What are some of the themes of "Boy's Life," by Robert McCammon?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boy's Life, by erstwhile horror fiction author Robert McCammon, tells the story of one summer in the life of 12-year-old Cory Mackenson, a resident of the fictitious town of Zephyr, Alabama. Zephyr is an unspoiled place for Cory until one spring morning -  accompanying his father on his milkrun - he witnesses a car carrying a murdered driver plunge into a local lake. The realization that the murderer lives among them slowly wakens Cory to the evil lurking behind the sunlit exterior of his hometown.  From The Lady, an ancient Afro-American woman with the power of a seer, to a violent, racist family of backwoodsmen, Cory confronts the secrets that hide in the shadows of his own hometown. His journey of discovery - both of his own soul and of the reality in which he lives - yields three themes in the novel. The first is bildungsroman or coming of age. Cory stands at the threshold of adulthood where its psycho-social truths comingle with the magic of childhood. How he succeeds in crossing that threshold drives the narrative structure of Boy's Life.  The reader learns that Cory was successful at it in the concluding chapter of the novel where the author reveals that fiction and biography - 'fictography' is McCammon's word - have mixed and mingled in Boy's Life.   The second is a theme identified by the author himself: The revisiting of innocence, or the 'rediscovery of magic' as McCammon puts it. In the same way as it is necessary for Cory to find the truth about the corpse at the bottom of Saxon's Lake, so it is critically important for him (and for the reader) to rediscover the healing wonders of childhood innocence. The third theme concerns the frequent appearance of everyday wonders or instances of marvellous realism in the pages of the novel. On the first day of summer vacation, Cory and his buddies sprout angelic wings and soar into a blue sky of freedom; Cory defeats a malevolent river monster, Old Moses, with a broomstick handle; and at a travelling carny show, Cory and his friends help to free a real dinosaur from captivity. These and other instances of marvellous realism serve to reconcile the realities of an adult and rational life more and more claiming Cory's attention with the spiritual, magical world of childhood.


droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are three overriding themes in the classic coming-of-age novel Boy's Life by Robert McCammon. 

The first of these is coming of age. At the start of the novel, in 1964, Cory lives a predictable life, but then several things happen sequentially to mark his transition into adulthood and uncertainty. He sees his father struggle with the death of a stranger, he loses his dog, and he loses a friend. He realises that something bad can happen in his small town (the death in the lake) and has also seen his first naked girl and gone camping alone. All these experiences make Cory change as a person.

The second theme is death. This permeates the novel, from the death of the man in the lake which sends Cory's father into a depression to that of Cory's dog. Then, Davy Ray shoots himself by accident. Death profoundly changes Cory in this novel.

The third major theme is racial inequality. This is played out between the towns of Zephyr and Bruton. The people of Zephyr believe that the Lady in Bruton is the cause of their misfortune. Cory helps to foil a KKK plan to bomb her museum of black history. Cory's understanding of racial inequality ties into the theme of his coming of age in the novel.