adults appear to understand Cormier better; they are able to perceive that his novels are not entirely without hope. They ask other types of questions, offer praise, and accept the inevitable conclusions of the stories. Uncompromising in his pursuit of truth, Cormier has explained that he sees his novels as an antidote to the artificial realism of television, where one is always aware that the hero will survive to appear next week.
In addition to these books for young adults, Cormier also wrote three early novels and some fifty short stories. A short-story collection titled Eight Plus One (1980), written for adults but marketed for a young-adult audience, reveals a side of Cormier which is sensitive and compassionate. Any meeting with this slim man with graying hair and eyeglasses confirms the portrait of a perceptive, friendly, unpretentious author whose goal is to entertain his audience and involve them emotionally in his stories.
Although his four children are now grown, Cormier continues to maintain the close rapport with them that he established when they still lived at home. By listening to their problems, often in the wee hours of the morning, and by recalling his own turbulent teenage years, Cormier attunes himself to young people today. He also listens to his readers, saying he wished he had thought to call or write the authors he admired when he aspired to be a writer. He answers all mail with a return address and is gratified that his replies often provoke classroom discussions.
Born in the French Hill section of Leominster, Massachusetts, on 17 January 1925, Robert Edmund Cormier was one of eight children. When he was five, however, his three-year-old brother died. His father, Lucien Joseph Cormier, whose family was originally from Quebec, had moved to Leominster in 1910. Lucien Cormier, like many other French-Canadian Catholic settlers in the area, supported his family by working in factories in or near Leominster, a typical new England town about fifty miles west of Boston. Cormier's mother, Irma Margaret Collins, who was Irish, created a home that the author describes as "warm, happy, and loving." In his short stories and in his early novels, which often include autobiographical elements, he frequently depicts caring, dedicated family members.
In a personal interview at the Cormier home on 3 July 1980, Cormier recalled his adolescent years outside the home in quite a different fashion. He described himself as an introvert who felt like an outsider in school. His ambition to become an author apparently stemmed from the pronouncement of his seventh-grade teacher, Sister Catherine, who told him that he was a writer after reading a poem he had written. Cormier revealed to William A. Davis (Boston Globe Magazine, 16 November 1980) that he considered himself thereafter "a writer in my soul." This conviction enabled him to become more extroverted in high school when he began to write for the yearbook, to act in plays, and to sing in the chorus. In the ninth grade he read Thomas Wolfe 's The Web and the Rock (1939). Wolfe's story of a young boy living in a small town, hungry for love and fame, struck a responsive chord in Cormier.
After his graduation from high school in 1942, Cormier took a job in a Leominster comb factory, working the night shift so that he could attend Fitchburg State College during the day. There he met Prof. Florence Conlon, who encouraged him to write a short story. "The Little Things That Count," a story about an American soldier wounded in World War II, was the result. Professor Conlon submitted Cormier's story to Sign, a Catholic magazine, which accepted it and paid seventy-five dollars to the elated nineteen-year-old writer. Meanwhile, Cormier realized that the education he was receiving at Fitchburg State College, which was designed to educate primary-school teachers, was not what he wanted, so he dropped out. Years later, in 1977, Fitchburg State College conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. In 1981 Cormier presented his manuscripts to the college for a permanent collection.
Shortly after leaving college, Cormier accepted a series of writing jobs. The first, in 1946, was writing commercials for radio station WTAG in Worcester, Massachusetts. No doubt the discipline of compressing ideas and information into a hundred words or fewer contributed to Cormier's terse, fast-paced style of writing. Those stylistic elements are traceable as well to the influence of Ernest Hemingway and William Saroyan , both writers whom Cormier greatly admires.
In 1948, Cormier married Constance Senay and began working as a night bureau man for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. After five years there he accepted an offer from the Fitchburg Sentinel to work days. His job required him to cover all aspects of small-town life. A good reporter and wire editor, Cormier excelled when it came to human interest stories.
The Associated Press Award for Best News Story in New England in 1959 went to Cormier for his story about a child severely burned in an automobile accident. The story resulted in a fund being established to help defray the child's medical expenses. In 1973 Cormier was again the recipient of the Associated Press Award, this time for a story written from the perspective of mentally retarded people. The next year, Cormier received still another award for journalism; K. R. Thomson newspapers, Inc., an international chain, honored the writer for a human interest column written for the Fitchburg Sentinel under the pseudonym of John Fitch IV.
While Cormier worked days for the newspaper, he wrote fiction on weekends and at night. Many of his stories were accepted by magazines such as Redbook, Saturday Evening Post, Woman's Day, and McCall's, and some of these were later collected in Eight Plus One. He also wrote three novels for adults, which were published between 1960 and 1965. At the same time he did some public relations writing to help support his growing family. He was associate editor of the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise when he resigned on 14 January 1978 to devote all his time to writing fiction.
Most of Cormier's works are set in the fictitious town of Monument, Massachusetts, a composite of Leominster and Fitchburg. The models or prototypes for many scenes from Cormier's works can be found in or near these two typical new England towns. The Cormier family has lived in a two-storied, shingled house midway between them for some forty years.
Cormier works every morning in a book-lined alcove off his dining room, where he says most of his ideas come to him. He thinks in terms of what is going to happen to a certain character that day, not in terms of writing so many words or pages a day, and he thinks in terms of scenes, not segments or chapters. A superb craftsman and stylist, Cormier rewrites continuously, sharpening phrases and metaphors and deleting passages that do not advance the plot. He usually does not know the entire plot in advance. A great lover of mystery stories and suspense novels, an admirer of Graham Greene , John le Carré, Ellery Queen , and Ed McBain, Cormier recognizes the reader's desire for straightforward action, not lengthy description. Thus he uses vivid similes and metaphors that evoke images or emotions without long descriptive passages, a writing technique compatible with the taste of young people geared to the action-packed age of television.
This style is evident even in Cormier's first novel, Now and at the Hour (1960), written for adults and inspired by Cormier's grief over the death of his father, whom he admired and loved. Cormier describes himself as an emotional writer who seeks to arouse emotion in his readers and relies upon his own emotional involvement to complete a work. Now and at the Hour, a work in which Cormier's emotional involvement is still strong after so many years, effectively transmits his feelings to the reader.
Alphege LeBlanc, an ordinary man dying of cancer, has to learn to cope with increasing pain and the fear that his life has been a failure. A man who worked for forty-two years in the Monument Comb Factory, Alph is a devoted father and husband. Possessed of an inner strength, he refuses to ask for pity or to let his family know that he is aware that he is dying. The title, taken from the Catholic prayer "Hail Mary" ("Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death") is apt because the novel is concerned with the present--there are few flashbacks--and with the days and hours preceding Alph's death. Cormier set a precedent in this novel that he continues to observe: he does not take the easy way out; there are no sentimental endings; nobody rides happily off into the sunset. The reviews of Now and at the Hour were complimentary, and Time magazine kept it on their "Recommended Reading" list for six weeks. Nonetheless, the book sold only about five thousand copies.
Two more adult novels followed Now and at the Hour: A Little Raw on Monday Mornings AW(1963), the story of thirty-eight-year-old Gracie, a widowed Catholic factory worker who finds herself pregnant and considers abortion; and Take Me Where the Good Times Are (1965), the story of seventy-year-old Tommy Bartin, resident of a poorhouse. Tommy is one of those characters most difficult to portray convincingly: a good man.
Cormier's fourth novel, however, changed his life and his audience. His agent read the first forty pages of The Chocolate War (1974) and told him that he had a young-adult novel. Cormier worried about bad language and sex scenes, but his agent recommended that he write as he ordinarily did. He followed this advice, refusing to change the downbeat ending, which caused several publishers to reject the book before it was accepted by Pantheon.
The story of Jerry Renault's courageous stand against peer pressure and against the corrupt headmaster of his high school is not pessimistic, but the fact that Jerry stands alone and is physically and mentally beaten at the close of the novel seems to break an unstated requirement of young-adult fiction that there must be some hope, something positive for teenagers to assimilate. No doubt Jerry's parting advice to his friend Goober--to go with the crowd and not to "dare disturb the universe"--is grimly pessimistic, yet most of the novel depicts courage and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. Jerry does not win, but his fight provides an inspiration or a warning that more people need to take a stand, to support what they believe in, to "dare disturb the universe."
Since the issue of the hero's defeat is central to Cormier's reputation, it is worth noting that in some cases Cormier's message did reach the appropriate audience. Several years ago, when The Chocolate War was assigned to an eighth-grade class in a New England school, upset parents objected to the book. A student proposed the unanimous signing of a petition to keep the book. Another student, thirteen years old, argued against the unanimity, for he felt--just as Jerry did--that peer pressure should not be used to force individuals to join the majority. The second student's argument was compelling; the book remained on the reading list.
Cormier seems especially talented at recognizing everyday events as possible topics for his fiction. He has revealed that the impetus for The Chocolate War was an incident involving his son, Peter, who came home one day with a bag of chocolates to sell for his high school. Peter did not want to sell them, and Cormier supported his decision; however, the next day as he watched Peter walk up to the door of the school with the unsold candy, he wondered what he had done to his son. Luckily there were no repercussions for Peter; instead, the incident set off a spark in Cormier's imagination: What if there had been opposition?
The Chocolate War is Jerry Renault's story; however, Cormier introduces a host of other Trinity High School students whose reactions to selling chocolates differ from Jerry's. The abuse of power is prominent in both the students and the teachers at Trinity. Archie Costello, leader of the secret society known as the Vigils, is a manipulator of the worst sort, and Brother Leon, Trinity's headmaster, is a match for him on the adult level. The novel has broader implications, however, as the metaphorical language suggests: Trinity is a microcosm of the world.
