Alan Webb is the only character I am profiling who is not a member of the eight. The reason will be immediately obvious to anybody who reads the story: the gang's enmity for Paul Adams' erstwhile mucker is the chord which binds them together during this their second rideout. He alone had been the reason for the gang's demise the first time around, of which we know only a limited amount, and he is equally the cause of its coming together for a second time – older, wiser and rapt by the most beautiful summer that living man had encountered before or since.
But there is another reason why I feel the need to grant special status to Alan Webb. When discussing The Best Year Of Our Lives with friends and acquaintances who have been kind enough to read it and offer me feedback I have been overwhelmed, if not entirely surprised, by the amount of sympathy that this character in particular has provoked. "I feel sorry for that person you bullied," said one, confusing me as author with the lead actor. "I liked Alan Webb much more than I liked Paul Adams," admitted another.
I have to confess this wasn't entirely unintentional on my part. The negative portrayal of Alan Webb throughout most of the book was only ever intended to reflect the view of him taken by the one through whose eyes the story was told. He begins the tale as Alan, is relegated to Webb before becoming Alan once again with a handshake and an awkward reminisce. But through it all he is stoical, courageous and admirably defiant in his predicament. He has to suffer, in order that the gang might thrive. He is the blood sacrifice of a halcyon adventure. That is the simple dynamic, the reader was never meant to hate him.
Alan Webb brings out the leader in Paul, the loyalty in Jim, the affection in Tina and the infant heroism in Pete. Unwittingly he is the catalyst for great things, for an explosion of love made magnificent by a common if oft exaggerated hatred. Some would see him as one of the most noble characters in the book, and I always intended it that way.
Alan doesn't leave the story in as dramatic a style as he first entered it, but he is thematic to it throughout. Wherever he is today, I wish him well and I'm sure Paul Adams would feel the same.