Although set in the rural 1960’s town of Zephyr, the journey Robert McCammon takes readers on is anything but mundane. When I first began the book, I was not sure how to feel, or even how McCammon intended to make me feel. There were many subplots which revolved around various themes, such as the racial inequality Bruton citizens faced or the burdens of death revolving mainly around the murder at Saxon’s Lake. Yet, all of these stories were tied together into something bigger; this tale is not one of mystery, but of self-discovery. It's all traced back to Cory’s adventure and his coming-of-age.
However, Cory’s story is not what I fell in love with. While the imaginative aspects of his narration and his childlike spirit did make Boy’s Life an entertaining read, and Cory’s passion for writing and science fiction struck a chord with my own aspiring-novelist heart, Vernon is the character that really stood out to me. Although readers can infer that Vernon is an adult, his exact age remains ambiguous throughout the story; he can be anywhere between 20 to 40 years old. Despite this, Vernon does not act his age. Instead, he lives like a hedonistic child, finding pleasure in eating chocolate cake for dinner, playing with train sets, and patrolling Zephyr’s streets commando.
Yes, he is eccentric, and evidently mentally ill. Vernon’s life is ruled by his Peter Pan complex and dissociative symptoms, but there is so much beauty to his character that one cannot deny. When he sits Cory down at dinner and hauntingly discusses his life story, I see so much passion in Vernon matched with an equal love for the people around him. Some may think Vernon’s decision to change his book into a murder mystery for mass consumption was cowardly, yet I think it was self-sacrificing for reasons that were valid to him. With Vernon’s mother committing suicide, his business-oriented and harsh dad was all he had left. Vernon received a lifetime of backlash from his father, who criticized his dreams of being a novelist by addressing them as pointless and impractical fantasies. Vernon felt like a failure for so long that he gave up the one thing he worked so hard towards, his passion, his novel, in order to please his father and spent the rest of his life regretting it when it all was in vain.
Vernon’s flaws are so human and hit so close to home with me, due to our similar upbringings and coping mechanisms, that I could not help but get attached. The psychology of it all and the complexity of his story gives Boy’s Life a new depth and makes great commentary on the faulty consumerism associated with progress and gentrification. Vernon is a necessary addition to the novel and allows Cory to discover more about a world outside of Zephyr’s barriers, giving him writing material he will never forget.