Many of the characters in the novel are, of necessity, two-dimensional, their primary function being to serve as foils to the main characters. Goober is a foil to Jerry because he is also a good boy, but he lacks Jerry's courage to be a nonconformist. Carter is a foil to Archie in that both are leaders, but Carter prefers to lead by physical force and Archie by mental prowess.
Obie is both Archie's friend and his foe. Often an errand boy for Archie, Obie is, nevertheless, the one who presents Archie with the box of marbles. If Archie draws the black marble, he will have to carry out the assignments which he, as "The Assigner" of the Vigils, forces others to do. Obie sees Archie for the manipulator he is; he notices that Archie "asks" Jerry to sell the chocolates instead of demanding that he do so. Obie believes, and the reader hopes, that Jerry will be Archie's nemesis. When the entire school is assembled to watch Jerry's downfall, an event arranged by Archie, Obie is the one who remembers to bring the box of marbles. Thus Obie does not actually "dare to disturb the universe," but he is not a J. Alfred Prufrock either.
Some of Cormier's readers have concluded that the authority figures in this novel are either ineffectual, like Brother Eugene and Jerry's father, or vicious, like Brother Leon. Although it is true that many of Cormier's authority figures are not admirable, his main emphasis is on other themes, such as the search for identity and the initiation into manhood. Jerry experiences the search for identity as he questions the recent death of his mother and his father's resulting bleak outlook on life. Jerry, Goober, and Obie all experience initiation rites, but only Jerry becomes truly independent.
This novel is many-faceted in its examination of tyranny and peer pressure. Gregory Bailey is one case in point. When attacked viciously by Brother Leon and called a cheat and a liar, Bailey maintains his integrity in the face of the unprovoked attack. Only one voice from the back of the room speaks out in protest, "Aw, let the kid alone"--a protest which Brother Leon calls "a feeble protest, too little and too late." Brother Leon draws a parallel between those who allowed him to proceed in his unwarranted attack on Bailey and those who allowed the Nazis to take over Germany. This brief scene, occurring early in the novel, foreshadows the attack on Jerry at the end of the novel and the failure of Jerry's friend Goober to help Jerry when he is attacked.
The Chocolate War has been well received by the reading public, and for the most part critics praised it. Peter Hunt, writing for the Times Literary Supplement (4 April 1975), called it a "tour de force, and a tour de force of realism; Theodore Weesner, in the New York Times Book Review (5 May 1974), thought it "masterfully structured and rich in theme" with action that is "well crafted, well timed, suspenseful." Because of its violence and downbeat ending, The Chocolate War also received some unfavorable criticism, such as Norma Bagnall's objection that only the harsh and ugly side of life is being presented under the guise of realism. She notes the absence of positive adult role models for readers to emulate and sees the novel as completely without hope.
Much of the adverse criticism stems from a desire to protect younger readers who may not be capable of recognizing irony or understanding that the novel is not entirely without hope, but rather demonstrates a conflict between good and evil with good, for the present at least, on the losing side. Many teenagers can grasp Cormier's point that the forces of good have to work harder to win. Goodness does not inevitably win, and poetic justice does not always prevail, either in the fictive world of Cormier's novels or in the real world.
As Cormier demands of himself the right image, word, comparison, so he requires of the reader the ability to perceive and comprehend more than the most obvious surface meaning. In this book Cormier shows that tyranny is ugly; one cannot resist it alone. Valuable insights can be gained here; some aspects of reality are entirely bleak, but to elucidate them, to make the reader ponder, is not grim or hopeless, for only then can young adults realize the necessity of standing up for their beliefs. Cormier has said that the bleak reality which he presents in his novels is an antidote to the happy endings of most young-adult novels and many television shows.
Some critics have compared The Chocolate War to J. D. Salinger 's The Catcher in the Rye (1951) or William Golding 's Lord of the Flies (1955). Despite its controversial subject matter, its literary qualities are indisputable. Included in the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults for 1974, and in their Best of the Best for 1970-1982, it was also a New York Times Notable Book for the Year. It was awarded starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal, and it received the Maxi Award. Foreign editions have been published in England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Holland, and Sweden. In 1988, The Chocolate War was made into a movie, now available on videocassette, which follows the spirit of the novel closely in the early and middle scenes but drastically changes the ending.
Cormier's second young-adult novel is also powerful and provocative. The full impact of I Am the Cheese (1977) does not hit the reader until the final pages as two seemingly separate stories merge, and the reader perceives the illusory nature of reality presented here. Adam Farmer, the fourteen-year-old protagonist, is a sensitive youth who recognizes that there are some strange happenings in his home: his mother calls someone every Thursday evening; his father has periodic visits by the mysterious Mr. Grey; Adam even discovers two birth certificates in his name, each with a different birthdate. Thus problems of identity are obviously central to this novel. Adam learns that his real name is Paul Delmonte and that his mother calls her sister once a week (Adam had thought that he had no living relatives). His father tells him that Mr. Grey is with the Department of Re-Identification and that the Delmontes had to take on a new identity because Mr. Delmonte had testified on behalf of the government about connections between organized crime and certain government agencies.
I Am the Cheese has a two-part structure consisting of "boy-on-a-bike" sections (Adam riding from Monument, Massachusetts, to visit his father in a hospital seventy miles away in Ruttenburg, Vermont) and taped interrogation sections (Brint, a psychiatrist or a government spy, using a code initial "T," questions subject "A," who the reader later realizes is Adam). The first-person narrator point of view, used for the boy-on-a-bike sections, makes those sections quite believable. The second sequence alternates in point of view between the dramatic or objective (the interrogation) and a third-person omniscient narrator who fills in the information that "T" is unable to elicit from "A"; that is, information that Adam cannot recall. The two sequences are skillfully interwoven by having an image in the first section relate to one in the second section. For example, the boy-on-a-bike chapter concerning Adam trying to pedal past a ferocious dog is followed by Tape 4, in which Adam recalls the day that he and his father were fleeing from someone or something and how, on entering the woods, they were confronted by a vicious dog. Many of the various motifs which wind in and out of the two plot sequences are taken from Cormier's own youth--the love of Thomas Wolfe 's novels, the fear of dogs, the smell of lilacs, the claustrophobia. These, along with the oft-repeated "Farmer in the Dell" song, awaken the reader to the similarities between the sequences while their differences are emphasized by two different types of language. The ordinary language of a fourteen-year-old boy is contrasted vividly with the cold, official, statistical jargon of Tapes 0ZK001-16 with Subject A. The language of the penultimate chapter is thematically perfect, for it requires several readings in order for most readers to comprehend fully the government jargon and then the impact of the statement that Subject A is confined until Policy 979 on termination is revised or Subject A obliterates.
The powerlessness of the individual to stand alone against a corrupt society is another theme of this emotionally riveting novel. Cormier goes a step beyond The Chocolate War, for here Anthony Delmonte, an adult, is able to withstand the destructive forces moving against him only for a period of ten years or so. How then is it possible for a fourteen-year-old boy to succeed in standing alone against overwhelming corruption and evil? Yet Adam is brave, and his instincts are valid; he senses the evil in Brint, but can do nothing, for he is kept drugged in an institution and allowed to return to reality only once a year, on the anniversary of the death of his parents. His failure to recall what happened to his family is the only reason that he is allowed to live. If he ever does remember, he will be "terminated."
Another reason this novel makes such a powerful impact on the reader is Cormier's effective use of time sequence: the first-person narrator sections seem to be taking place in the present, and the taped interrogations seem to be recalling the past. The revelation that for Adam (who is kept drugged) there is no true present in the real world (there is only his fantasy world) makes the conclusion of the novel stunning.
No discussion of I Am the Cheese would be complete without mention of Amy Hertz, Adam's delightful friend. She and her "numbers" (as she calls her pranks) help relieve the tension that mounts for Adam and for the reader. She helps Adam to accept himself and to become a more well-rounded person when the serious-minded, self-conscious young boy becomes her co-conspirator in "numbers." Quite aware of the value of comic relief in a dramatically tense situation, Cormier created Amy for just that purpose much in the same way that William Shakespeare 's comic characters appear in each of his tragedies. Actually Amy is delightful and humorous until the reader realizes that she and her father may have participated in the plot to terminate the Farmers. Cormier has said that he deliberately left that question open as he did the question of whether the syndicate put the bomb in the Farmers' car or whether Mr. Grey did.
Indeed, the novel is bleak, but it is also thought-provoking. I Am the Cheese questions long-held assumptions about the nature of patriotism and governmental agencies and about truth and identity.
With foreign editions published in England, Germany, Yugoslavia, Brazil, and Japan, this book has justifiably been the recipient of starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal and high praises by being included in the American Library Association's Notable Children's Books, 1977, in their Best Books for Young Adults for 1977, and in their Best of the Best for 1970-1982. The New York Times listed it as a Notable Book of the Year; Horn Book included it in their "Fanfare"; School Library Journal named it to their list of Best Books, 1977. A movie starring Robert MacNaughton, Robert Wagner, and Hope Lange, with Robert Cormier playing a bit part as Amy's father, premiered on 27 April 1983, in Leominster, Massachusetts. Because it was not well received by the critics, however, it was withdrawn from commercial theaters but can still be seen on cable television and is available on videocassette. More recently, I Am the Cheese received the 1997 Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association for a book published twenty years earlier which did not win a major award at the time of its publication, but which, from the perspective of time, is deemed worthy of special recognition for its high literary value.
