Nipper is a nostalgic novel in which a boy’s childhood fades into late adolescence.
In Peter Massam’s coming-of-age novel Nipper, a boy who lives in a small town takes a growing interest in sports and girls.
Told in vignettes, the novel gathers significant events from George’s childhood—moments that shape his growth or prove memorable to him in some way. The conflicts are understated, and chapters are titled in the manner of captions. George’s early childhood days are charming, if marked by minutiae; there’s tangential information about his aunts’ and uncles’ names, for example. But there are also picturesque details throughout to capture the world around George in sensory terms—and in terms of the feelings that it arouses in George.
In his rural setting, George faces difficulties too. He feels profound sorrow when his grandfather dies; this is described in palpable terms. Such sad scenes are balanced out by others in which his enthusiasm and joy are paramount, as when George’s playdates and his first meeting with his dog, Patch, are focal. As the book progresses, his misadventures with girls consume more and more room, from his first unfavorable encounter with girls outside of his family to his first relationship.
The shift from George’s original antigirl stance to his developing ability to have normal interactions leads to amusing moments. Still, George’s most significant relationship is a troubling one: he takes up with Jane, who is older than he is and married. They’re part of the same same church choir before they develop a romantic connection, but their age difference remains disturbing: she’s in her thirties, and he’s not even eighteen.
Contradictions arise throughout the book. For example, when George finds out that his grandfather has died, there’s a suggestion that his grandmother is gone too; however, she then appears in the story, alive and healthy. Redundant descriptions also lead to reading lulls, while the book’s jumps between narrative perspectives are jarring.
As the book closes, George is on the verge of going to college. A full sense of how his personality has been shaped by the preceding events leads to some satisfaction, as does the volume’s lingering sense of future possibilities for its hero.
The first installment of a trilogy, Nipper is a nostalgic novel in which a boy’s childhood fades into late adolescence.
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