Books: The Age of Innocence

An assured first novel evokes an old-fashioned childhood in which all seems strange and magical

Childhood innocence doesn't crop up much these days in serious fiction. Perhaps Freud is to blame, or maybe William Golding, whose Lord of the Flies dramatized the pre-Romantic notion that young folks deprived of civilization will naturally turn into savages. Even children's books now tend to shun wide-eyed wonder and to feature instead little sophisticates dealing knowingly with various forms of family dysfunction.

Tony Earley's first novel, Jim the Boy (Little, Brown; 227 pages; $23.95), blithely and successfully counters this trend. It covers a year in the life of Jim Glass Jr., from his 10th to 11th birthdays, in the tiny...

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