John Knowles, A Separate Peace
John Knowles' 1958 novel, A Separate Peace, is a tragic coming-of-age story about two high school friends, Gene and Phineas. Set against the looming backdrop of World War II, it relates a year in the lives of these two very different roommates. Gene is bookish and conforming, while Phineas is adventuresome, daring, and highly charismatic. Together with their classmates they carve out "a separate peace" amid the madness of the world at Devon, their New Hampshire boarding school.
Their view of life is strictly here-and-now, and their goal is to maximize their friendship and creativity both by making the grade and bending the rules of their temporary society. They're want to enjoy life before it overwhelms and perhaps destroys them; but, for all their efforts to avoid the real world, they end up of victims of life's vicissitudes and uncertainties. They seem always to be seeking more of peace, peace; but peace eludes them, as it must in this fallen world, and tragedy overtakes them both.
The separate peace they enjoy for a time at their boarding school gives them a reason for bonding and a context for adventure and growth. But like the world at war beyond their peaceful confines, chance and tragedy intrude and ruin them both. In a world of chance and fallible intentions, Knowles seems to say, tragedy at some level is likely to befall every one of us. When it does, we cannot deny it and we can only barely endure it, especially when our tragedies are the result of our own folly.
Knowles' is a sad and melancholy tale set in a lively and beautiful narrative style which itself reminds us that beauty and truth - be they ever so harsh - can be known. His writing is witty, descriptive, and highly readable, but fraught at all times with the sense of impending disaster. We laugh, we cry, we marvel; but above all, we rejoice to know that the times as Knowles describes them are not the whole story. Though the world continues its downward spiral into rebellion from God and all the corruption, confusion, despair, death, and tragedy that entails, yet God brings rest to the world in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We who know Him enjoy a separate - and enduring - peace of our own, which nothing in this world can undo.