Cory Mackenson is twelve years old, lives in Alabama and likes to tell stories. Dramaturgy, details, dialogues: he masters all of this so perfectly that his friends are very keen on the anecdotes that he shakes from his sleeve. Now some narrators maintain an extremely relaxed relationship with unheard-of events, which arise entirely from their imagination, but help the effect of the story on the jumps. This also applies to fictional characters. Cory is under the urgent suspicion of constantly using the arsenal of his imagination, but he cannot be convincingly convicted.
The boy describes the everyday life of the conceived village of Zephyr in 1964, and suddenly ghosts cross his path, his bike develops a life of its own, helps a little voodoo to solve a murder case. Fortunately, whether this happens in his head alone or is actually part of the narrated world remains uncertain. If Cory’s six hundred-page chronicle called “Boy’s Life” were a film, you couldn’t avoid the “Popcorn Cinema” label.
That what-costs-the-world feeling
Robert McCammon, who published the novel in the United States in 1991, was one of the most important authors of horror literature from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. In “Boy’s Life” he not only shows that he can conjure up vivid shocking scenes with just a few sentences – for example when a dog that has been driven to death is slowly turning into a zombie – but also that all genres and registers suit him. Coming-of-age, comedy, mystery and realism: not many authors can conch such a potpourri to artistic delicacies. Nevertheless, hardly anyone will remember the book published here in 2004 for the first time under the title “Innocence and Disaster”.
For a long time, McCammon refrains from turning the genre screw; rather, he strings together episodes that do not make sense economically, but nevertheless form a viable framework. At the center of several passages sparkles that magical “what-the-world-feeling” that Cory and his friends enjoy as much as the teenagers in Stephen King’s novels.
Archetypal decay figures
As a dark counterweight, McCammon describes how the black population in a separate district is left to its own devices and terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. Not to forget the murder: Cory and his father Tom drink milk and watch a car go full throttle into a lake. Tom stops and jumps behind. A man sits at the wheel, his face beaten to pulp, his throat cut open by a copper wire. From now on, father and son have to struggle with this experience. Tom is haunted by nightmares, Cory tries to solve the crime.
He encounters western heroes, quirky village plants, Nazis, bullying classmates and a pastor who uses his services to track down satanic messages in the beach boys song “I Get Around”. These archetypal decay figures fit in with the time of change, which gives the book a melancholic basic tone: “There was always talk of a country called Vietnam in the news. Unrest broke out in cities like skirmishes in an unofficial war. A vague, bad premonition spread throughout the country as we approached the plastic age of disposable consumption. ”
Once, Vernon, the city tycoon ‘s always walking son, tells the story of a writer whose debut has no common thread, but is made up of countless small events. It is, he says, “from life”. The publisher accepted the manuscript on the condition that the author included a crime plot, one had to think about the paragraph. This would nevertheless ruin the book, because now it only addresses readers who “lusted after the unpleasant”. So does Robert McCammon want to tell us that he doubts the seriousness of the murder in his novel, or is he practicing coquetry? He hardly needs both, because “Boy’s Life” is not just a fabulous crime thriller, but great literature.
Robert McCammon: “Boy’s Life – The Search for a Murderer”. Novel. From the English by Nicole Lischewski. Luzifer Verlag, Munich 2020. 582 pages, br., 16.95.