Snakes by Danielle Evans vs. A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Something that just occurred to me when I finished writing about Danielle Evans' book last night was, weirdly enough, the similarities between some of the stories and (speaking of school staples) the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the reading of which I believe is a requirement for high school graduation in the U.S.  To be fair, some of the themes they share are classic: adolescence and the anxiety surrounding identity, the unexpected surge of the subconscious at critical adrenaline-packed moments.  But there is also actually a scene that mirrors the did-you-push-me-or-did-I-fall-from-the-tree one in A Separate Peace and it occurs to me that if Evans did this on purpose it could actually be quite clever for a number of reasons.  Just for example, the fact that A Separate Peace is still assigned to teenagers sort of reflects mainstream white America's fears about itself, right down to the distinct whiff of homosexual undercurrents.  I don't think it's a bad book, but it's not a great one, and it's convenient for a lazy social conscience in terms of it being an American coming-of-age tale that still maintains G-ratedness and an absolute grip on upper-class white maleness.  Just for the record, I'm not prone to saying things like that unless I'm completely serious.  I can't remember ever hearing of a time that a story of adolescent friendship between females was used as fodder for serious discussion in a high school classroom.  There seems something telling about the fact that this is the story we find appropriate to give our children to read when we feel they are old enough to start facing some of the hard truths of life, but sex or violence of any kind is still off the table.  I don't think the book is to blame for this, as one of the main themes is the idealization and isolation of adolescence that must at some point be broken, but it's not anywhere near good enough to be as ubiquitous in schools as it has become.  The story of Evans' that I mentioned is called "Snakes," and the characters in the Tree Scene are not adolescent boys but very young girls who have already dealt with many more life complications than Gene and Phineas, which seems to highlight the fears mentioned above.  So I do kind of hope it was intentional, but it's interesting in either case.  Also, I just did a search, and I'm apparently not the only one.  A Washington Post review suggests the same comparison, and I totally agree that if someone is going to teach A Separate Peace, they should supplement it with "Snakes."

2 comments:

  1. Your point about white-male-centeredness, if you'll excuse my awkward rendition of that idea, is an excellent one and is rendered in your usual clear and comfortable style. I suspect that the Knowles book is less ubiquitous in high school classes than you suggest (but I could well be wrong). The notion of adding a novel in a HS English class as a supplement to the curriculum, while good in the reality we ought to be in, is extremely unlikely to happen in the overstressed, over-testing, over-regulated high schools most students in the U.S. attend. That is very sad, of course.

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  2. This is a great blog. I came across it searching for writer reaction to Danielle Evans' collection (which is the most amazing thing I've read in years). I'll definitely keep checking in. Thanks for putting it all out there.

    Jack Kaulfus

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