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Wharton, William

novel birdy salinger boys

(US, 1925– )

William Wharton (a pseudonym) is a shadowy figure like J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon. His first novel, Birdy (1979), tells the story of two boys growing up in the 1930s in a working-class area of Pennsylvania and eventually going off to fight (as Wharton himself did) in the Second World War. One of the boys breeds canaries, and becomes more and more obsessed with the behaviour of birds and even with the possibility of being a bird himself. Very few writers can ever have portrayed an alien world as convincingly and memorably as Wharton does here: it's not only Birdy who imagines himself being a canary but the reader too. The novel works equally well as a study of mental disturbance in the face of the trauma of adolescence and of going to war. A later novel, A Midnight Clear (1982), is also a powerful read.

J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut  RF

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