Originally posted here.
…Light came and went and came again, the booming strokes of three o’clock beat out across the town in thronging bronze, light winds of April blew the fountain out in rainbow sheets, until the plume returned and pulsed, as Grover turned into the Square.
Thomas Wolfe, The Lost Boy
The Lost Boy, a novella by Thomas Wolfe is a surprising gem of a story. A fictionalized portrait of the author’s elder brother, who died of typhoid fever at age twelve, the novella consists of four parts each told from a different point of view. The first is a third person narrative that presents an important afternoon in Grover’s life. We see him at home, roaming around the town square, going from shop to shop. He builds up his nerve and purchases 15 cents worth of fudge from the stingy candy shop owner who is angered that Grover pays him in stamps and insists he return three one cent stamps the boy mistakenly gave him. Afriad that the store keeper will accuse him of stealing the stamps, he confesses to his father who takes dramatic action to correct the situation.
The second and third parts look at Grover from the point of view of his mother, who has always held that Grover was the smartest of her children, and his sister, who can’t quite believe that the author does not remember Grover more than he does. The interesting story here is that of the mother. She relates the tale of a train ride from St. Louis to Indiana and how proud she is that her son insists a black man return to the proper passenger car once they enter Indiana even though Jim Crow laws do not apply there. This part of the novella was excised by Wolfe’s editors in early editions, but I’d have to suport it’s inclusion in this version. Wolfe is telling it like it was, showing us that his mother’s belief that Grover was the best of her children is wrapped up in the prejudices they shared. It’s not a flattering portrait but it does help explain why she felt his loss so deeply.
It’s in the final part of the novel, a largely first person account of the author/narrator’s attempt to visit the St. Louis house his family lived in and his brother Grover died in, that the particular power of this novella and Wolfe’s writing comes to fruition. That you can’t go home again comes as no surprise to any fan of Thomas Wolfe, but no one portrays that particular sense of loss as well as he does. In The Lost Boy we not only morn the passing of the world and people of our youth, we morn a particular loss, a particular person. It’s not just the sometimes vague, sometimes tangible sense that something has passed out of our lives forever, there really is someone missing this time.
I found The Lost Boy by Thomas Wolfe compelling, touching and haunting. I’m giving it five out of five stars. I would not normally read a novella, but for the novella challenge I’ve signed up for. You can find out more about it here.