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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Vesely

What I Remember About: A Separate Peace

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

What do I remember about A Separate Peace?

In this little recollection of memories, I’ll be taking a nostalgic trip through what I remember of John Knowles novel, A Separate Peace. Spoilers ahead.

I remember it being one of the only Freshman Year English books I genuinely enjoyed. I’m not going to say there’s a correlation, but the only other person in my class who loved it was also the only other gay kid. Again, not saying there’s a correlation.

Me and the other gay guy in the class understanding our love for A Separate Peace.

I remember my teacher never touching on the fact that there were obvious homosexual undertones to the novel. A friend of mine even remembers his teacher specifically saying that’s not what the story is about. But, let’s be honest here. A Separate Peace was written in a time when gay was taboo, so of course a book directly about a relationship that was perhaps teasing a little more than friendship, had to be a bit low key.

Personally, my most recent reading of it interpreted the narrator to be so confused with himself he never understands his feelings while at Devon. Phineas, though—I think he understands a bit more.

People who can read subtext, listening to a teacher say "there's nothing gay about this book."

I remember thinking Gene totally pushed Phineas off the tree. Was it totally on purpose? Well, about as much as second-degree murder is on purpose. Gene gets super worked up—tbh probably because of his misunderstood closeted feelings, but that’s neither here nor there—and his emotions cloud his judgement a bit. Still a dick move, Gene.

I remember beginning my understanding of love and hate, and how they exist closer to each other than we think. Sometimes, when you feel so strongly for someone, if you can’t love them you just have to hate them. If you can’t kiss them, you have to kill them (not always literally). Is it immature? Totally. Is it extremely problematic? Definitely. Is it simply trying to protect your own emotions, so you don’t explode and have some way to express them? Bingo.

Me, when I want to say "I love you," but can't.

I remember being super confused as a freshman in high school about medical stuff concerning Phin’s leg. Poor kid gets pushed off a tree, then falls down some steps, then bone-marrow seeps into his blood? Then he kicks the bucket. To be honest, I still don’t fully comprehend how he dies, but it doesn’t make the emotional sting any less of an ouch.

I remember having a crush on Phineas, but maybe that explains why all the gay guys in my class loved the book. He’s the kind of guy we still swoon over—an O.G. vintage crush.

A Separate Peace, perpetuating impossible standards since 1959.

Too soon?

I remember A Separate Peace being about something beyond just the two main characters. I remember it being about the little pieces of our lives we hold safely in our memories, the nostalgia we look back on fondly, the people we loved and the people we wished we could have loved more. And, the tragedy of turning that reality into memory. A separate peace, held safely in our pasts, in the midst of our chaotic present.

I remember being grateful for this book. It’s something that spoke to me—although quietly—as a little queer kid in high school. And, it opened me up to loving reading. It was something I could relate to, not just as a gay boy, but as a high schooler. And, it’s one of the books that sparked my love for reading. Coming back to it later in life, and reading it again with a better understanding of life and literature, I appreciate it even more.

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