A coming of age, I point out, doesn’t necessarily have to come in one’s teens. People are constantly realigning themselves in the ever-changing social landscape. Dolby agrees: “I think “coming of age” is essentially the midlife crisis that you have in your teens or twenties”. Despite his healthy skepticism, Dolby embraces the seemingly predictable tag: “‘Coming of age’ is a good phrase because it describes what both Ethan and Todd go through. I realized through the writing of it that coming into your sexuality is not exclusive to being gay.”
Ethan and Todd are incapable of sexual understanding, nor are they emotionally equipped to express their confusion: another symptom of – and prescription for – the male species. “Being emotional or talking about your feelings was never really something that I thought of as particularly masculine,” explains Dolby. “I think I often felt like an outsider, because I was very much into talking about my feelings.”
Not all of The Sixth Form‘s male characters are so tortured. Take, for example, the school’s resident homo: Jeremy Cohen. Out and proud Cohen’s completely at ease with himself – and almost entirely ostractized. I can’t help but wonder whether Dolby’s adolescent ideas informed Cohen.
“Being gay was portrayed in pretty much one way,” Dolby tells me in his sonorous rhythm. “It was always the nonathletic kid, not popular, really artsy, really bookish, got beat up on. It’s kids like Jeremy Cohen who are out and doing there thing, and it’s not exactly encouraging.” The Western world’s changed considerably since Dolby’s coming of age, a cultural evolution of which Dolby’s well aware – and grateful: “I think it’s great because kids are coming out earlier and earlier, so there are more of them, so there’s probably a bigger diversity of role models and mentors.” Dolby’s certainly one to admire.
For those of you who are wondering, yes, Dolby eventually found his niche at Hotchkiss: “I adapted pretty quickly. The exciting thing is that when you get home you are exotic to the other kids: you’re this guy who went to school in Connecticut, which is foreign.” Dolby’s next novel also takes place in front of the familiar youthful backdrop, but with a far different slant: adventure! He’s also working on a heftier project: “It’s a novel about family: something I’ve danced around in these last two books. There are always these satellite relationships with different families, but they’re not the heart of the story.” And heart is definitely something Dolby’s novels have in spades.
The Sixth Form is out now from Kensington Press.
Dolby image by Brian Orter.