Although the story incorporates elements of horror, it is more the story of a young boy’s coming of age and losing his innocence as he struggles to understand the forces of good and evil at work in his hometown of Zephyr, Alabama. Populating the book with references to popular culture, McCammon is able to re-create the world of 1964. Although there are elements of horror in the novel, it is more a work of high fantasy that utilizes the voice of an engaging young narrator that calls out from the recent past, allowing the reader to recapture childhood innocence.
The innocence of childhood—a world in which a boy’s bike ride becomes a flight and Famous Monsters of Filmland is required boyhood reading—is the most important aspect of McCammon’s work. McCammon once said that he uses innocence as “the author’s sense of wonder, at the characters and the setting and even the spooky elements.” Without this sense of wonder, the incidents in Boy’s Life would be merely a series of events that would read as relatively disjointed. With the sense of wonder, Boy’s Life is McCammon’s fictional autobiography as well as a celebration of childhood mystery and marvel, filled with targeted details and fully realized, rounded characters.
With the marked sensibilities of such diverse influences as Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and even Steven Spielberg, McCammon is able to shift his tale from the moral to the magical and back again, telling a coming-of-age story that is part mystery, part magic, part wonder, and part innocence. Using all the attendant forms of popular culture available to a twelve-year-old boy in 1964—comic books, baseball, roadside carnivals, monster films, and magazines—McCammon writes a paean to boyhood that is as effective as it is affecting. Boy’s Life is peopled with some of the most memorable southern characters in southern fiction.
AS we all know well by now, the modern American man is a wonderful creature - caring, open, sensitive, a boon not only to his buddies but also to the emancipated women he formerly treated like chattel. Or so we are to believe from the past decade's worth of confessional books, magazine columns and daytime talk shows in which man after man has bravely, even tearfully, come forth to testify that, yes, guys have feelings, too, and can cook quiche as well as eat it.
Being one of these swell new men myself, I probably should be offended by ''Boys' Life,'' a rude new play by Howard Korder about three male chums on the prowl for women in a present-day city that might be New York. The young men of ''Boys' Life'' will be boys, and, the title's allusion to a beloved childhood magazine notwithstanding, they're no Boy Scouts. When they are sensitive or caring, chances are they are pulling a trick, the desired result of which is to lure a woman into bed. These men think nothing of betraying one another, let alone their lovers, and, should they get married, they do so only to avoid the bother of crawling ''through the gutter to get regular sex.'' As Jack (Clark Gregg), the most cynical of the trio, puts it: ''We're men. We do terrible things. Let's admit we like them and go on from there.''
Mr. Korder goes on, all right. ''Boys' Life'' is a stinging chain of related blackout sketches, in which his characters stoop increasingly lower to woo women, even if they must ''talk about God for three hours'' or declare ''I love you'' to simulate the romantic illusion of intimacy. Yet the tone of ''Boys' Life'' is candid without being pompously judgmental. Though Mr. Korder is unsparing, he doesn't deny that his boys have charm. When confronted with evidence of infidelity by his girlfriend, Don (Jordan Lage) explains that he slept with another simply to see if he ''could get away with it'' - an answer so ingenuous that the girlfriend, no fool, is almost disarmed. When a woman of low self-esteem refuses to run off with Phil (Steven Goldstein) because she feels she is ''not worth the effort,'' he retrieves her ardor by glibly reassuring her that ''nobody's happy - that's the way things are supposed to be.''
''Boys' Life,'' now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is a production of the Atlantic Theater Company, a roving young ensemble formed by acting proteges of David Mamet and his frequent collaborator, W. H. Macy. The stylized comic writing - staccato, pithy, unerringly attuned to the vernacular - is Mametesque, and so is the brazenly heterosexual point of view. But lest anyone dismiss ''Boys' Life'' as a clone of Mr. Mamet's ''Sexual Perversity in Chicago,'' it must be added that Mr. Korder, while as yet more a sketch artist than a playwright, has his own pungent voice and distinctive gifts.
Unlike Mr. Mamet, Mr. Korder allows his women equal say. The female antagonists of ''Boys' Life'' are on to the men's tricks and speak up instantly to refuse the roles, whether that of sexual object or punishing mother, that their mates would assign them. What's more, Mr. Korder is showing us a different, younger generation than Mr. Mamet's - a crowd not well represented on stage to date. The characters of ''Boys' Life'' are middle class, but not exactly Yuppies; they don't talk about money or career. They're far removed from the 1960's - they vaguely recall it as a decade of ''happiness'' - and are contemptuous of the 70's, whose only memorable phenomena in their eyes were Watergate and the Sex Pistols. AIDS and all, ''Boys' Life'' takes us into the late 80's, if not the early 90's - a novel, though not necessarily cheering, theatrical sight.
The evening is so light and uneven that one doesn't want to oversell it. Some lines fall flat, as does one entire Act II bedroom scene. Compensation can be found in Mr. Korder's many wicked jokes, about such subjects as the connection between Scandinavian educational toys and the Swedish suicide rate, the lasting cultural resonance of Justin Henry's playground accident in the film ''Kramer vs. Kramer,'' and the destiny of the rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Nor is the play quite as artless as its fractionalized structure suggests. When we are belatedly introduced to Jack's much-belittled wife (Theo Cohan) in the evening's waning moments, it takes only a few lines for Mr. Korder to establish a sympathetic character who ripples retroactively through the preceding scenes, upending our settled moral judgments about much of her husband's behavior.
As directed with vitality by Mr. Macy on James Wolk's hip rollaway sets, the cast proves as promising as the author. The three leading men offer a deadly accurate sendup of masculine wiles, from the puppyish hysteria of Mr. Goldstein to the naive yet impenetrable narcissism of Mr. Lage to the witty, thinly veiled hostility of Mr. Gregg. The women are just as sharp, with perhaps the best bits falling to Melissa Bruder as a waitress who conducts a tug-of-war with her suitor over a dinner check and Felicity Huffman as a jogger who has never seen the movie ''It's a Wonderful Life'' and is proud not to follow its humanitarian example. ''Boys' Life'' is, if anything, the exact philosophical antithesis of ''It's a Wonderful Life.'' It offers boyish misanthropy as an antidote, welcome or not, to past and present cultural myths about the perfectability of the American man. THE MALE ANIMAL - BOYS' LIFE, by Howard Korder; directed by W. H. Macy; sets by James Wolk; costumes by Donna Zakowska; lighting by Steve Lawnick; sound by Aural Fixation; original music composed by David Yazbek; production manager, Jeff Hamlin.Continue reading the main story