Looking back on my childhood summers feels like gazing through a thin, glistening veil. The sheen washes away the less desirable moments–scrapes, tears, time-outs–and shows me an idyllic scene that, in retrospect, probably contains a portion of truth and a smidgen of selective memory. Step through the veil, and some of the negatives cascade into the memories. Local “big kids” lording their size over my small faction of friends. Minor disputes ending in a measly excuse for a fistfight. The fear of consequences should an adult find out about the tomfoolery we were up to. Stephen King’s The Body captures both sides of the veil with equal reverence. The novella recounts a childhood summer through the memories of one who experienced them, now a full-time writer. At once, The Body is a delightful and harrowing experience.
Gordie and his pals–Vern, Teddy, and Chris–spend their days playing cards in their treehouse and gallivanting around their northeastern US hometown. In the 60s, anything goes, and the boys often wander for a full day before returning home. When Vern catches his older brother recounting his discovery of a dead boy near the train tracks (and his reticence to report it because they found it after boosting a car), the foursome immediately formulates a plan to seek out the body some 30 miles from their homes. Once they get the logistics in place, the boys set out on their journey, bonding over shared experiences and generally enjoying a reckless childhood summer together in the sweltering September heat.
The Body is (surprise!) barely about the eponymous deceased child, other than perhaps a symbolic reading about the death of childhood. Instead, the story recounts summer days spent in the company of young friends whose biggest worries are steering clear of the brash older kids and dodging parental punishment for their antics. In this way, The Body reminds me of the films Now & Then and The Sandlot, the former of which is (hot take) far superior. King captures the magic of those summer adventures with prose that transports the reader to a simpler time.
“Simpler time,” of course, can also mean a less tolerant era. Readers will encounter racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs throughout, emblematic of the 1960s setting. An important note for those looking to read this story.
Where The Body really shines, outside of its prose, is in character. In the space of ~180 pages, King makes you care about these kids. Their excursion into the landscape surrounding their homes allows them space to breathe, and you learn so much about kids who should by all means just be allowed to enjoy a carefree, school-free stretch of summer. But life isn’t always kind and carefree, and Gordie’s cadre knows this all too well. They can be brash, dumb, and narrow-sighted as kids often are, but their pasts–even at a paltry 12 years old–paints a broader picture of abuse, neglect, and grief. Their search for the body, their trek across an active railroad bridge, their night spent in the wilderness–it all takes on new meaning when you understand each character’s story. This, for them, is family. And it’s ephemeral. Gordie tells of how they grow apart as life trudges forward, but he still holds the memories dear. For me, The Body reads as a commentary on the transience of friendships, and how a relationship that fades can still be transformational in its lasting impact. Sometimes people leave us, whether on purpose or over the natural course of life, and it’s okay to let them go.
Whether you like The Body will inevitably be a result of your own mindset and past. It isn’t a classic King horror. It’s a “the monsters are actually people” book. Or perhaps a “we make our own monsters” book. I loved it, both for the refreshing nod that the veil of childhood is a powerful thing, and for the reminder that endings can be as impactful as the stories that spark them.
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