Saturday, January 05, 2013

Memoir of an Era

The Classmates: Privilege, Chaos, and the End of an Era

The Classmates: 
Privilege, Chaos, and the End of an Era 

"Expectations.  It was expectations that began all this, that began everything.  St. Paul's was an expectations mill--especially for boys, like John, with industry barons for grandfathers and fathers or uncles who'd laid down the path to Princeton or Yale.  For most of these boys, the legacy worked as it was meant to:  they grew up with their sights on life as grooved as their table manners.  They may have anguished ove failing, or even sometiems failed, but they rarely jumped the track." (p 79)

I enjoy reading memoirs, and my enjoyment is increased if, as in this case, the memoir is contemporaneous with part of my life. While I did not go to an elite private school in New England like this author, I was in high school just a few years later experiencing some of the same small and large events in my own place and way.
This memoir was triggered, in the spring of 2004, by the presidential bid of fellow alum Kerry, and its impact on some of his former classmates at St. Paul's school more than forty years earlier. The author recalls the frantic e-mail exchanges that eventually prompted him to meet with a few of his former classmates, including Kerry. He discovered that St. Paul’s alumni had endured a broad range of experiences since graduating, and he eloquently chronicles those experiences. The narrative frequently returns to Arthur, a class clown mercilessly ridiculed at school who suddenly died while the e-mail reunion was in full swing. The book is filled with the emotions unleashed by a group of middle-aged men’s miraculous reconnection. Douglas describes meetings between himself and several other graduates, including Chad Floyd, a successful architect and Vietnam vet whose wife was crippled by depression, and Philip Heckscher, a Harlem high-school teacher who took a long time coming to terms with his homosexuality. While the discussion about John Kerry is the least interesting in the book it matters little, because the reunion he inadvertently sparked opens a gateway for Douglas to muse on his own life journey, one that began with his leaving St. Paul's a year before graduation, and such larger concepts as identity, loss, expectation, failure and idealism. This memoir brought back my own memories of not too dissimilar events and interactions with my fellow high school classmates, some of whom I reconnected with last fall at our high school reunion. Douglas' memoir is among the best I have read.

The Classmates by Geoffrey Douglas. Hyperion Books, 2008

No comments: