Close Enough to Touch

by Richard Peck

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

Close Enough to Touch presents a brief journey from loss to recovery and renewal narrated by Matt Moran, a seventeen- year-old high school junior in the Chicago suburbs, whose girlfriend, Dory Gunderson, has died suddenly and unexpectedly of an aneurysm. In Matt's present-tense narrative of events covering several weeks in the spring of his junior year, Peck reveals a young adult confronting not only the difficulties of loss and grief but also questions and problems involving individual identity, social class, and alienation. The narrative follows Matt as he moves from withdrawal, silence, and obsession with the memory of Dory to guilt over the wearing away of her memory and eventually to an acceptance of her loss. This development is accompanied by rejection of Dory's clique of shallow upper-middle-class friends and an awareness that he has fallen in love with a senior girl, the witty, strong-willed, and individualistic Margaret Chasen.

Peck has written that in his novels "young surrogates for the readers have to take steps nearer maturity" and that these steps "are away from the peer group." Matt Moran, by grappling with the death of Dory, distances himself from his peers and discovers where his own identity can best be defined. He moves beyond identification with groups—Dory's upper-crust friends in the posh neighborhood of Glenburnie Woods—to an ability to relate to individuals— the somewhat eccentric Margaret and the comical but affectionately portrayed football hero, Joe Hoenig. Matt's distancing himself from his suburban world allows him to recognize much of the emptiness of Dory's social sphere and consequently of Dory herself.

An astute, often witty and critical observer of life, Matt matures in his weeks of introversion and reenters his world with a sense of affirmation— affirmation for Margaret, for his working- class father, grandmother, and stepmother, and for the family cottage on a small nearby lake where many of the turning points in Matt's development occur. It is at the cottage where Matt declares his love to Dory. He goes there attempting to find release in distance running on the morning of Dory's funeral. Later he meets Margaret there in a ditch where she has been thrown by her horse. The novel ends there with Matt and Margaret sitting on the dock where he once sat with Dory. The circular and repetitive structure involved in Matt's visits to the cottage emphasizes Matt's growing awareness of death and renewal. Despite the tragic fact of death at the center of Matt's narrative, Peck's novel contains many comic moments and gives a view of life that is ultimately affirmative, conveying respect and encouragement for human resilience.

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