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Jim the Boy : A Novel Paperback – April 1, 2001
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Tony Earley made his debut with Here We Are in Paradise, a superbly understated collection of (mostly) small-town vignettes. He returns to the same terrain in his first novel, Jim the Boy, setting this coming-of-age story in a remote North Carolina hamlet. The year is 1934, and like the rest of the country, Aliceville is feeling the pinch of the Great Depression. Yet neither Jim nor his mother nor his three uncles--who have split the paternal role neatly among themselves since the death of Jim's father a decade earlier--are feeling much in the way of economic pain. Indeed, if you stuck a satellite dish on the front lawn, the story might be taking place in the New South rather than the older, bucolic one.
This isn't to suggest that Earley is deaf to social detail. Indeed, there are all sorts of wonderful touches, like the décor in Jim's classroom, with its "large, colorful maps of the United States, the Confederacy, and the Holy Land during the time of Jesus." But Jim the Boy is very much the tale of a 10-year-old's expanding consciousness, which at first barely extends beyond the family property. Earley has a real gift for conveying childhood epiphanies, like Jim's sudden apprehension of the wider world during a trip in Uncle Al's truck:
Two thoughts came to Jim at once, joined by a thread of amazement: he thought, People live here, and he thought, They don't know who I am. At that moment the world opened up around Jim like hands that, until that moment, had been cupped around him; he felt very small, almost invisible, in the open air of their center, but knew that the hands would not let him go. It was almost like flying.The simple lyricism and anti-ironic sweetness work mostly to the book's advantage. There are times, it's true, when Earley sands his prose down to an unnatural smoothness, and we seem to be edging toward the sentimental precincts of a young-adult novel. But on the whole, Jim the Boy is a lovely, meticulous work--a song of innocence and (eventually) experience, delivered with just a hint of a North Carolina accent. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Simple, resonant sentences and a wealth of honest feeling propel this tracing of a 10-year-old boy's coming of age in Aliceville, N.C., in the 1930s. Earley's debut novel (after his well-received collection Here We Are in Paradise) carries us, in charmingly ungangly fashion, toward its moving, final epiphanies. Quizzical, innocent Jim Glass lives on a farm with his widowed mother and three uncles, who provide companionship for the boy and offer casual wisdom on life's travails. Jim's father's sudden death at age 23 left a wake of tenderness as his legacy, so much so that Jim's mother still feels married even after his death. However, she will never speak to her father-in-law, who has spent some time in jail and is a despicable loner with a rumored penchant for illegally distilled whiskey. The stormy background Earley provides makes Jim's openness and na?vet? all the more haunting. The narrative develops as a series of loosely related, moving anecdotes: the tragic story behind Aliceville's name, a trip with an uncle to buy a horse that becomes a lesson in the transience of corporeal life, a race up a greased pole at a carnival that casts a new light on Jim's bonds with another boy, Jim's best friend's struggle with polio, Jim's mother's resistance to a suitor, and the introduction of electricity to Aliceville on Christmas Eve. In roundabout fashion, and in simple, often poetic prose, Earley brings his protagonist to knowledge of his identity. The dramatic and entrancing growth of this wisdom may strike some readers as overly sentimental. Nevertheless, the closure the book achieves is solid and well-earned. 7-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The only thing I didn't like was the ending. It just...ended. The book only portrayed one year in Jim's life and ended with him meeting his grandfather, who was dying and didn't even know Jim was there. It was like Mr Earley had written all he could think of about this character, Jim, so he just stopped. Kind of a disappointing let down.
Imagine "Catcher in the Rye" written from the point of view of a child who actually wants to catch baseballs, and who may be growing up on a farm that COULD be growing rye, and is as Southern rural as you can get without stomping on any politically correct toes.
Tony Earley's first "novel" isn't so much a novel as it is a humorous and melancholy episodal remembrance of pre-adolescence in a small Southern town. Since Earley's date of birth comes much later than the setting in the novel (and Earley was born a scant few years before my birth), and since the small town in question is (apparently) about 30 miles from my small town of birth, I have a soft spot for his prose. The reader will NOT find a great novel here; however, the reader will find a tender and nuanced piece of fiction that will bring back memories to anyone born in the South sometime before the 1970's. Indeed, those born in ANY small town with any knowledge of their childhood-town's history will wince and nod knowingly, assuming that Earley was really writing about their town. Jim's coming of age has no rude points, but suggests the pre-adolescent angst.
The book is concise--you can easily read it in one sitting, probably in a few hours. If the milieu and memories dredged up resound with you, the reader will probably want to go back and re-read some of the sections, just for the nostalgia. And, all that aside, the last section of the book, indeed, the last 3 or 4 pages of the book, are perhaps the best writing to come out of the South in decades. Earley has pieced together vignettes that border upon "young adult" fiction, along with a style that reminds one of Faulkner at his wittiest and Welty at her tenderest, and topped it off with a heart-wrenching finale that should make you cry.
I should reiterate "witty"--there are some belly laughs in this book. The "lights on" section is laugh-out-loud, and the acerbic humor of the uncles deserves more chapters, or at least a re-visitation by Earley. The understated humor, even in the dramatic passages, suggest that Earley is holding back on us--he could become this generation's version of Jean Shepherd, if he chose to.
The main drawback to the book is that it's too short. I gave it less than 5 stars mainly because of that, and partly because it sometimes reads as if some of the sections were meant as "young adult" prose but then changed into a "real adult" novel. I've been a fan of Earley even before his short stories were collected in "Here We Are in Paradise", and had hoped that his first novel would be a massive neo-Faulkner/Percy/Welty revival. I was disappointed with "Jim the Boy" for the first few tens of pages due to that expectation. Then, I got into the flow of the writing, and changed my expectations. The book reads in many places like a "young adult" work, and that's OK--I'd recommend it for teenagers. Then again, the nuances and beauty of the writing are obviously a bit more sophisticated than most "young adult" offerings, so it must be a real adult book.
Of course, "As I Lay Dying" reads like a "young adult" book, and look what's in there. And, as I suggested earlier, IF you're from a small town and latch onto the protagonists in the first 20 or so pages, you'll bawl like a baby on the last page.
It hearkens back to a time that was more idyllic and colorful.
I havent lived in the south, heck- I havent even visited. So, I couldn't tell you how the novel takes on that particular region and culture, and whether or not it is authentic and all that jazz.
But I can tell you this: Reading this book (and the sequel, THE BLUE STAR) reminds me a great deal of the stage production "Our Town."
For me, it captures brief moments in time that are frozen and almost crystalized. Moments that are written with humanity and that have an underlying sadness to them, but still make you want more.
I felt that this book was brilliantly written, the style was easy to get in touch with, I liked the characters and had in my mind pictures of them and the little town of Aliceville. A great read and I am so happy that I was able to stumble across this little gem. Wonderful, simply amazing.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jim the Boy by Tony Earley is a sweet tale of a young man that begins on his 10th birthday and ends on his 11th.Read more