Douglas, Geoffrey. “ The Classmates”, Hyperion, 2008.
John and Arthur
It is the fall of 1957 and John and Arthur, two fifteen year old boys, are at an exclusive New England boarding school. This is the setting of Geoffrey Douglas’ new book, “Classmates”. John came from a wealthy family and his future was filled with promise. Arthur was a scholarship student from a Pennsylvania farming family whose future was shaky at best. The boys’ class was made up of one hundred boys and it is the student population that Douglas uses as the source of his memoir. The boys were divided—their fathers expected success but the guys lived in a society that was in the middle of a disastrous war in Vietnam, a sexual revolution at home and an age when people were filled with questions and doubt.
I remember those years all too well as this is my generation. We were interested politically, we experimented sexually, we were afraid of being drafted and we tuned in and dropped out. Here we stood at the door waiting to move from the 50’s to the 60’s and we hoped for a better world. We, as did the classmates of Douglas’ book, were witness to both the political and social changes and upheavals of the late 60’s and we watched the world change drastically. The decade of the 60’s was to change the world forever and we still feel the results today.
Douglas has written a compelling book that looks at the changes that America and the world went through and he uses the characters of John and Arthur as our guides. John is John Kerry who went on to college at Yale, became a war hero in Vietnam and was later elected to the Senate of the United States and then attempts a bid at the Presidency. Quite the opposite is Arthur (whose surname is not given, perhaps to emphasize that his life was as anonymous as he was) who went on to nothingness, a life of little meaning and ultimately a salesman who died alone a year after his classmate loss the election. Peppered through the book are other classmates which reflect the diversity of American life. There are two other war veterans, a federal judge, a gay artist and the author himself. Together these classmates watched as a new world was created and worked to find their place in it.
“Classmates” is a short book but one that is powerful. It reopens those old wounds that many of us have carried and it explains a period of time that almost defies explanation. It reminded me so much of the time I spent trying to come to terms with who I was and where I fit. “Classmates” is a remarkable study and my generation should welcome it into their minds and libraries.