Another carefully structured novel, After the First Death (1979), also shatters the reader's complacency. It interweaves the story of three teenagers. First is Ben Marchand, a general's son, a sensitive young student at Castleton Academy, who longs to know and understand his father but ultimately cannot live with the knowledge that his father's patriotism is more important to him than is Ben himself. Second is Miro Shantas, a refugee, orphaned at an early age and trained as a terrorist. He is scheduled to go on his first assignment, to kill for the first time; his target is the driver of a hijacked busload of first graders. And third is Kate Forrester, a beautiful eighteen-year-old blonde who, as the substitute bus driver the day of the hijacking, learns much about herself.
After the First Death opens at Castleton, where Ben is writing about his life, about the bullet wound in his chest. The time is two weeks before Christmas, but there are flashbacks to the preceding August when four terrorists hijacked the busload of sixteen children. Ben acts as a go-between for Inner Delta--the special secret agency stationed at Fort Delta, a local army base--and the hijackers, whose unnamed homeland is perhaps in the Middle East. The book alternates between chapters involving Ben and his father and chapters involving the hijacking. Though the novel is twelve chapters long, the climactic meeting of Ben and the terrorists does not occur until chapter 10. In what has become typical Cormier form, chapters 11 and 12 are not just dénouement; they hold, each in their own way, additional surprises for the reader.
The Ben / General Marchand chapters frequently employ the use of flashbacks, while the Miro / Kate chapters move at a steady pace in the present tense with only occasional brief flashbacks. The handling of the time sequence with its relevance to plot is perhaps unique, for the novel continually shocks the reader. By carefully distinguishing between the Ben / General Marchand and the Miro / Kate chapters both in time and style, Cormier expands his point of view and avoids repetition when the same event is described twice.
Richly varied in thematic development, After the First Death explores such subjects as the search for identity, patriotism, alienation, betrayal, and sanity. Ben is the most provocative character, for there are two possible interpretations of his role in the novel. Either he is dead throughout the novel, and his schizophrenic father acts out his role; or Ben commits suicide midway through the novel, and his father's inability to handle his guilt causes the general to become schizophrenic. Either interpretation suggests an identity crisis. Ben knows his name, but his repetition of his name, and even his parents' names and his address, suggests that he is unsure of his identity as many adolescents are, or that perhaps he actually is the general. Ben does not really know his father. He has never been to the general's office; he has been shut out of his father's highly secretive work; he can only surmise that one of his father's aliases is Gen. Rufus Briggs.
On the other hand, Kate never questions her identity, but she questions her abilities and her innermost qualities. Is she anything more than a cheerleader with honey-colored hair? Is she capable of bravery and courage? She never fully realizes that she passes the test. She acts and thinks for herself, realizing one of the most important messages revealed in the novel: "the possibility that hope comes out of hopelessness and that the opposite of things carry the seeds of birth--love out of hate; good out of evil. Didn't flowers grow out of dirt?"
Miro has a more serious identity crisis; he does not remember his parents and has never seen his homeland. He uses a fictitious name and plans to create an identity by his first killing. The suspicion that Artkin, the leader of the terrorists, could be his father--an idea that Kate suggests after Artkin's death--is more than Miro can bear. He will be a masked terrorist, a shell of a person, a murderer, but he will never allow himself to discover his true identity.
Patriotism carried to extremes is also unbearable. General Marchand is willing to sacrifice his own son, knowing that the boy will break under torture. Ironically, the general's vow to his friend who was killed at Iwo Jima that his death would not be in vain makes the general a superpatriot. There are echoes here of Anthony Delmonte, whose patriotism caused him to testify on behalf of the government at what would prove to be a terrible expense to his family, yet both men act honorably and in accord with their beliefs. Both have high standards, but the general, unlike Delmonte, is incapable of a loving relationship with his son because of his own inadequacies. He pays for these inadequacies when Ben's death precipitates his own mental collapse.
Extreme patriotism is also evident in both Miro and Artkin, who, denied loving relationships and family ties, place the cause of regaining their homeland ahead of everything, including the lives of young children. Both Artkin and Miro are foreigners in America; Miro has been a foreigner his entire life. Their alienation from people and from comfortable surroundings where they feel they belong enables them to carry out their terrorism with a ruthless disregard for the lives of innocent people.
A variation on the theme of alienation occurs in the Miro-Kate relationship and in the Ben-Nettie Halversham one. Sexual attraction is a factor in both relationships, but in neither case does the girl reciprocate. Kate tries to arouse Miro's interest in her as a last resort to save her life and the lives of the children, but Nettie seems to be totally insensitive to a painfully shy Ben.
The novel also examines betrayal on various levels. On a physical level, Kate's body betrays her, causing her to wet her pants at tense moments. Miro's body betrays him by the great sob that emerges involuntarily when he learns of the death of his brother Aniel, by his quivering when Kate touches his arm, by his falling asleep when he is on guard duty, and by his anguished cry when Kate suggests that the now-dead Artkin was his father. Also, according to one interpretation, Ben betrays himself and his father by committing suicide. On the emotional level, Ben cannot live with the knowledge that he has betrayed his country under torture or the fact that his father knew that he would crack under pressure and reveal the time of the attack. Thus Ben's suicide is a result of his betrayal and of his being betrayed by his father. Kate feels that she has betrayed the children who were placed in her care when her attempt to escape by driving the bus off the bridge fails. Miro, likewise, feels that he has betrayed Artkin when he tried to protect his own life rather than warn Artkin in the split second that he had to make a decision. Miro betrays himself when he resolves to keep himself empty, void of any emotional attachments.
The idea of betrayal is closely linked with madness in the case of General Marchand, who loses his sanity as a result of his betrayal of Ben and Ben's subsequent suicide. One can also link Ben's suicide to temporary insanity, the result of betrayal. Betrayal is also evident in the case of Miro, who shoots Kate after comprehending her suggestion that Artkin is his father. The reader never knows whether the shooting is deliberate or accidental, or whether Miro is temporarily or permanently insane. Kate has called him a monster, an innocent monster, for he knows nothing of family, love, children, or even toys. With no knowledge of what most people cherish, Miro can destroy without conscience.
The impetus for After the First Death was a series of events and ideas. Cormier said in an interview with this writer that he has long felt the somewhat menacing presence of Fort Devens, an army base near Leominster. Intrigued by what occurs inside its fenced grounds, he also described what happens above--paratroopers bailing out of airplanes as looking "like vultures" or "like evil flowers."
Another seed that germinated in Cormier's mind was a bomb set off in a post office where many innocent people might have been killed but luckily were not. Contrary to the expectations of many, the California prank of kidnapping a busload of children, which occurred about the same time that Cormier was writing the novel, did not consciously influence him; the hijackings and bombings, which were frequently making front-page news then, did.
Refugee camps were another topic of interest to Cormier, who shies away from making a direct identification with any specific terrorist organization. Cormier asked what happens when young men are reared in extreme poverty, without parents and love, without a place to call home. For Cormier, the answer was that they become monsters who have a terrible innocence about them: Aniel, who is killed at seventeen; Miro, who does not understand what a toy is; and Artkin, who teaches the brothers terrorist tactics as a means of survival.
Innocent monsters are but one example of the irony in the novel. Ironically, Kate drives the bus, substituting for her uncle, on the very day that Miro is to be initiated into manhood by killing his first victim. Ironically, the one child, Raymond, who refuses to eat the doped candy offered by the hijackers because his mother has told him that candy is not good for his teeth, is the one chosen to be sacrificed. Cormier had a difficult time writing the scene involving the death of the child. In fact, he originally wrote it without a child's name and tried to mitigate the horror by having the death take place offstage, so to speak; only a shot is heard. A terrible irony occurs when General Marchand volunteers his son, Ben, to save the lives of other children, an irony recognized by Artkin when he describes the general as "a great patriot or a great fool." Ironically, General Marchand is both.
After the First Death is not only ironic; it is tense, powerful, "a Dantean Inferno without any hint of Purgatorio or Paradiso," to use Stanley Ellin's description in the New York Times Book Review (29 April 1979). It received starred reviews in Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus. It was chosen as an American Library Association's Best Book for Young Adults in 1979 and was included in their Best of the Best for 1970-1982. The reviews have been almost unanimously favorable for After the First Death, which has appeared in England, Holland, and Sweden.
In rather dramatic contrast to After the First Death is Cormier's Eight Plus One , a collection of short stories originally published between 1965 and 1975 in magazines such as Redbook, Woman's Day, McCall's, and the Saturday Evening Post. The reviews of Eight Plus One in general have been favorable, although one critic, Benjamin DeMott, in the New York Times Book Review (9 November 1980), criticized it harshly. Other critics have used such words as "poignant" and "perceptive" to describe it. It represents a departure for Cormier from his three previous young-adult novels as, indeed, he meant it to. He added to this collection a series of brief introductions to each story, which a few reviewers have found disruptive. Cormier deliberately included them to answer the questions most often asked him by his teenage audience and to teach certain writing techniques to would-be authors. He has said it is the type of book that he would have liked to have read when he was a teenager just discovering that he wanted to be a writer. For teachers and students these introductions provide valuable insights into Cormier's writing and the writing process as he understands it. Cormier envisioned Eight Plus One as a textbook for a writing class. He discusses such topics as the genesis of his stories; the transformation of a real-life occurrence into a fictional story; multiple levels of meaning in fiction; the importance of figures of speech, especially metaphor and simile, for descriptive purposes; and the significance of titles, tone, and point of view.
Cormier explains the title for this collection: Eight stories have teenagers as the central figures and involve the strengthening of family bonds; in the final story--the "one" of the title--the children are only in the background of the life of a man who plans to leave his wife of many years and their children for a much younger woman. It was a story that Cormier wrote without needing to polish, and he felt it belonged in this collection. "Bunny Berigan--Wasn't He a Musician or Something?" echoes the other stories in several ways. Walt Crane, a middle-aged, fairly happily married man and devoted father, has fallen in love with a beautiful young model, Jennifer West, who returns his love. Walt invites his long-time friend Jerry for a drink in order to announce his plans for divorce and to introduce Jennifer to Jerry. The situation is common in real life, but the story is unusual in its choice of point of view. The narrator is Jerry, who experiences a wide fluctuation of emotions, including disbelief, admiration, envy, and sadness. The choice of a middle-aged narrator links this story with some of the others in the collection. All nine reveal Cormier as a creator of compassionate characters and loving families who bridge generation gaps and learn respect for others, and manage to do so without being overly sentimental.
Three stories are written from the point of view of a young boy during the Depression. "President Cleveland, Where Are You?" is on one level the story of a twelve-year-old boy, Jerry, trying desperately to win a baseball glove by being the first person to collect the entire set of cards depicting U.S. presidents. Included in packages of gum, most of the presidential cards are in abundance, but not the one of Grover Cleveland. The story on another level involves Jerry's recognition of the love between himself and his older brother, Armand, and the nature of sacrifice. Some aspects of Armand's character were inspired by Cormier's older brother Norman. "President Cleveland, Where Are You?" is an important story in terms of Cormier's development as a writer, for it was in searching for the way that a twelve-year-old might describe a large white house that he thought of "a big white birthday cake of a house." Cormier says in the introduction to the story that in writing it he discovered the importance of simile and metaphor and "learned that words were truly tools, that figures of speech were not just something fancy to dress up a piece of prose but words that could evoke scene and event and emotion." This story received a Reader's Choice award, especially pleasing to Cormier because the award is determined by young readers in schools all over the country.
A second Depression-era story, "Protestants Cry, Too," takes place just prior to World War II. Jerry and Armand are again the central characters with the action revolving around Armand, from a staunchly Catholic family, who announces his desire to marry a Protestant girl. Jerry watches the reactions within the family, especially his father's, as he learns about the nature of prejudice and the nature of love.
Another story set during the Depression and employing a theme of prejudice is "My First Negro" . A young white boy is saved from a beating by Jefferson Johnson Stone, a black boy about the same age. The two become friends, but the white boy, the narrator, betrays Jeff. The betrayal theme is handled differently here, however, from the way it is in the novels. The story has no nicely resolved ending either, but the reader feels that the narrator has learned a valuable lesson as part of his initiation into a knowledge of people of other races, into the nature of friendship and prejudice, and into maturity.
The three Depression-era stories paint for the teenager of today a realistic picture of the difficulties of life at that time: of the lengths to which a young boy had to go to acquire a baseball glove when his family had no money to buy one; of a hard-working father laid off from his job and his feelings of inadequacy as breadwinner; of the plight of a black man who never had a job from which to be laid off. Cormier vividly describes levels of poverty in "My First Negro" when he classified them as "comfortable poor," "regular poor," "relief poor," and "destitute poor."
"My First Negro", as well as other stories in this collection, depicts boyhood activities, certain to evoke a sense of recognition in many readers. A gang of boys--the Midnight Raiders--decides to enact the old Robin Hood theme. In some ways the Midnight Raiders are a forerunner of the Vigils in The Chocolate War. The leader, Jean-Paul, who conceives the idea of robbing from the rich to help the poor, is certainly not as vicious as Archie, but he too believes in assigning roles to the underlings and evokes enough fear from the gang members that they are afraid to object to his idea of raiding the Toussaints' garden and taking the vegetables to Alphabet Soup, the poorest section of town.
Two other stories in the collection have a similar theme: the youthful protagonist recognizes relatives of his for the first time as people, separate and apart from their familial roles. In "The Moustache" seventeen-year-old Mike, visiting his aged grandmother in a nursing home, sees her as a person filled with love for her long-dead husband, and as a person who still suffers because she accused her husband of infidelity shortly before the accident which took his life. A variation of this theme occurs in "Guess What? I Almost Kissed My Father Goodnight," where sixteen-year-old Mike suddenly sees his father as a person who sits on a park bench one afternoon, who continues to read a book of poems received years ago from a young girl, who meets a lovely blonde in the library, and who even feels lonely on occasion. The knowledge that his father is human gives Mike an epiphany, accompanied by feelings of sympathy and love.
Both stories involving Mike also treat the subjects of young love and the relationships between parents and children. "Another of Mike's Girls" also deals with an awakening, but this time Mike's father, not Mike, realizes that while he has been looking at all of his son's girlfriends as cast from the same mold, one of those young ladies has been looking at him as just Mike's father. This story also vividly captures the feelings of rejection by a member of the opposite sex.
The pains and problems of parenthood are evident in "Another of Mike's Girls," just as they are in "A Bad Time for Fathers" and "Mine on Thursdays." The latter two stories involve father-daughter relationships: in the first, the daughter, Jane, leaves for college, and her cast-off boyfriend Sam and her father both have to adjust to the change; in the second, Holly, whose parents are divorced, spends a Thursday with her father. "Mine on Thursdays" is a poignant story of betrayal and recognition. Holly and her dad spend the day at an amusement park where, forced by her father's reluctance to accompany her, she rides a wild and frightening rocket alone; her father's failure to recognize her need represents the last betrayal she can accept from a person who has betrayed her many times in the past. No comforting thought concludes the story, only the father's realization at last of what he has done to his child. Although he cannot say these words aloud, he thinks them: "I'm sorry for playing Santa Claus when I should have been a father. I'm sorry for wanting the whole world when I should have wanted only those who loved me. I'm sorry for the Rocket Ride--and all the Rocket Rides of your life that I didn't share." Holly's father plans to leave Monument; he knows that he has lost his daughter.
Eight Plus One can be grimly realistic and bleak--although not all the stories could be so described--but in this collection, as in the novels, Cormier refuses to take the popular, sentimental, easy way out. This book has received less critical acclaim than the novels, but the American Library Association has included Eight Plus One on its list of Notable Books in the Field of Social Studies.
Cormier's next novel, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway , published in 1983, is set in Section 12 of the Complex, the wing for terminally ill youths in an experimental hospital. The author has revealed that the catalysts for this novel were a poster of a bumblebee that he has had for many years in his writing room and his reading about experimental hospitals.
Barney Snow, sixteen, whose surname connotes his innocence, is the narrator. Barney's role is to unite the others: Ronson, a Golden Gloves winner; Allie Roon, with an old man's face, spastic and stammering; Billy the Kidney, wheelchair bound but desirous of adventure; and Alberto "Mazzo" Mazzofono, rich, handsome, athletic, but plugged into a machine. This unlikely cast of characters is brought together by their volunteering to spend their last days as subjects for a study of experimental drugs and techniques which will not save them but will perhaps help someone, someday.
The Bumblebee is a life-size model of a red MG, made of wood, symbolizing the dreams of the others that Barney strives to help them achieve. They will "fly" in the Bumblebee, so named by Mazzo's twin sister, Cassie, after the heavy-bodied, short-winged bee who, aerodynamically speaking, should not be able to lift itself off the ground, but who, blissfully unaware of any such concept, flies anyway. At the heart of this pessimistic, depressing scene of dying teenagers stands Cormier's message to follow one's dreams, to dare to fly.
A central conflict arises in the novel because Barney believes that he is in the Complex to serve as a norm for testing various medicines and treatments. The irony becomes evident when the readers learn that Barney is not a norm but is terminally ill, with his disease temporarily in remission. Barney's refusal to face the unpleasant or to use medical terms indicates his lack of acceptance of his disease. He uses such terms as "Complex" for hospital, "Handyman" for doctor, "merchandise" for drugs, and "invader" for disease. Most readers accept Barney's explanations since they have little knowledge of the world of an experimental hospital, and thus when they learn that Barney is also dying, some feel tricked or manipulated by the author.
Barney also feels deceived, and he has been, for the experiments to which he is being subjected involve long- and short-term memory. Screens, both visual and auditory, are superimposed over those events and facts of Barney's life that he would most like to forget. Being able to obliterate the fact that he is a terminal patient probably enables Barney to keep his disease in remission: Cormier suggests the role that emotions play in sickness. Clearly, as soon as Barney learns about the "screen" covering his knowledge of his illness, his remission ends.
Cormier relieves the tension of the hospital setting somewhat by introducing a girlfriend for Barney. Cassie, Mazzo's twin, is a beautiful girl who becomes an alter ego, and more, for her brother. She experiences pain whenever her brother does. Although they are fraternal twins, they are reminiscent of the Corsican brothers, identical twins who were bound together by this same sensitivity, which Cassie refers to as "The Thing". "The Thing" is a kind of supernatural phenomenon going beyond the rules of the natural world. Cassie is a somewhat perplexing character. She engages Barney to "spy" on her brother and report back to her because Mazzo refuses to see his family. This arrangement allows Barney and Cassie to meet frequently, and Barney's love for her blossoms. Cassie enters the novitiate and finds solace in the convent, but what ultimately happens to her is not specified. The reader assumes that Cassie survives the death of her twin, but the question of whether or not she becomes a nun is unanswered.
Thematically, the entire book is a commentary on appearance versus reality; for example, the recurring nightmare that Barney has of an apparently real car accident is actually artificial, yet his disease is real; the nurse, who appears healthy, is on the terminal wing because she too is in remission; Mazzo, who appears very weak and is actually dying, is nevertheless able to push the Bumblebee up to the roof of the Complex from which it will "fly."
The search for identity is also a major goal for Barney, whose experimentally induced amnesia has previously prevented him from learning that he is Bernard Jason Snow, that his parents were killed years ago in an auto accident, and that he has been reared in foster homes. His search to find the meaning of the nightmare car accident, to recall his mother's face, and to remember other facts about his life before his entry into the Complex proves unfruitful.
Barney's longing for acceptance, in spite of the Handyman's recommendation that each patient should keep to his separate compartment and not become too involved with the others, causes him to be especially kind and perform small services for those less able than he. Yet Barney never feels that he belongs to the group because at first he thinks that he is not terminally ill like the others; when he learns that he too is dying, he still feels that he is different, for he refuses to accept his approaching death. Billy the Kidney also desires to belong. He has had so little opportunity to make friends in the past that he used to telephone people he did not know and public services, like Dial-a-Prayer, so that he could talk to someone. Starved as he is for friendship, he is willing to go to his death to accompany Mazzo and Barney when the Bumblebee flies.
Cormier has admitted that this book was difficult to write, but most critics praised his achievement. The few who were negative thought it not quite up to his previous novels. The review in Booklist (1 September 1983) criticizes Cassie, "who is convincing as Barney's love idol, but less so as her twin's empathetic alter ego." The reviewer in Horn Book (December 1983) sums up his criticism by noting: "the narrative events are less ambiguous, the feelings less subtle and the symbolism less obvious [than in I Am the Cheese] . . . [and Cassie is] less convincing [but] Barney and the others do come alive. And their ability to triumph in some measure over the depersonalizing situation represents a marked change from the author's previous work." Publishers Weekly, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books gave the novel favorable reviews. The reviewer for School Library Journal (September 1983) called it Cormier's "most affirmative novel." The American Library Association listed it among their Notable Children's Books and also as a Best Book for Young Adults for 1983. School Library Journal included it in their Best Books for 1983. It was nominated for, but did not win, the Carnegie Medal in England, an unusual honor for an American book.
Also well received was Beyond the Chocolate War , Cormier's sequel to the earlier novel. Published in 1985, eleven years after The Chocolate War, this novel moves at the same relentless pace as its predecessor. Indeed, Cormier rewrites and revises constantly to achieve his pacing with its gradual disclosure. Cormier has said that questions from readers about Archie or Jerry or even Tubs Casper, which kept the characters alive for him, and his own curiosity about Obie, whom he sees as a tragic but terrific character, were the impetuses for the writing of this novel.
Beyond the Chocolate War has received mostly favorable reviews; any unfavorable commentary apparently stems from a comparison with Cormier's earlier novel as the standard. For example, Hazel Rochman in the New York Times Book Review (5 May 1985) describes it as "not as starkly dramatic as its predecessor," and Roger Sutton in School Library Journal (April 1985) believes that "as a whole this is less compelling as fiction than it is as a commentary on The Chocolate War-Cormier here intensifies and explicates what was powerfully implicit in the first book." Awards include Horn Book's listing it in "Fanfare," Parents' Choice (Autumn 1985) including it among their remarkable books, and the New York Times naming it a Notable Book of the Year for 1985.
Beyond the Chocolate War takes place in the spring following the fall sale of the chocolates at Trinity High. Cormier introduces several new characters. The first is Ray Bannister, who serves two functions. By using Ray's ability with magic to trick the students at Trinity High, Cormier surprises his readers as well; and by having Obie provide Ray with information necessary to his survival at Trinity, Cormier reveals the background information for the reader unfamiliar with The Chocolate War. Cormier does not disappoint his readers. Archie is still the clever, manipulative "Assigner" of the Vigils, and Obie is still obedient.
But Obie falls in love, an action entirely independent of Archie and one that opens his eyes to certain facts about Archie's behavior and about his own. Laurie Gundarson, Obie's girlfriend, is horrified to learn that he belongs to the Vigils. Her reaction, the unpleasant memory of Jerry Renault, and the attack on the young couple by some members of the Vigils, are enough to make Obie realize that he had free choice all along. He did not have to follow Archie; he should have said "no" when his conscience told him to do so. To atone for his own inexcusable behavior, Obie decides to rid the school of Archie forever. Cormier is particularly convincing when Obie's plan fails and when Obie, as well as the reader, learns that there will always be evil. When Archie graduates, Bunting will take his place. It is up to the Obies and the Jerry Renaults of the world to take a stand against evil. Cormier drives his point home more forcibly here than he did in the earlier novel.
Bunting, along with his two stooges, Harley and Cornacchio, are the other new characters. Bunting, lacking the cleverness of Archie, is more heavy-handed. He initiates the near rape of Laurie, thus ruining Obie's chances with her and prompting Obie to seek his revenge by means of the guillotine, constructed by Ray Bannister and described dramatically in the opening sentence of the novel.
Although Obie does not succeed in his revenge, Jerry Renault, the crushed hero of The Chocolate War, wins a victory at last. Jerry again confronts Emile Janza, his opponent in the dramatic fight on the football field at the close of the earlier novel. This time Jerry is able to deflate and defeat Emile. His refusal to fight on Emile's terms serves as a quiet victory and a positive message for the reader. His nonviolence is a result of his contemplative life in Canada where he sought and found comfort in the church. Cormier intimates that Jerry may become a priest. Jerry becomes a positive role model as a friend to Goober, sensing Goober's problems and responding to them. Goober, on the other hand, is unable to understand Jerry's problems and worries about betraying Jerry.
The theme of betrayal, accompanied by revenge, appears on many levels and in many instances. Obie thinks that Archie ordered the attack on Laurie and him; thus he betrays Archie. Carter notifies Brother Leon of the Vigils' plan to boycott the assembly when the bishop visits Trinity. Archie seeks revenge and Carter suffers, but Carter was true to his ideals. David Caroni feels betrayed by Brother Leon, who gave him an F when he was a straight-A student; Caroni's revenge takes the form of an attack on Brother Leon, followed by suicide.
Several characters mature in the course of the novel; and with that maturity, Cormier includes more explicit sexual scenes. Obie's relationship with Laurie is a loving one, in contrast to Archie's relationship with Jill Morton. The inclusion of the near rape of Laurie, the sex scenes with Archie and Jill, and the sexual gratification of Emile Janza from fighting, along with the language Cormier uses in this novel, are more likely to provoke censorship from those who have not recently heard worse in their local high schools.
Maturity also appears in the form of the responsibilities of friendship between Goober and Jerry, the social responsibility that Carter displays, and the moral responsibility that Cornacchio exhibits in his refusal to follow Bunting after the near rape. Perhaps Obie matures the most, however, for he learns that he has always had a choice about following the Archies of the world. Archie's mottoes of "outfox, outwit, outdeal everybody else" and "do unto others, then split" will no longer be accepted by Obie. Obie has grown up, a particularly satisfying conclusion to this provocative novel.
In November 1988, Fade , one of Cormier's most sophisticated books, appeared. Spanning three generations and set primarily in Frenchtown, the French Canadian section of Monument, the novel centers on Paul Moreaux, who has inherited the ability to fade or become invisible, a characteristic occurring in the Moreaux family once a generation and passed from uncle to nephew. A fader can recognize another fader and is able to sense the presence of another; he is also able to intuit the proper time to seek out the young one in adolescence and educate him about his "power." Uncle Adelard, the fader of the previous generation, cautions Paul about the misuse of power just as Paul will later try to warn his nephew, Ozzie Slater, about the power.
The fade has been interpreted in various ways--as evil, or even as original sin. At first a blessing, it becomes a curse. Its power enables Paul to escape from danger of attack by a Ku Klux Klan member and later by a bully, but it also enables him to observe some sexual acts, shocking to him and perhaps to the teenage reader as well. The fade or lust for power or evil gradually assumes control over the fader until acts of violence and several murders are perpetrated and the fader's life changed irrevocably. Paul vows after an act of revenge not to use the fade again, and he does not until he feels he must to prove to his nephew that he possesses the ability.
Structurally, the novel is complex even though divided into only five sections because of the various settings (Monument; New York; Ramsey, Maine; Boston) and the changes in protagonist (Paul, Susan, Paul, Ozzie, Susan); however, even more important is Cormier's breaking the world of the first section of the novel by inquiring in the second whether or not the first is believable. Thus the first and third sections, narrated in first person, focus on Paul Moreaux in 1938 and 1963, respectively. The second and fifth center on Susan Roget, a distant cousin of Paul Roget, the noted author who wrote the Paul Moreaux manuscript. These sections are set in 1988, twenty-one years after Paul Roget's death. Susan has obtained a job working for Paul Roget's former editor, Meredith Martin; she and Meredith question the credibility of the manuscript. Is it Paul Roget's thinly veiled autobiography, or is it a fantasy? The fourth section, narrated in third person, belongs to Ozzie Slater, Paul Moreaux's nephew, also a fader. Ozzie becomes a monster, creating havoc and seeking revenge for his mistreatment and abuse by an adoptive father.
In the concluding section Susan reads a newspaper account of two incidents involving the type of destruction Ozzie perpetrated, although Ozzie is now dead. The article suggests that only an invisible culprit would have been able to penetrate the security systems. Could this vandal be the next generation fader after Ozzie? Is his appearance the reason for Paul's strange request to his lawyer just before he died that the lawyer not submit the manuscript to Paul's editor until twenty-one years later? Cormier, in typical fashion, leaves these questions and others unanswered.
In Fade Cormier has employed many of the devices he used in previous novels. Paul Moreaux, the possibly unreliable narrator, echoes Barney Snow from The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Ozzie follows in the tradition of Archie from The Chocolate War as a character who lives by no rules. Although Fade is told mostly from Paul's point of view, it develops further the narrative patterns of I Am the Cheese and After the First Death through the device of varying points of view. The ambiguity of certain sections of Fade--the "coincidence" that Paul's brother dies young as did Adelard's--echoes unanswered questions in other novels, such as whether or not the Hertz family was involved in the betrayal of the Farmers in I Am the Cheese. Cormier's use here of his characteristic open ending--was there ever a fader and does one still exist?--parallels the ambiguous conclusions in the earlier novels, such as will Jerry Renault survive, did the CIA kill the Farmers, and will Miro continue to kill before he is caught? Even though the alert reader perceives that Cormier employs these devices more than once, the author still surprises, teases, and even tricks his readers, but, above all, he entertains them.
Thematically, Fade incorporates a maturation theme, but not the usual one. All recipients of the power of the fade are teenagers; they must learn to weigh good and evil, to make decisions for themselves, and to be responsible for the misuse of power. The terrible secret causes each one to become more isolated from his family and friends. Uncle Adelard becomes a wanderer, afraid his ability will be discovered if he remains in one place too long; Paul becomes a recluse, for fear of discovery. Ozzie, already a loner because he had been given away by his unwed mother at birth and adopted by a woman, now dead, and her two husbands--the second of whom was a wife and child abuser--becomes a wild, reckless, vicious youth who uses his ability to fade to seek revenge by murder. Other themes include gifts that become curses, other types of fading that occur in real life, revenge, abuse, betrayal, incest, as well as family love, sacrifice, and young love.
One topic new to the Cormier canon in this novel is the development of a writer. Not only do readers gain insight about Paul Roget as the author of Bruises in Paradise, Come Home, Come Home, and Dialogue at Midnight, as well as the Paul Moreaux manuscript, but they also become intimately involved with Susan Roget as she struggles to become a writer, quoting a professor's directions on how to begin, on being oneself, and on being willing to take risks. Even the problems of editors are presented, such as Meredith quoting Paul Roget that a novelist is permitted "one major coincidence" in a book, and the pains and difficulties confronting editors in verifying details.
Fade contains many autobiographical elements, and Paul, by Cormier's own admission, is his most autobiographical character. In an article in Horn Book (March/April 1989) titled "Creating Fade," Cormier describes the photograph of his father's family, with one missing uncle, that provided one impetus for the novel. Another was the need to look back, to recapture a time in the past during which he spent two and a half years writing the novel which would later be revised to half its original length. In the 1963 section of Paul's manuscript the scenes between Paul and his father are reminiscent of those between Cormier and his father; he found them especially painful to cut, but they were greatly shortened. Some other autobiographical elements are Paul's desire to be a writer, his attitude toward Catholicism, his paper route, his conflict with a bully, and his crushes on females. Paul's cousin Susan is modeled somewhat after Cormier's youngest child, Renee.
Virtually all critics agree that Fade is an exciting book. The American Library Association has included it in its Best Books for Young Adults for 1988. The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books (November 1988) calls Fade "brilliant in conception, intricate in structure." The Voice of Youth Advocates (December 1988) and Horn Book (January/February 1989) reviewers both use the term "thought-provoking"; Publishers Weekly (30 September 1988) calls it "gripping" and suggests it "works better as allegory than as fantasy." The Book Report(November/December 1988) critic labels it "spellbinding" and "fast-paced . . . sure to enthrall senior high students and adults." The book was marketed, as most of Cormier's books were, both as an adult and young-adult novel. The starred review of Kirkus (1 August 1988) calls Fade "a profoundly disturbing, finely crafted gem that's hard, cold, and brilliant." The reviewer for Booklist (1 September 1988) presents some criticism of the "high-blown language (`the awful anguish of pain') and portentous rhetorical questions (`But then, isn't all of life a kind of fading?') and [of the] plot (the last section focusing on Paul's nephew is predictable and overextended)"; but even that criticism is tempered with the conclusion that "Cormier is a masterful story teller."
In a departure from his regular audience, Cormier wrote Other Bells for Us to Ring in 1990 for a younger group, although critics disagree on the exact ages it was intended for: some suggest as young as eight, and others suggest thirteen and older. The title of the book was originally Darcy ; Cormier's American editor, preferring to avoid name titles, encouraged him to change it and he did, but in England it was published as Darcy. The genesis of the novel was an incident revealed to Cormier's wife by an elderly lady named Hazel Heald. As a young Protestant girl, Hazel was sprinkled with holy water in a Catholic church by a young friend who announced that she was now a Catholic. Hazel was horrified and ran to her mother, who assured her that she was not a Catholic. Cormier dedicates the book to Hazel Heald and to his grandchildren.
Opening with a pre-World War II poem, Kenneth Patchen 's "At the New Year," which both sets the scene and provides the title, the novel focuses on eleven-year-old Darcy Webster, new to Frenchtown in Monument. Setting the story in the war years makes it more poignant, with food shortages, silent church bells, and worst of all, Darcy's father missing in action.
Having moved often with her family, Darcy has not experienced the joys and tribulations of having a best friend until she meets Kathleen Mary O'Hara, also eleven, who knows all about Frenchtown and its inhabitants. Although not in the majority--her family is Irish and most of the residents are Canadian immigrants--Kathleen Mary fits in better because of her Catholic religion. Darcy, an outsider on all counts, admires the daring Kathleen Mary, sharing adventures with her and following her even to the point of parting with her favorite Shirley Temple doll. Their friendship provides the main theme of the novel.
The theme of religion also runs throughout this story as Cormier explores the tenets of Catholicism. Kathleen Mary teaches Darcy about doing good works, not eating meat on Fridays, going to confession, receiving communion, praying for the souls in purgatory, buying masses for the dead, and learning the categories of sin. Kathleen Mary even "baptizes" Darcy by sprinkling her with holy water one day when they are in the church. Darcy's lack of understanding is clear from the questions she asks and her reactions to the answers she receives. For example, she cannot believe nuns are "brides of Christ," until Sister Angela explains.
Nor is Darcy ready to believe in miracles. Having witnessed a crippled child and her mother coming to Sister Angela, who blessed the child and prayed with the mother, Darcy is amazed when she discovers the child healed and learns from her mother that she was healed exactly one week after praying with Sister. Darcy also witnesses another young woman praying with Sister, but later to her distress she watches the young woman commit suicide by jumping off a roof. Cormier comments again on the subject of miracles in the "coincidence" that the day Darcy's father is reported safe is the day Darcy went on her own mission to see Sister Angela, who prayed for her father's safe return. As Sister Angela says, there are "so many miracles every day." The last miracle, if it can be so called, in the novel is Darcy's hearing the church bells of St. Jude's, which no one else hears and which are not to ring until the war is over. She hears them presumably in answer to Kathleen Mary's promise that there would be other bells for them to ring.
The novel treats the subject of alcoholism. Darcy's father, who knows he is an alcoholic, always keeps a bottle of liquor wrapped up to remind him, but remains faithful to his commitment to give it up. On the other hand, Kathleen Mary's father frequently becomes abusive after drinking. Her mother can be called a co-dependent since she does nothing to stop her husband or to protect herself and her children. At the end of the novel Kathleen Mary's brother, John Francis, returns to Monument to deliver a message and a package to Darcy. Only then do Darcy and the reader learn what happened to Kathleen Mary. In trying to escape from her drunken father, she ran into the path of a car and was killed. The novel provides interesting insight into these two divergent paths alcoholics can choose.
The reviews were somewhat mixed. In the November 1990 School Library Journal, Janice M. Del Negro comments on what she calls the "flat and two-dimensional characters" and "understated plot" which do not elicit a sympathetic response to the ending. A Publishers Weekly review (16 November 1990) describes the novel as "beautifully written" and states that while "Cormier captures the sounds, smells, and mood of wartime America with deft strokes," he fails to adequately show Darcy's growth. In the November/December 1990 issue of Horn Book, reviewer Mary M. Burns praises Other Bells as "one of those rare and beautiful gems for all seasons" and gives it a starred review. The novel also appears on Horn Book's "Fanfare" list for 1991. Patty Campbell, in a review for Five Owls (January/February 1991), recognizes the echoes of some of Cormier's earlier short stories and refers to the book as "a gentle, charming novella" written for all ages.
In sharp contrast to the gentleness of Other Bells is We All Fall Down (1991), nominated for the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1991, named a Best Book of the Year for 1991 in the Children's Division by Publishers Weekly, and received the California Young Reader Medal, 1993-1994. An American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, We All Fall Down received starred reviews from Kirkus (15 September 1991) and School Library Journal (September 1991); in the latter, Michael Cart comments on the "achingly awful adolescent world that Cormier has created" and on his "counterbalancing the emotional aridity of evil with a genuinely moving and nurturing love story." Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis calls the novel a "gripping page-turner" (November/December 1991); and Booklist placed it on their "Top One Hundred Countdown: Best of the Best Books for Young Adults" (15 October 1994).
We All Fall Down is a complex but fascinating study of adolescence. Its impetus was a news clipping about an incidence of vandalism in a Boston suburb. Cormier was struck by the fact that the perpetrators were not thugs; they were middle-class kids, yet they did unspeakable things to the house. He wanted to explore the point of view of one of the vandals and at the same time the point of view of one of the girls whose home had been destroyed.
