Jim the Boy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the short story “Aliceville,” published in the collection Here We Are in Paradise (1994), Tony Earley captures a singular moment in the life of Jim Glass, Jr. that transforms the ordinary surroundings of his hometown into something unusually significant. Earley’s subsequent novel, Jim The Boy, explores young Jim’s boyhood in greater detail as he confronts his family’s past in the small rural town of Aliceville, North Carolina, and contemplates his place in the world beyond.

The small town of Aliceville is changing. Electricity has finally arrived, and the building of a new school has brought the children of several surrounding communities together for the first time. Jim’s perspective begins to expand as he gets a sense of the bigness and complexity of the world. A trip to coastal South Carolina with his uncle reveals a vast and beautiful ocean that he had never before known.

The novel reaches its emotional climax when Jim makes his first trip to Lynn Mountain, the boyhood home of his father, who died before he was born. Having known his father only in stories, Jim senses a new closeness in seeing where his father lived and facing his tyrannical grandfather, now a broken man on the verge of death.

Looking out from Lynn Mountain over Aliceville, and thinking about his father, his best friend now disabled by polio, and the wide, strange world that surrounds his home, Jim collapses. When he recovers, his uncles are at his side to reassure him that he is still just a boy.