Tony Earley made his debut with Here We Are in Paradise, a superbly understated collection of (mostly) small-town vignettes. He returns to the same terrain in his first novel, Jim the Boy, setting this coming-of-age story in a remote North Carolina hamlet.
The year is 1934, and like the rest of the country, Aliceville is feeling the pinch of the Great Depression. Yet neither Jim nor his mother nor his three uncles—who have split the paternal role neatly among themselves since the death of Jim’s father a decade earlier—are feeling much in the way of economic pain. Indeed, if you stuck a satellite dish on the front lawn, the story might be taking place in the New South rather than the older, bucolic one.This isn’t to suggest that Earley is deaf to social detail.
But Jim the Boy is very much the tale of a ten-year-old’s expanding consciousness, which at first barely extends beyond the family property. Earley has a real gift for conveying childhood epiphanies.
The simple lyricism and anti-ironic sweetness work mostly to the book’s advantage. There are times, it’s true, when Earley sands his prose down to an unnatural smoothness, and we seem to be edging toward the sentimental precincts of a young-adult novel. But on the whole, Jim the Boy is a lovely, meticulous work—a song of innocence and (eventually) experience, delivered with just a hint of a North Carolina accent. Download and start listening now!