John Knowles's Short Stories

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Author: Jay L. Halio
Editors: Jean C. Stine and Bridget Broderick
Date: 1983
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 1,650 words

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[In the following excerpt, Halio praises Knowles's first two novels, A Separate Peace, and Morning in Antibes , assigning a superior position to the former work.]

[It is] heartening to see a few like John Knowles who, taking his cue from [Ernest Hemingway's] The Sun Also Rises rather than from [Hemingway's] For Whom the Bell Tolls, has brought back to recent fiction some of the clear craftsmanship and careful handling of form that characterizes our earlier and best fiction in this century....

[Before] man can be redeemed back into social life, he must first come to terms with himself, he must first—as has been said so often of American writers—discover who and what he is. That we must look inward and learn to face honestly what we see there and then move onwards or anyway outwards is necessary if in the long run we are to salvage any part of our humanity— if, indeed, humanity is in the future to have any meaning or value. This is the enterprise carried forward in contemporary literature by such novelists as Angus Wilson in England and Saul Bellow at home; and alongside their novels John Knowles has now placed two brilliant pieces of fiction, A Separate Peace (1960) and Morning in Antibes (1962 ...). His gift is different from theirs as theirs is different from each other, for he speaks with a voice that is at once personal and lyrical in a mode that, with the possible exception of Bellow's The Victim, neither of the others has as yet attempted. In his first novel, moreover, Knowles achieves a remarkable success in writing about adolescent life at a large boys' school without falling into any of the smart-wise idiom made fashionable by The Catcher in the Rye and ludicrously overworked by its many imitators.

A Separate Peace is the story of a small group of boys growing up at an old New England prep school called Devon during the early years of World War II. The principal characters are the narrator, Gene Forrester, and his roommate, Phineas, or “Finny,” who has no surname. As yet but remotely aware of the war in Europe or the Pacific, the boys give themselves up during Devon's first summer session to sports and breaking school rules under the instigations of the indefatigable Finny. It is the last brief experience of carefree life they will know, for most of them will graduate the following June. But within this experience, another kind of war subtly emerges,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004679