The post-World War II follow-up to A Separate Peace is another tragedy that will leave you nursing an aching heart and facing the evil that can live in the hearts even of the most promising youths. Whether it can be excused by the good mixed with it, is a question that will keep you up at night after you have read this tale.
Pete Hallam is an athletic war hero, fresh returned to his old New Hampshire prep called Devon School, only now to be a teacher. His first challenge is a group of seniors who belong to a generation stunned by the end of the war, frustrated that they did not get a chance to fight in it, and divided by new outlooks that Pete hardly knows how to address. And now, in the uneasy new peace, tempers flare and different personalities collide with a sense of inexorable tragedy.
There are the athletes and leaders– Nick and Tug Blackburn, Parker, and so forth. There are the schemers and manipulators– Wexford and his toadie Perkins and others. And there are the difficult outsiders– fascist youth Hochschwender, and his weird roommate Rob Willis. Take them separately you get interesting and touching portraits of the troubled hearts and searching minds of promising young men. Put them together, and you get an explosion that results in one student dead, and the ones directly responsible hardly aware of how their actions were influenced by one truly frightening young man.
Can you find the sociopath? You may change your mind about who you think it is, before the end. And you will also be torn by grief and pity, fear and disappointment, love and pain.
There is also a little bittersweet romance, and a dreamlike scene in which Tug Blackburn takes an enormous ski jump and, afterward, is temporarily muddled in his mind. Tug’s delirium is actually my favorite passage in the book. I’d like to hope you enjoy it too, if you can enjoy having your heart broken. Try it and see.