A novel by John Knowles
, it comes a very close second to A Separate Peace
Set right after World War II, it follows parentless soldier
Cleet Kinsolving and his return from fighting
in the Pacific, as he makes his slow lazy way
Home for Cleet is Connecticut, but instead of
heading directly there upon his arrival back in
the States, he decides to hitchhike cross-country,
overwhelmed with a sudden whim to see more of the
country he lives in.
Half-Indian, one gets the impression that Cleet
would love nothing more to climb trees naked and
run barefoot and mostly, fly. That, and the
'great wide bowl of heaven' that seemed to
occupy the space is enough to make him stop near a
lazy airstrip somewhere in the midwest, where he
gets a job as crop duster.
Christ, he said, as he sat up, I do believe
this is the day I conquer the world or something.
Cleet doesn't necessarily have formed ideas and plans
for his future, but he recognizes that going home may
just stifle him, and tire him as to forget what he
finds really important, constrain him.
Cleet is a brilliant character (at least, to me)
because he is young, strong, and very aware
of his formless dreams. Without having given them
shape or definitive boundaries, he is positive that
he will do something great, and very aware
of how the people that claim him as family and friend
may very well trap him forever.
Circumstances play otherwise,though and Cleet is faced
with a situation where he really has no choice
but to go on home, and one senses his frustration
at having almost escaped, almost broken away and
started shaping the life he wanted.
Knowles portrays Cleet as an extremely striking
character, as one who doesn't say anything if
there's nothing to say, and someone who radiates
a very balanced sense of self. What is terrific
about this is one gets to read what Cleet is
thinking, and all the while he protrays a steely,
impassive, unshakeable exterior, his
inner thoughts are scrambling. The balance and cohesion of both aspects of Cleet is terrific.
The bulk of the novel deals with Cleet and his
interaction with the Reardon family: the father
who made the money; the son, Neil, who was always
Cleet's best friend and in hiring him as a
'do-it-all' secures his return back home; Neil's
wife, and her sister, unfazed by the wealth
and from a poor family. The Reardons, as his friends and surrogate family,
have an ineffable hold over Cleet that he
feels more and more constrained by the more he
thinks about where he wants his life to go.
I know I haven't done justice to the book here,
but I cannot find any reviews online to give me
a more structured overview, so I have written
this as I could. What I find so stupendously
wrenching about Cleet's character is the way
Knowles details his thoughts almost lazily,
but still imparting the sense of urgency
Cleet feels about life.
This book is currently out of print, I bought it at
sale for 50 cents. I have dog-eared
on almost every other page, and
this node is part of my continued project to node my library