"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dare to Witness 'The Body' of Boyhood

Different SeasonsDifferent Seasons by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review of The Body (as included in the compilation 
Different Seasons)

I cannot remember ever attempting anything as ambitious as the pilgrimage to a corpse taken by the four boys in Stephen King's novella The Body. I can match King's ensemble in some ways. As a boy I had buddies. We rough-housed. We tried cigarettes. We obsessed over girls. Dirty jokes were told. Alcohol was sampled. Foolishness occurred. But we never took a 30+ mile hike into the forest to see a dead body. Nevertheless, I identify with these boys and how they go about being boys.

The thematic essence of King's story is innocence confronting mortality through dares. The distinction for me is critical. This is not a story about mortality confronting innocence. These boys chase the inevitability of death to the edge of their known world. They seek Death out, searching for it until they arrive at the sight of a pale white hand sticking out of the forest undergrowth. Their journey is a series of boss dares as the narrator calls them at one point.

What I love most about King's portrayal of these rash boys is how full of feelings they are. I remember that about my youth. Me and my buddies were brim full of feelings, feelings that raced ahead of our minds' ability to express them. Yet there were times, especially when the number of boys hanging out dropped to two or three, when we could share those feelings with each other. Whether in scout tents after dark, or at our favorite hangouts, we found moments to confide, to compare notes, but also to argue and to dare each other. Looking back, if any of my buddies in public school had suggested we sneak off into the woods in search of a corpse, I would have wanted to go. Hell, I think I'd do it tomorrow.

King, drawing on his own childhood, captures the essence of that insatiable need felt so acutely by young men--the need to reckon with mortality. As a work of realism, The Body proves highly accessible and more compelling in its depiction of humanity than King's supernatural fare. This is straightforward storytelling, offering a wonderful mix of charm and heartbreak. Charm comes as the boys explore their awkward natures and fledgling intellects. Heartbreak arrives as they face instances of shame, defeat, and irreparable disconnect with loved ones, especially parents.

Earlier I asserted that this novella is about boys confronting mortality via dares. The case could be made, and is made by the excellent film adaptation, that The Body is really about standing by one's friends. Certainly that is a key dynamic at work in the story's climax. But consider this. Boys, even at their best, are volcanic souls fraught with unpredictability and risk. It isn't easy to stand by one, even if you are one. What could be a bigger dare than standing by a troubled boy during the relentless series of crises that constitute growing up? That is the furnace where true friendship is forged. If you are looking for a great tale that reveals the remarkable and tumultuous nature of youth, a tale equal parts endearing and haunting, you need look no further than The Body.

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