The Boys on the Rock ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The Boys on the Rock by John Fox is similar in theme, tone and style to J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Both are coming-of-age stories with the protagonist/antihero as first-person narrator. In The Boys on the Rock, we have Bill “Billy” Connors as the Holden Caulfield-like narrator. In 1968, we find Billy as a high school sophomore. He’s an only child and his parents are off on their own planet. His mother is an attractive thirty-four-year-old housewife, and his father is ten years older than she is and getting old before his time. Billy is on the swim team at school and, except for swimming, he isn’t much interested in school. He experiments with dating girls, following the lead of all the other boys, but that isn’t really where his interests lie. He smokes, drinks, swears, hangs out with his friends, and lives a private, inner life.
During the arduous and drawn-out process of selecting a presidential candidate in 1968, Billy volunteers in the campaign office of his congressional district in New York for Eugene McCarthy. Billy is for Eugene McCarthy, he says, because McCarthy is against the war and against the draft. Like all the other boys his age, Billy is afraid of having to fight in the Vietnam war. He believes that a liberal candidate like Eugene McCarthy, if elected to the White House, will end the war before Billy has to face the possibility of being drafted into the army.
While working on the McCarthy campaign, Billy meets Al DiCiccio, a college student four years older than Billy to whom Billy is immediately attracted. That’s why Billy was never much of the hit with the gals. He prefers his own gender. He isn’t surprised by his feelings for Al DiCiccio, but he has to keep it a secret. He knows how he will be treated if the truth comes out. When he wants to tell somebody what he is feeling and to ask for advice about “what to do,” he decides to tell a young swim coach at his school, believing the coach will be, if not understanding, at least sympathetic. The coach advises Billy to seek counseling to become “cured” of what the coach sees as a sickness. This is exactly the kind of advice that Billy doesn’t want to hear.
When Billy discovers that his feelings for Al DiCiccio are reciprocated, the two meet in secret a few times, but they are essentially incompatible and the relationship is doomed to failure. Al is interested in a political career, he says, and he believes that a politician must have a wife and children. He is willing to end his volatile relationship with Billy on those terms. We know, though, that with Al out of the picture, there will be others for Billy to turn to. He is, after all, only seventeen years old. He’s just getting started.
The Boys on the Rock is a small, gem-like novel (146 pages) incorporating themes of family, friendship, alienation, and finding one’s way in the world. It’s almost effortless reading and reminds us how effective simple, uncluttered, first-person narration can be.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp