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This set of stories revolves around the lives
of a bunch of schoolboys in 1966, something the author (or the publisher) takes
the trouble to inform us of on the title pages of each half of the book. This
first half is called 'On Monday', and contains a set of twelve fairly brief
stories. The characters overlap from story to story. Some are told from a first
person perspective; others in third person. The result is that you get a range
of insights into the lives of the boys, their teachers, and families. Several
of the stories are set at school. There's even one about the school janitor,
and we get some insights into the world of Miss Hart, the English teacher, a
wistful and romantic alcoholic. They're charming stories, nicely observed, and
there's warmth in Lloyd's narration. The author stands back for the most part,
and lets his characters speak, although he clearly has considerable empathy
with them. The characters are diverse. There's a fat kid, a skinny kid, a kid
who can dodge a fight, a kid who can end a fight. For the most part these are
working class boys, unsophisticated, not especially given to classroom
activities. Many of the stories are like anecdotes. There's a central event,
some sense of a setting and context, although not always a dramatic
development. The result is rather like opening the door to someone's house,
taking a quick look inside, and closing it before your observations can lead to
an explanation. That's fine in principle, although I was left feeling that I
needed to be a little more involved in order for some of these anecdotes to
really matter. Stories like Stain,
though, have genuine tension and a satisfying sense of getting one's own back
on a rather unkind teacher. And in Portraits
the simple-minded janitor Jim exacts a poignant revenge on the mean-spirited
geography teacher, Mr. Bowland. The conclusion of this story has the satisfying
effect of keeping the tension alive after the final sentence. In the memorable
story Snow the only male character is
an observer who says very little, but the story touchingly evokes the sadness
writing is straightforward. The stories are told in the plain language that
would be familiar to his characters. You get the sense that the stories are
written for a teen readership as much as for adults, but it would be misleading
to characterize this work as either teen or adult. It straddles the two markets,
and what adult insights might be lost in the teen point of view are compensated
by the directness of the insights into a world from which contemporary adults
are both historically and chronologically alienated. There are a few instances
where Lloyd overtells, such as in 'Isaac and Abraham' where a biblical story is
being used as an allusion, and the protagonist informs us that 'I knew exactly
what she's talking about'. And the phrase 'get a life' (in As Always, Jason) seemed out of place in the 1966 setting.
In the novella Boys Only Lloyd really finds his voice. The story covers the life
of three boys, Joey, Frank, and Chris, told through the first person point of
view of Chris. This is a coming of age story, with the relationships between
the boys following a series of twists and turns as they encounter violence,
girls, death, and loyalty. This is a group living on the edge of a world they
know little of, but which is very familiar to the modern reader. Joey's cousin
dies in Vietnam, Chris's sister, the moody and idealistic Jenny, is anti-war,
reading On the Road, and will make it
to Haight Ashbury if her boyfriend's clapped out Ford can get past Cleveland.
Frank is rather dim, and when he becomes aware that making it socially it is
going to be difficult, he gives us Dylan's 'join the army if you fail' line.
There are many affecting scenes in this story. Chris's Welsh grandfather,
delightfully referred to as his 'Taid', recalls with regret the loss of the
familiar landscape of Wales. When his Taid is confined to bed, Chris can barely
bring himself to help him with his urine bottle. Frank's grief at the death of
his grandfather is so overwhelming it is something of a relief to the reader to
follow the story at one remove through Joey and Chris. Of the three boys, Joey
is the most knowing, and it he who eventually gives voice to the theme of the
novella, that they all have to grow up.
Overall, this is a highly readable collection.
It would make a great text for a high school literature class, and could also
inform the grandchildren of the sixties generation of how things were in the
year that preceded the summer of love.
© 2005 Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien is a short story writer and lecturer in mental health
nursing at the University of Auckland, New Zealand: [email protected]
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