Setting

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195

Although Matt Moran's story begins at his family's lakeside cottage during the summer before Dory's tragic death, the bulk of the narrative covers the period from Dory's funeral in March to the close of the school year and is largely set in Glenburnie, a northwest suburb of Chicago in the 1970s. This is a realistically drawn world of freeways, upper-class neighborhoods enclosed behind stone gateways, high schools with large parking lots, apartment complexes with names like "Camelot Close," shopping malls, and decaying downtown store fronts. Matt's perceptions show a decided preference for the small farm town Glenburnie where his grandparents grew up, and a distinct awareness of class contrasts, chiefly those between the apartment where he lives with his working-class father and stepmother and the spacious homes, lawns, and golf greens of Glenburnie Woods.

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Contrasting with all this is the cottage on Juniper Lake, a location for love, meditation, exercise, and eventually Matt's emotional renewal. The cottage, although part of the past, having been built by Matt's grandfather, is more a place where Matt realizes a fuller sense of time. It is here that he learns how time heals and carries life forward with continuity.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

In Close Enough to Touch, Peck's use of first-person narration largely in the present tense gives a confessional tone and engaging immediacy to Matt's story. The technique does much to make Matt what Peck has called a "surrogate" for the reader. Such narration is a common literary characteristic of the young adult novel, deriving according to some critics, from Holden Caulfield's striking narrative style in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Peck creates a unity in Matt's story sometimes using allusion, symbolism, and most consistently, a meaningful structuring of setting. The action shifts between the often empty activity of the suburb and the healthy isolation of the cottage on Juniper Lake where loss can be adjusted to things that do not seem to change. At the lake the past becomes part of the present, not a memory that threatens to arrest Matt's development. When Matt meets Margaret at the lake, her antique riding habit and aristocratic manner suggest that the past has come alive again. Margaret herself sums up the feeling when explaining why she rides sidesaddle: "It's linking up a part of the past with the present. Who wants to be locked into anything— even a time." This larger sense of time is evident at the end of the novel when Matt sits on the dock with Margaret where he once sat with Dory. The past returns, but with much difference.

In the suburbs setting is also meaningfully employed, especially in the descriptions of Glenburnie Woods where the stone entrance way reflects the insulation of the inhabitants, and the large empty spaces on vast lawns and within huge living rooms suggest the emptiness of the lives led there. Finally there is Peck's use of the Hopkins poem as a way not only to introduce Matt to a perspective on death but also to meaningfully link characters and events. Dory's silent, childlike grief for the dying deer can in retrospect remind the reader of the child, Margaret, grieving in the poem for the dying leaves. Unlike the child in the poem, however, Dory herself dies before growing to realize that she grieves for the inevitability of her own death and the fact of death itself. Margaret Chasen, whose name comes from the poem, has, unlike Dory, matured and is, in a sense, the child of the poem grown up. The literary qualities, some more apparent than others, give a rich and rewarding texture to Matt's narrative and demonstrate that beneath the straightforward prose of Peck's novel there is structural subtlety to reward closer scrutiny.

Social Sensitivity

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 314

Like many examples of the realistic young adult novel, Close Enough to Touch involves some matters that could possibly concern some readers and their parents. The believable contemporary young adult in fiction may inevitably confront issues involving sexuality, drugs, alcohol, and often violence. Although death is a central theme in the novel, there is nothing violent or gruesome involved. Neither does violence enter into any other part of Matt's experience. Peck has, however, created a protagonist who recognizes sexuality, drugs, and drinking as part of the world of his suburban peers, but his encounters with these things are handled with sensitivity by the author. None of the problems involved with such realities are a chief concern of the novel, yet they are implied as part of Matt's environment.

Matt quite openly and maturely declares his unrealized sexual desire for Dory to his father, who is somewhat embarrassed by his son's frankness. Even so, Matt declares the sexual element of his love with a sense of human understanding and rationality. Matt's attempt to release his grief for Dory's death by getting drunk is presented as his first and only serious experiment with underage drinking. Furthermore, the narrative makes a clear point about Matt not driving while drunk. Some readers might take issue with the fact that Matt's family does not discipline or lecture him about his experiment with alcohol, but Peck presents Matt's family as fully aware that Matt's attempt to lose grief in drink was a failed experiment from which he has learned a lesson. Drugs play only a peripheral part in Matt's experiences. He only notes at one point that two of Dory's group, Todd and Jay, walk off to smoke a joint during the junior carwash at the mall. Matt, however, seems to have no interest in such activity. Matt, himself a sensitive and increasingly mature young man, treats these issues sensibly.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth. Coping with Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1981. This and earlier books by the same writer are particularly useful in outlining the stages of acceptance which may be applied to the development of Matt in Close Enough to Touch as well as to the development of protagonists in other young adult novels dealing with death and dying.

Peck, Richard. Anonymously Yours. New York: J. Messner, 1991. In this autobiographical volume, Peck especially emphasizes how he became a writer for young adults and how material from his life is utilized in his fiction.

——. "In the Country of Teenage Fiction." American Libraries 4 (April 1973): 204-207. Peck here writes about young adult needs in relation to young adult literature.

——. "Richard Peck." In Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. Edited by Donald R. Gallo. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1990:165-167. In this sketch Peck provides thoughts on his own education, on what made him a writer, and gives some advice for aspiring young writers.

——. "Richard Peck on Landmarks." In Literature for Today's Young Adults, by Kenneth L. Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen, eds. 3d ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1980: 226. This brief statement by Peck discusses what he sees as the major concerns in his novels and presents some of his ideas about the difficulties involved in locating landmarks in the journey of growing up in the modern age.

——. "Some Thoughts on Adolescent Literature." News from ALAN 3 (September- October 1975): 4-7. In this article Peck outlines what he sees as the identifiable characteristics of young adult fiction.

Root, Sheldon L. "The New Realism— Some Personal Reflections." Language Arts 54 (January 1977): 19- 24. This contains some useful ideas on how realism has changed young adult fiction and thoughts on how to effectively evaluate this new realism.

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick. "Young Adult Realism: Conventions, Narrators, and Readers." Library Quarterly 55 (April 1985): 174-191. Ross provides observations on narrative style particularly applicable to Peck's use of first-person narration.

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