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Stop-Time is a fictionalized account of the early life of its author. It ends as he emerges into young adulthood, after his acceptance at Haverford College. Between a prologue and epilogue which together form a distinct suspended narrative, Conroy offers twenty chapters that primarily focus on early adolescence. Each chapter is named for one of its images or scenes. While one event or image gives unity to each chapter, chapters may also include events or impressions that are thematically, rather than dramatically, related. The chapter “Nights Away from Home,” for example, revolves around the adolescent Frank’s attempt to run away from New York to his childhood world of Florida, but that narrative is interspersed with other recollections of nocturnal alienation and disorientation, some of them quite fragmentary and devoid of narrative context.

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Conroy begins and ends the account of his childhood and adolescence within a frame, presumably located in the present. The writer, now married and living in England, appears to have secured a calm and productive life. Yet he is addicted to wild, dangerous drives in the country. Once or twice weekly he compulsively races without headlights through the streets of South London, driving his Jaguar alone through the English countryside at speeds of more than one hundred miles per hour: “anything at all,” he says, “to keep the speed, to maintain the speed and streak through the dark world.” At the end of his story, the speaker again describes the nighttime drives and ends with a near-death collision. Paralyzed yet peaceful in anticipation of an imminent crash and a seemingly welcome death, the narrator nevertheless escapes, laughing.

The frame not only confirms that Conroy has indeed escaped his childhood and become a living writer, but it suggests the drama and intensity of the story placed within it. Conroy’s experiences growing up within a drifting, mentally unstable family continually veer between providing a sense of self and a sense of annihilation. The story is ostensibly structured around the chronology of his parents’ wanderings but its internal organization is based on the maturing consciousness of the child. In Faulknerian fashion, the analysis of the child’s thoughts and actions is not given through the dispassionate retrospection of an adult narrator but seems to emerge from the past under recall. It appears as the spilling-over of the child’s unconscious: something felt and thought by the child regardless of his inability to have articulated it in quite the language the author gives him. With the intimacy, urgency, and detail of psychological self-analysis, this roughly chronological narrative of American youth combines vivid realism with the imagery of dreams. Its episodic structure alternates between many small plots, told with the compression and resonance of short fiction, and nearly actionless depictions of trancelike states of consciousness to which Conroy is attracted as a child as well as an adult. Conroy effectively communicates the disorientation of the child through his depiction of the extreme close-up, hallucinatory experiences, and complete subjectivism. He makes no attempt to present characters objectively, or even to give them much dialogue of their own. All is told through the consciousness of the emergent author, who even in childhood has a critical eye for detail and strong impressions, especially of the grotesque.

Events in the story carry narrative weight in proportion to their significance to the child. Thus a yo-yo contest occupies an entire chapter and provides one of the book’s central metaphors. Of equal importance is young Frank’s terrifying habit of playing on a tenement rooftop while fantasizing about jumping to the street below. From within the child’s world, Conroy makes minimal reference to any life outside the family or school. He offers no claims to have participated in national events, to have known famous people, or even to have developed as a product of his age.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 51

Dienstag, Eleanor. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXII (November 12, 1967), p. 22.

Eakin, Paul John. Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention, 1985.

Jenks, Tom. “How Writers Live Today,” in Esquire. CIV (August, 1985).

Jonker, Howard. Review in Newsweek. LXX (November 6, 1967), p. 96.

Tanner, Tony. City of Words: American Fiction, 1950-1970, 1971.

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