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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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Why do you suppose Finny wants so much to go to the gym, to sit in the locker room with the sports equipment and dirty uniforms scattered about, the smell of sweat and exertion hanging in the damp air? It must be a bittersweet moment for him as he rests breathless on a wooden bench, surveying the once familiar surroundings. To have been a great athlete and to know in your heart that for you "sports are finished" must be difficult to accept once and for all.

"You're going to be the big star now," he says, turning to Gene, as though he were passing the baton to him in a relay race. "You can fill any gaps or anything." What does Finny mean by gaps? Is he talking about Gene as his successor, grooming him to take over the athletic spot he had occupied?



NOTE: Finny is fighting with all his being to rebuild his world. He wants Gene to snap out of his guilt and depression, to stop punishing himself, and to take on new motivations. He wants to give Gene a constant pep talk that will turn him away from thoughts of war and the crew team. Because he has suffered, Finny reveals, he now has the right to take on more authority. Just when we think Gene is guiding Finny, Finny turns around and exercises considerable willpower over Gene. Each boy is reaching out with new threads to bind him to the other.

Gene grasps a chinning bar, and Finny tells him, "Do thirty of them." Gene obeys as if he were the Finny of the past. Finny informs Gene he's going to coach him for the 1944 Olympics. And why not? Hasn't Finny always been a dreamer, an untiring creator of imaginary worlds, the boy who's never been able to accept things as they are? Gene gives himself over in service to Finny, and Finny in turn applies his influence to raise Gene as if he were his child more than his pal.

A comforting aura descends upon the story now that so much agony and tension are gone. Gene and Finny nurture each other; Gene tutors Finny in academic subjects, Finny tutors Gene in athletics. There's a new double direction to their relationship. Gene flowers and grows.

One morning, just before Christmas break, the boys are out early for their workout. Finny leans against a tree, supervising Gene's four laps around the quadrangle. For the first time, Gene gets what runners like to call a "second wind," a breakthrough moment when you're feeling tired one second, then it's as if you were just starting to run. Finny notices it too, and he points it out to Gene as a sure sign of self-awareness, not just a matter of physical strength.

Up to this point Gene has always been a divided person, concentrating on developing his mental abilities at the expense of his body. Finny, the wise one, knows the importance of strength in both and sees the goal fulfilled now in Gene.

Finny is not embarrassed about telling Mr. Ludsbury, who has been secretly observing the boys, that Gene is "aiming for the '44 Olympics." As far as Finny is concerned-and much to Mr. Ludsbury's dismay-the war has nothing to do with their training program. Finny could care less about the war. "He's really sincere, he thinks there's a war on," Finny says in "simple wonder" of Mr. Ludsbury.

How much more satisfying life is when all acceptance of war is banished from the mind! A Separate Peace is as much a novel against war as it is a story about friendship.

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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles
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