“Boy’s Life” by Robert R. McCammon, published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Zephyr, Alabama, is a small town where Cory Mackenson grew up in the early 60s. His father, Tom, was a milkman and sometimes Cory would ride with him early in the morning to help drop off full bottles of milk and cream and pick up the empties, which they’d sterilize and refill.
I remember those days myself. At my house in North Arlington, New Jersey, we had an insulated box where the empty bottles would go, and then, on the next day, I would go out and get the fresh bottles of milk, sweating in the early morning and bring them into the house. Those were the days before the big box supermarkets opened up, putting all the mom and pop grocery stores out of business.
The small dairies went down, too, because everyone bought their milk in those big box supermarkets with the angry lights where the people behind the cash registers would ring up our orders and take our money but didn’t know our names. The world changed and a boy’s life isn’t the same now as it was when I was young.
Cory was out on an early morning run with his dad on a curve near Saxon’s Lake, the lake that was rumored to have no bottom, and as they went round the curve, a brown car rolled across the road into the lake. The lights were off but they could see someone behind the wheel.
Cory’s dad, Tom, jumped out of the milk truck, dove into the Saxon’s Lake to save the guy and when he got to the car, he looked in and the man’s face was all battered and bruised and he was handcuffed to the steering wheel. There was nothing he could do, but he knew that vision would haunt him for the rest of his life.
However, there were answers to be found and I dare not spoil the world you will enter when you travel to Zephyr. It becomes your town and your life. When Cory sees the look on his dad’s face as he comes out of the water, he knows that a major, life-changing event has taken place.
This book is one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read. Robert R. McCammon has that special touch with words—he brought me back in time and I felt that I was living this story. All the different issues that I remember from my childhood such as segregation, bullying, long exciting bicycle rides, events held in my place of worship and so much more were magically brought back to me.
The mixture of events that take place touched me personally: the loss of a young friend, the mom and pop grocery store my father owned in Newark, New Jersey, where all the customers were black and the different lifestyles I encountered when I worked in my dad’s store.
Across the river from Zephyr is the magical Blacktown. The Lady, the matriarch of Blacktown, is more than a century old and no one dares cross her unless they want to be haunted. Yet The Lady is also a healer and a peacekeeper and plays a large part in the life of Cory Mackenson.
There’s also the mysterious river, complete with its resident water monster, which is fed raw meat by the folks of Blacktown every year on Good Friday.
This book was written over 20 years ago but it is still available in stores and various websites for a reasonable amount of money—both in hardcover and pocketbook editions. I bought mine in the used book department of Harvard Book Store for only $3.50.
There are not many adventures that cost so little and mean so much. I highly recommend this book. If you read it, you’ll be glad you did and you’ll certainly seek out other books by Robert J. McCammon, like his Matthew Corbett series, which is now into its sixth book (McCammon hasn’t lost his touch even though he’s now close to my age). I’m eagerly awaiting the last two entries to bring closure to the riveting adventures of Matthew Corbett in the 17th century.
This is not a Matthew Corbett review, so I shall end by speaking of the magic of Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon and the fact that, of all the multiple tales within this book, Mr. McCammon is able to tie the knots of each one and I was left more than satisfied.
It’s a book that let’s us repeat our own young days and the summers that would never end.