The novel, set in Burnside, a neighboring community of Monument, is actually told from the points of view of three characters: Buddy Walker, one of the vandals; Jane Jerome, older sister of Karen Jerome, who lies in a coma as a result of the trashing of her home; and the Avenger, whose identity is not revealed until the final pages.
Themes of gang action, alcoholism, and divorce center around teenager Buddy Walker, who turns to alcohol for consolation when his father announces a divorce and his mother is left numb. Neglected by his parents, vulnerable, and lonely, he becomes prey to vicious Harry Flowers, leader of a gang of four who trashes the Jerome house in Burnside. Buddy participates in the action while drunk. Fourteen-year-old Karen Jerome comes home unexpectedly and is almost raped, but then is pushed down a flight of stairs and ends up in a coma. Buddy is the only one of the four who feels contrite.
Disintegrating family structure is another theme. Not only divorce but also violence is responsible for this decline. Jane's friends shun her after observing the damage to her home; Jane no longer likes to be at home even after the house is repaired; Jane's younger brother has nightmares and loses interest in his former activities; and the family members treat each other gingerly. When Harry is caught, he announces that Jane gave him a key to the house. Sixteen-year-old Jane, the moral focus of the novel, had dropped the key at the mall and realized she had lost it, but did not know where and did not tell her family. Harry's lie brings added conflict to the Jerome family as Jane's father doubts his daughter for the first time.
Themes of revenge and young love predominate. The Avenger--an unidentified but known killer of two, one of whom was his own grandfather and the other a fifth grader--had watched the trashing and hopes to punish the perpetrators. He is the center of a subplot focusing on revenge. At the same time Jane and Buddy begin dating, but Jane does not know Buddy was one of the vandals. When the Avenger witnesses Jane kissing Buddy, he is repulsed and hates Jane even more than he hated those who harmed her family. He abducts her, but Jane proves to be courageous and resourceful. The Jane/Buddy romance does not survive when Jane learns about Buddy's participation in the trashing.
In true Cormier fashion, the ending is fairly bleak. The outlook for Buddy, unless he is able to conquer his alcoholism, is not good. Jane, on the other hand, has proved to be strong and has a better chance for happiness at some future date. All of the characters, teens as well as parents, "fall down" in some way or another, just as they do in the nursery rhyme, "Ring Around the Rosy," from which the title of the novel was taken. Cormier has created a powerful story for older teens.
The impetus for Tunes for Bears to Dance To (1992), a novel for younger teens, was a recreated village carved for a craft show by an old Italian woodcarver, who spoke of his art with great emotional intensity. Cormier wondered what would happen if that work were smashed. He also wondered what would happen if an eleven-year-old were tempted into destroying the village by a corrupt older man, perhaps a grocer. Cormier had once worked for a grocer, who was not evil, but rather was a practical joker. Cormier chose to focus on eleven-year-olds here and in many of his other novels because they are at a difficult stage--not yet into puberty, but not really children either.
This short novel, almost a morality tale, examines evil and its power to corrupt. The title is taken from a quotation by Gustave Flaubert . The evil is personified in the bigoted grocer, Mr. Hairston, who seeks to corrupt eleven-year-old Henry Cassavant, his employee in the grocery. Driven by prejudice, hatred, and a sheer joy in evil, Mr. Hairston attempts to corrupt Henry into destroying a wooden model of a German village, an intricately carved replica of the Nazi-destroyed home of elderly Holocaust survivor Jacob Levine.
The story, which takes place in the space of a few days, is set in Wickburg, where the Cassavant family had moved from Monument shortly after the car accident that killed their older son, Eddie. Henry and his mother return to Monument every Sunday to visit Eddie's grave, bare without a stone marker, in St. Jude's Cemetery. Henry's father is too grief-stricken over his son's death to accompany them or to hold a job; in fact, he is hospitalized for depression. Mrs. Cassavant works as a waitress to support the family, and Henry helps with his meager earnings from his part-time job in the grocery.
The theme of temptation or the power of evil is treated in a particularly interesting fashion here because Henry is not being tested with something for himself; rather, the reward dangled in front of him by Mr. Hairston is a baseball and bat monument for Eddie's grave, something Henry would like very much. The grocer also promises to put in a good word with the owner of the diner where Mrs. Cassavant works. On the other hand, if Henry does not do what Mr. Hairston asks, there will be no monument for Eddie's grave; Mrs. Cassavant will be fired from her job because the owner owes Mr. Hairston a favor; and Henry will lose his job as well.
The character of the grocer is carefully revealed in his daily mean-spirited acts, his bigoted remarks about customers behind their backs, his abusiveness to his wife and daughter, his anti-Jewish comments made after learning Henry has befriended Mr. Levine, and his chilling scheme to corrupt Henry's innocence. Henry is also a believable young boy, torn enough between good and evil to venture to the craft center, find a suitable object for destroying the village, and hide there until the center is closed for the evening. Although he actually raises a mallet above the exquisitely carved village, he does not lower it. Instead he accidentally drops it on the village when the movement of a rat scares him. His inability to intentionally destroy the village proves his strong moral fiber. Henry achieves further victory when he refuses the rewards that Mr. Hairston is prepared to give since the village is destroyed, regardless of whether or not Henry meant to destroy it. Henry's goodness is repelled by his knowledge that it was not the destruction of the village or of its creator that Mr. Hairston wanted, but the corruption of Henry himself. The reader feels Henry will be stronger when tempted again. The fact that Henry's father is released from the hospital and the family moves back to Monument should at least protect Henry from being at the mercy of Mr. Hairston again.
This book is described as "compelling" in a September 1992 School Library Journal review and as "powerful, gut-wrenching" in an April 1993 English Journal review, although the School Library Journal reviewer also criticizes the novel for its one-dimensional characters, either all good or all bad. In the 15 June 1992 Booklist, Hazel Rochman praises Cormier's "inexorable pace" and "compelling storytell[ing]," but faults him for "dehumanizing the bad guy and the victim" in this "morality tale." A critic for Publishers Weekly (7 September 1992) finds Henry's "even fleeting acquiescence to it [Mr. Hairston's plan] logistically and psychologically far-fetched." But that very perplexing and disturbing stage of adolescence is what enables Cormier to drive his point home so forcefully. The book appears on the American Library Association list of Best Books for Young Adults, 1993, and won the Catholic Children's Book Award for 1997 in Germany.
Cormier's next book, In the Middle of the Night (1995), was selected by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults as well as a Quick Pick in 1995. Nominated for the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1995 and for the California Reader Medal in 1995-1996, the book explores many of Cormier's previous themes but adds a new look at the themes of guilt and of the sins of the fathers visited upon the children.
The idea of a disaster being revisited on its anniversary came to Cormier as he read the yearly recounting of the famous Coconut Grove nightclub fire which happened in Boston in 1942. Almost five hundred people lost their lives when they could not escape from the overcrowded building. A busboy who lit a match was at first blamed for the disaster but later exonerated. Cormier wanted to examine what would happen to people caught in such a disaster and its aftereffects on a second generation.
In exploring the concept of the sins of the father visited on the children, Cormier tells of a catastrophe at the Globe Theater in Barstow, twenty-five miles north of Wickburg. John Paul Colbert, then sixteen, was a part-time usher in the old theater, packed with disadvantaged children for a special Halloween performance. John Paul was sent by the theater owner to the dark balcony, used previously for storage, to investigate some slow creaking sounds; he lit a match to find his way and accidentally set the whole matchbook on fire. When he dropped it, the balcony caught fire and collapsed. Twenty-two children died, and more were injured, some never recovering physically and emotionally. The story of the disaster is told first in the prologue by Dave and Lulu, a brother and sister who were there; then by John Paul as an usher; and finally by John Paul's wife many years later.
The focus of the story is on guilt rather than on the disaster itself. The owner of the theater committed suicide. John Paul was exonerated by a court, but some continue to blame him. The creaking in the old building seems clear evidence of its unfit structure and deterioration; but John Paul still feels responsible: because he never liked to go up there, he did not suggest to the owner that it be cleaned up or repaired. He never seems to realize that it was not his place as part-time usher to suggest major renovations to the owner. It is also obvious that although John Paul did start the fire accidentally, the fire was not the cause of the collapse. Nevertheless, John Paul worries and suffers silently, accepts the hate mail and the plaguing phone calls in the middle of the night, and never tries to explain his part or defend himself. He is the scapegoat; he accepts his penance in a Christ-like fashion. The title of the novel emphasizes the guilt that John Paul must nightly suffer because of the harassing phone calls.
The story is complex structurally, consisting of a prologue and four parts. The prologue is narrated by Dave O'Hearn, a child who introduces himself and his slightly older sister, Lulu, and then recounts the disaster in which Lulu "died." Orphaned when their parents died in a car accident, the children live in Wickburg with their aunt and rely on each other; in fact, Lulu, who calls Dave "Baby," promises to take care of him forever.
Part I focuses on sixteen-year-old Denny Colbert, who defies his parents' rules by answering the telephone, accepting a job offer (that never materializes) without parental permission, and answering the doorbell when it rings. Only later does he learn that the reason for these odd house rules is to be found in an incident involving his father, John Paul, twenty-five years earlier. Part I is primarily narrated by Denny, but also includes some chapters written from Lulu's perspective; she has returned to life a changed and embittered person. Part II centers on John Paul at age sixteen and recounts the disaster as it took place. Part III focuses mainly on Denny again, but at the end Lulu and Denny make contact by phone, although the reader never learns if Lulu is the only one who made the threatening phone calls that John Paul faithfully answered in the middle of the night. In Part IV a meeting between Denny and Lulu is arranged which proves to be fatal to both Lulu and Dave, who kills his emotionally and physically crippled sister in an effort to save her from killing Denny. Killing Denny was Lulu's idea of revenge on John Paul because she wanted John Paul to feel guilty about his son's death. After killing Lulu, Dave, who already suffers from cancer, kills himself. Denny calls the police, and then must try to resume his life.
