16 July 2006

The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan continues the misadventures of our young hooligan as he continues to grow up in his Chicago neighborhood. However, unlike the first book of this trilogy, we are not limited to a helmet-cam view of the world through Studs's eyes. In the first novel, all but two chapters are told from Studs's perspective: the second, which is given to his father, and the second to last, which focuses on Davey Cohen. The entire novel is placed in, and limited to, a small section of Chicago, and almost no reference is made to a world outside this neighborhood. YMSL, on the other hand, opens with an italicized chapter told from Lee Cole's perspective, and introduces World War I. Both are drastic deviations from the pattern previously established.

Of course, Studs is still the focus of this novel, and most of it is told from his point of view. That Studs is aware of, and interested in, something as important as the war is only natural; as a sixteen year old, he even tries to join the army. This may just be indicative of his discontent with his current situation; it may, on the other hand, show that Studs is growing as a human being, becoming aware of the larger world around him.

The italicized sections, however, are the more blatant attempt to expand the novel's scope. In these, we follow runaway Davey Cohen as he visits gutters around the country; we see race riots; we see the plight of a blacklisted union man as he worries what will become of his family. In these chapters, we see a different America. This is not the middle-class youth of America gone slumming; this is the low end of cut-throat capitalism's food chain. This is Davey Cohen, "so unhappy that he envied a dog"; this is Joe Lonigan making great sacrifices to send Tommy to high school, then having to borrow money from Studs's father to pay back someone Tommy had robbed. This is a black bank being blown up to get the 'nigger' out of a white neighborhood.

We get chapters, now, from Red Kelly's perspective; from Loretta Lonigan's, and even from that of the new St. Patrick's Church. If this isn't going beyond Studs's perspective, I don't know what would be. We know more, because we know what people other than Studs are thinking; still, we are in keeping with the expectations raised by the first novel, in that most of the book is told from his point of view. Farrell could have given this up, could have switched to an author-omniscient perspective for this book. But that would have violated reader expectations, and not necessarily expanded the novel's scope. What he has done seems a successful compromise, for the most part, between the desire to grow and the need to remain focused. While it is disconcerting to break the narrative, Farrell's technique forces attention away from Studs, and also provides a neat segue between disjointed episodes.

The best part of this technique, however, is that it allows Farrell to end the book with Stephen Lewis kicking a can down 58th Street, exactly as so many other kids do. That a boy can play in Studs's old neighborhood is only fitting, and shows how things continue as they always have, with the sole difference being his color. This irony would be lost on Studs, but almost makes me cry.


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