Boy’s Life is many things. It is, in part, a mystery, but there are also enough dark moments in the book for me to consider it a horror story as well. It is a magical and very beautiful tale about being a boy and growing up and . . . well . . . a boy’s life.
There is a lot happening in this book. It has many interesting subplots and some wonderful characters. In fact, if you try and imagine Boy’s Life as a box, that box would contain quite a lot of stories and McCammom, master storyteller that he is, has strung all of those stories perfectly together into one much longer tale that is so good it makes one sad to close the lid on the box at the end.
Boy’s life is written in the first person and the story is narrated to the reader by a man named Corey Jay Mackenson. At the beginning of the book Cory tells us he is approaching his fortieth birthday and that he has decided to set down some of his memories on paper. The story that is narrated in the next 530 or so pages all concern the events of a distant summer.
In 1964, when he was twelve, Corey was still living in the small town of Zephyr, where it was never too hot and never too cold and—so Corey assures us—Zephyr was a magic place. Before the reader encounters any magic though, they are presented with a murder.
Corey’s father is a milkman and on his busier mornings he sometimes takes his son with him to help on the rounds. It is on a morning such as this that the real story starts. Corey and his father are just rounding a bend in the road when a brown car veers in front of them and drops down into the lake. There is a man behind the wheel, and Saxon’s Lake is bottomless, so without any hesitation Corey’s father stops his truck, gets out and dives into the lake to save the driver of the car. There is every chance that the car will drag him down with it and even though Tom Mackenson is a strong swimmer, the fact that he is willing to risk his life for a stranger should give the reader some idea of what kind of a man Tom is.
Unfortunately the man in the car is already beyond being helped. He is young and fair haired has been handcuffed to the wheel. Worse still, when the head lolls back Tom sees that the young man’s face shows all the signs of a savage beating and he is wearing a gruesome necktie of copper piano wire that has been pulled so tight that it has cut into his dead flesh.
Tom Mackenson has seen dead bodies before, but never anything like this and the memory of what he has seen haunts him from that moment on and the dead man invades Tom’s dreams calling for him to “Come join me down in the dark.” One of the hardest things for Tom to deal with is the fact that the killer must surely be a local person, because only a local would know that the lake was so deep. In fact, if Tom and Corey hadn’t witnessed the car going into the lake, no one would ever have known anything about the murder. Another thing that haunts Tom is the sad fact that nobody knows even seems to know the identity of the dead man.
While his father is risking his life in the lake Corey glances over towards the woods and sees someone standing there watching and wearing a long, dark coat. Corey looks away for a moment and when he looks back the figure has gone. Corey does not tell anyone about what he has seen, but later, while his father is talking to the sheriff, he walks over to where he thought the figure had been standing, but can see no signs of anyone ever being there. When he gets home though, he finds something stuck to the bottom of his shoe. It is a green feather.
The search for the identity of the dead man and his killer form the main storyline, but, as I said earlier, there is so much more to Boy’s Life. A phantom car called Midnight Mona haunts the roads around Zephyr, there is a monster in the river, a dinosaur from the lost world stalking the woods, and even a monkey called Lucifer who has a very unusual self defence technique—it poops on its victims. And if all of this is not enough there is a black, voodoo queen, called the Lady, who is 106-years-old and gives Corey the gift of a rather special bicycle . There is even a very old gunfighter called that Candystick Kid. What a name! You can be sure there is a story behind that one. All of these people and things have their place in this wonderful story and help to make Boy’s Life the great read that it is. I cannot praise this book enough. I’ve now read it twice and I loved it both times.