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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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Gene is overwhelmed by the glamour, the "absolute schoolboy glamour" of what has happened.

NOTE: It's worth asking ourselves, in the aftermath of this dramatic episode, whether Finny performed this act of bravado because he wanted to impress Gene, too. Maybe all his wondrous feats are Finny's way of reaching out to Gene, the only way he knows to communicate with him. He'd be uncomfortable looking Gene in the face and saying, "I like you" or "You're my best friend." These words often come out sounding forced even when they are true.

Perhaps Finny is the kind of person-and you may have friends like this-for whom actions speak louder than words. Many people have trouble expressing their deepest feelings verbally. And when they try to show their feelings in other ways, we sometimes wonder whether we're receiving the right message.

Finny barely gives Gene time to recover from the impact of the broken swimming record before he suggests they go off to the beach. Perhaps he is reaching yet again for some way to draw Gene closer to him through a shared and equal experience.



Once more Gene responds in a manner we may have come to expect. He automatically resists, inside, without showing his reluctance to break free from the secure daily pattern he's fighting to preserve. Instead he agrees quietly, pushing down the very fears which cut into his energy even as Finny continues at fever pitch. When they arrive at the beach-after a three-hour bike ride during which Finny maintains his performance by singing, riding backward, and telling stories-Gene is overcome by the immensity of the waves. Finny, exactly the opposite, thrives on their strength: he draws power from their force and dives and swims for an hour in the pounding surf. The sand is too hot and the water too cold for Gene, but Phineas "was everywhere, he enjoyed himself hugely, he laughed out loud at passing sea gulls."

NOTE: Finny is closely tied to nature. Gene is cut off from nature. Finny dives into experiences and revels in their effects; he cannot get enough of life. Gene the observer steps back from experiences, keeps a step apart. But without Gene's constant presence, how would we ever find out about the wondrous Finny?

As they bed down on a sand dune to sleep beneath the stars, Finny manages to confess, finally and awkwardly, that Gene is his "best pal." We believe him. Gene is the only kind of friend a unique person such as Finny could possibly keep. How different the friendship looks from Gene's side! He cannot answer in kind. "Something held me back," he says. "Perhaps I was stopped by that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth."

A Separate Peace is very much concerned with the problem of what is truthful, and on many levels: the necessity of shared truth between friends and the problem of keeping to honesty; the overwhelming truth of a war on some distant continent; and the even higher truth that is greater than boys or war, the truth that involves destiny, fate, and the extent to which forces beyond our control could be operating to change our lives. We may not believe in fate, but does that mean it doesn't exist?

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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles
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