A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I was always going to like this book. Bitter, resentful Gene and his charismatic, mercurial friend Finny, the year that changed their lives and ended Finny’s, and the war that rages outside their little world. I love that Gene can’t reconcile for himself how much he cared about Finny with how he ruined Finny’s life. I love how all the characters are so unstable and angry, how Gene’s envy takes over his life, Brinker’s ambivalence, Leper’s inability to handle the war.
And of course, it’s not just their secret summer at Devon. The threat of the war outside, that they alternately long for and deny existence of, hangs over the story. You can’t get away from the mid 1940s setting and how that means for these boys in a remote boarding school in America the war is both omnipresent and too distant to be believed. So much is shaped by the war pressing in on them (Leper’s breakdown, Gene’s underwhelming memories of his time after enlisting). And yet so much of the dark heart of the story is caused by the trauma and ennui of youth, of a time when everything awful is so much more intense than it will every be again.