Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years Themes
by George V. Higgins

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years continues George Higgins's effort to expand the perimeters of his fictional depiction of American (New England) life. His early novels impressed critics with the authenticity of their accounts of the lives and the voices of the men of Boston's lower class—its workers and petty criminals. Although Boston has remained the central ground of his fictional world, Higgins has broadened the social range of the lives and voices he recreates. The world now includes millionaires, politicians, journalists, ex-basketball and baseball players, car dealers, student radicals, a broad spectrum of lawyers (state and federal prosecutors, semi-seedy criminal lawyers, old school corporate attorneys), and, of course, a wide variety of workers and crooks. (It even includes an occasional woman among the protagonists.) The cast of Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years offers a millionaire contractor and his mentally unstable, institutionalized wife, Federal and corporate attorneys, hairdressers, nurses, and chauffeurs.

Although Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years, like most of Higgins's novels, employs a crime-and-justice plot, the principal crime here is a white-collar one involving the contractor's questionable political contributions; it occurred in the past; and the federal attorneys are more interested in using the prosecution to facilitate other indictments than in punishing the crime at hand. No one is very corrupt or very violent. The novel does not depend upon the conventions of the crime novel—cops and robbers, plans and pursuits, trails and verdicts and vendettas—to sustain the narrative. Rather, Higgins uses an inconsequential legal investigation as the occasion to examine the character of the investigators and the investigated. The values he emphasizes are those which preoccupy him in all his novels: loyalty (including loyalty to one's self: integrity) and shrewdness. Eugene Arbuckle, the contractor's chauffeur and one of the main voices in the novel, exemplifies the common man's version of these qualities: He knows himself; he accepts responsibility for his actions even when sued by an obnoxious drunk whom he had to knock unconscious; and he refuses to abandon a girlfriend who acquires the HIV virus. Even under heavy pressure from prosecutors, he cannot imagine betraying his employer. The wealthy Farley...

(The entire section is 541 words.)