Other themes, including boy-girl relationships, friendship, and adjustment to high school, are touched on. Denny meets Dawn Chelmsford, an attractive girl who attends Barstow High, while he attends Norman Preparatory Academy; although Dawn is the girl of his dreams, Denny chooses the seductive telephone voice of Lulu over a more wholesome relationship with Dawn. Denny, having moved so frequently because of the hate mail, threatening phone calls, annoying reporters, and curious people, has not had many friends or chances to participate in normal high school activities. The open ending leaves room for hope that Denny will now have a better chance, but who knows what the future holds?
In the Middle of the Night received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, whose reviewer speaks of the "masterful crafting of the book's intricate plot" (8 May 1995). Booklist reviewer Jeanne Triner praises the ending, which "lacks resolution, leaving Denny with an obsession he might never escape and his father struggling with what is clearly unjustified guilt--exactly the kind of ending Cormier fans have come to expect" (1 April 1995). Maeve Visser Knoth calls it "suspenseful and ultimately poignant" in the May/June 1995 Horn Book, and in the same issue Patty Campbell describes the novel as "pure Cormier, a tight and spare construction of amazing complexity." Lois Metzger in the New York Times Book Review (16 July 1995) uses words like "spectacular," "unnerving and piercingly honest" in her discussion.
Also "pure Cormier" is Tenderness (1997), the story of handsome teenaged psychopathic serial killer Eric Poole and Lori Cranston, a teen runaway with a fixation on Poole, who once treated her with "tenderness" and who can turn on "The Charm" at will. Lori's father is dead; her mother is an alcoholic who brings boyfriends home. When one of these men tries to caress Lori, she realizes she must leave home, and she takes off.
Cormier developed Lori's character from a girl he had known in high school. She had a hard life, coming from a terrible family situation. Cormier saw her as sexually precocious yet possessing an innocence. Some months later he learned about a boy of eighteen who was being released after committing murder; the authorities could not keep him. Cormier combined the two ideas and crafted a suspense-filled novel.
Murder is a principal theme. Eric's mother paid less attention to him after she married Harvey, Eric's stepfather. At age fifteen Eric sought revenge, killing both his mother and stepfather after faking abuse on the part of Harvey. He also murdered three teenage girls, all of whom had long dark hair like his mother. He feels a sort of thrill which he calls "tenderness" as he commits these vicious acts. A chance meeting with Lorelei "Lori" Cranston immediately following the murder of one of the girls leaves Eric unsure about how much Lori knows. A group of motorcyclists interrupt and harass Lori, but Eric comes to her rescue, then lets her go. Not long after, Eric is arrested and sent to a juvenile facility for three years for the murder of his parents. His murder of two of the girls is suspected by Lt. Jake Proctor, who watches Eric, now eighteen, closely upon his release. The televised release attracts fifteen-year-old Lori's attention, and she decides she must meet Eric again. The potential for a repeat act of murder looms large throughout the novel.
The vulnerability of teens is vividly revealed in the character of Lori, with her strange fixations, incredible naivete, and seductive actions. She yearns to be treated with "tenderness" or gentleness. Lori hitchhikes, seduces a driver, and robs him. She lies about being pregnant to gain a room in a home for pregnant girls. Having learned how to break into locked cars, she stows away in Eric's car after standing for days outside his aunt's home, where he is temporarily staying. Lori naively believes that she can make Eric love her and that she will not be one of his victims.
The character of the psychopath Eric is well developed. His joy in the murder of cats and a canary leads him to bigger game. A master of disguises, Eric fools many, but not Lt. Proctor. Eric does not murder his aunt because he feels such an act will not give him the joy of "tenderness." Instead he yearns for Maria Valdez, whom he "met" in the juvenile facility. It is while planning to murder Maria that Eric is caught by Proctor, in spite of being warned by Lori. Since Eric is prevented from committing the murder, Proctor must let him go, but promises to hunt him down if anything happens to Lori. Cormier's unusual twist at the end of the novel seems in retrospect wonderfully ironic and appropriate.
The reviews were mostly favorable. A Publishers Weekly reviewer calls Tenderness a "violent tale of obsession" but feels that Cormier's message about needing to be loved is "watered-down" (13 January 1997). In the March 1997 School Library Journal, Marilyn Payne Phillips claims the author is "in top form in this chilling portrait" and describes it as "a meaty horror study." Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist (1 February 1997) praises the complexity of its characters and its "mesmerizing plunge into the mind of a psychopathic teen killer that is both deeply disturbing and utterly compelling." Barbara Harrison for Horn Book (March/April 1997) claims the novel is "jolting and unsettling" and calls Cormier "a master of irony." Tenderness was named to the Top Ten list of the American Library Association's Best Young Adult Books.
Although Cormier claims that he gets his plots from serendipity, he works hard writing and rewriting, often discarding hundreds of pages as he did from Beyond the Chocolate War and Fade. His work proves his versatility. Avid fans in many countries have purchased millions of copies of his books. He has traveled extensively, speaking to and listening to young adults in most of the fifty states, as well as in Australia, England, and Scotland. He said in a 23 May 1989 personal letter that "teenagers are teenagers all over the world and sitting on school steps in Melbourne with thirteen and fourteen year olds, I could have been in Boston, Massachusetts, or Edinburgh, Scotland." Cormier has acquired these fans because of his sensitive awareness about what actually occurs in the lives of teenagers today and his abundant talent for conveying that awareness through fiction. He has brought controversy and, simultaneously, a new dimension to the field of young-adult literature. He has earned the respect of his readers, regardless of their age, because of his refusal to compromise the truth as he sees it. His superb craftsmanship, his ability to create suspense and to shock the reader repeatedly, and his forcing the reader to think are all qualities which make Cormier's works entertaining, unique, and, indeed, unforgettable.
Cormier donated his manuscripts and all his working papers to Fitchburg State College, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1981.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- Paul Janeczko, "In Their Own Words: An Interview with Robert Cormier," English Journal, 66 (September 1977): 10-11.
- George Christian, "Conversations: Novelist Robert Cormier and Reporter Nora Ephron," Houston Chronicle, 14 May 1978, p. 12.
- Geraldine DeLuca and Roni Natov, "An Interview with Robert Cormier," The Lion and the Unicorn, 2 (Fall 1978): 109-135.
- Laurel Graeber, "PW Interviews Robert Cormier," Publishers Weekly, 224 (7 October 1983): 98-99.
- Anita Silvey, "An Interview with Robert Cormier," Horn Book, 61, Part I (March/April 1985): 145-155; Part II (May/June 1985): 289-296.
- Patricia P. Kelly, "An Interview with Robert Cormier," Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 7 (1993): 57-63.
- Norma Bagnall, "Realism: How Realistic Is It? A Look at The Chocolate War," Top of the News, 36 (Winter 1980): 214-217.
- Patricia J. Campbell, Presenting Robert Cormier (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985).
- Campbell, "The Sand in the Oyster," Horn Book, 71 (May/June 1995): 365-369.
- Betty Carter and Karen Harris, "Realism in Adolescent Fiction: In Defense of The Chocolate War," Top of the News, 36 (Spring 1980): 283-285.
- William A. Davis, "Tough Tales for Teenagers," Boston Globe Magazine, 16 November 1980, pp. 17, 22, 24, 26, 30, 32-37.
- Helen Dudar, "Books: What Johnny Can't Read," The Soho News, 4 June 1980, pp. 15-16.
- Lee Grove, "Robert Cormier Comes of Age," Boston Magazine (December 1980): 78, 81, 82, 84, 86-90, 92, 94.
- Kathy Neal Headley, "Duel at High Noon: A Replay of Cormier's Works," Alan Review, 21 (1994): 34-35.
- Sylvia Patterson Iskander, "Fade," Fantasy and Gothic: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, volume 6, edited by Kirk H. Beetz (Washington, D.C.: Beacham, 1994), pp. 3108-3117.
- Iskander, "Readers, Realism, and Robert Cormier," Children's Literature Journal, 15 (1987): 7-18.
- Millicent Lenz, "A Romantic Ironist's Vision of Evil: Robert Cormier's After the First Death," in Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Conference of The Children's Literature Association, University of Minnesota, March 1981, edited by Priscilla A. Ord (Boston: Children's Literature Association, 1982), pp. 50-56.
- Anne Scott MacLeod, "Robert Cormier and the Adolescent Novel," Children's Literature in Education, 12 (Summer 1981): 74-81.
- Virginia R. Monseau, "Studying Cormier's Protagonists," Alan Review, 22 (1994): 31-33.
- Frank Myszor, "The See-Saw and the Bridge in Robert Cormier's After the First Death,"Children's Literature Journal, 16 (1988): 77-90.
- Tony Schwartz, "Teen-agers' Laureate," Newsweek, 94 (16 July 1979): 87, 88, 92.
- Sharon A. Stringer, "The Psychological Changes of Adolescence," Alan Review, 22 (1994): 27-29.
- Nancy Veglahn, "The Bland Face of Evil in the Novels of Robert Cormier," The Lion and the Unicorn, 12 (June 1988): 12-18.