STAND BEFORE YOUR GOD is a memoir, though the names and distinguishing characteristics of many of its principals have been disguised. Watkins, a highly respected historical novelist, recounts his experience at the Dragon primary school and then at Eton. Along the way, he treats the ordeal of being the only American at the Dragon school, his longing (at first) for his Rhode Island home and gradual loss of his American identity, his relationship with his father (a rather striking figure), his quest for acceptance, various crises, rugby, homosexuality (in several guises), and a number of other topics associated with the coming of age of a young man.
Most compelling is Watkins’ emergence as a writer. While his national identity becomes somewhat blurred, his vocation as an author of rigorously researched, carefully plotted historical novels becomes the shining revelation of his educative years.
As for the boarding school experience, Watkins does nothing to idealize or villify it. He exposes the senseless authoritarianism and hypocrisy of the two schools. He also portrays the all-male atmosphere as something at least bordering on the bizarre. On the other hand, Watkins committed himself totally to the program, finding himself both as a man and as a writer. Indeed, he is not positive or negative, but rather in awe of the powerful transformation worked on him during these years.
Watkins, who later attended Yale and now lives near Princeton, writes gracefully and poignantly. The result is a brief work of surprising depth.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XC, January 15, 1994, p. 895.
Kirkus Reviews. LXII, January 1, 1994, p. 58.
Library Journal. CXVIII, November 15, 1993, p. 86.
London Review of Books. XV, October 7, 1993, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times. March 10, 1994, p. E4.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, March 6, 1994, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, January 24, 1994, p. 46.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 17, 1993, p. 24.
The Wall Street Journal. April 4, 1994, p. A10.
The Washington Post. March 2, 1994, p. B2.