Robert McCammon’s 1991 novel, Boy’s Life, is a very good coming-of-age novel in which young Cory Mackenson learns more about life in just a few months than many adults ever learn in a lifetime. Because the novel is set in small-town Alabama in 1964, Cory is, of course, exposed to the racial intolerance of the era, but he is lucky in that his parents are not the stereotypical Southern bigots that exist in so many books and screenplays that have since been written about the sixties. The “sin” of the Mackenson family is more the typical one of omission rather than one of active commission because, while the Mackensons were not themselves bigots, they accepted bigotry in their neighbors and acquaintances as the inevitable consequence of two different races living so closely together.
In Cory’s everyday world, bullies, baseball, summer vacations from school, bicycles, and his small circle of best friends play much larger roles than race. Well, they do anyway until very early on the morning that Cory and his father are almost sideswiped by a car coming at them from a road off the main highway. Before the car can sink into the depths of the “bottomless” lake into which it has plunged, Cory’s father makes a desperate attempt to save its driver. What he sees of the man behind the wheel just before the car sinks so rapidly that it almost sucks him down with it will make it almost impossible for Mr. Mackenson to sleep for months to come.
The naked driver has been brutally beaten, strangled by a copper wire, and handcuffed to the car’s steering wheel. Cody and his father have stumbled onto a killer’s disposal of his victim, and consequences will have to be paid. The Mackensons – and every one else in little Zephyr, Alabama – are about to live one of the most memorable years they will ever experience.
McCammon uses a wide cast of characters to tell his Boy’s Life story. Some of them are eccentric, some are evil, some are quite nice people, and unfortunately, a few of them are stereotypes. Most of the more unforgettable of the author’s characters come mostly from the book’s black community (The Lady, her husband, the little boy that Cory befriends, the town handyman, etc.)
As I said earlier, this is a very good coming-of-age novel, but that is not to say that it could not have been a better one without so much emphasis on the supernatural aspects of the story. Boy’s Life was written for the horror market of its day, and that made a lot of sense in 1991. If written today, this might be a very different - and even better – novel.