Saturday, July 23, 2011
Different Seasons by Stephen King
By Stephen King
By 1982, Stephen King was an established figure in genre fiction with several best selling horror novels to his credit and two movie adaptations that did well at the box office. With Different Seasons, King moved into mainstream fiction with a collection of four novellas. Each novella has a subtitle based on a season and the stories are as different as the seasons themselves. In this book, there is a tale of unflagging hope, of dark loss of innocence, of whimsical yet visceral coming of age, and finally, the story of one woman’s ardent determination in the face of insurmountable odds. Only the last contains any hint of the supernatural and is but a hint. This is King’s first mainstream work.
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Hope Springs Eternal
This story is a first person narrative told by a prison inmate named Red who recounts his thirty year friendship with Andy Dufresne, a fellow inmate in Maine’s Shawshank State Prison.
Red is the consummate institutional man who has adapted well to life behind bars. He’s the man who knows how to get things for his fellow inmates – for a fee.
Andy Dufresne is a bank vice president, tried and convicted of killing his wife and her lover at a remote Maine cottage. Andy is sent to Shawshank to spend the remainder of his years with no hope for parole.
Andy’s quiet nature and refined manner make him an immediate target for prison thugs and a group of homosexuals known as “The Sisters” begin a ruthless campaign of terror and intimidation against him. Andy fights the fight, but usually comes up on the short end.
Andy and Red strike up their friendship when Andy approaches Red and asks him to score him a rock hammer. Andy says he was a bit of a rockhound in his prior life and would like to pick up the hobby again in prison to help pass the time.
Red is concerned that the hammer might be used as a weapon. One of Red’s rules is that he does not score items that can be brandished as weapons. But once the rock hammer is brought to him, he sees that it is harmless. Red and Andy strike up a friendship.
Months later, Andy says he wants Red to smuggle Rita Hayworth – the pinup sensation of that era – into Shawshank. Red says it’s no sweat. A few days later, Andy has a nearly life size poster of Rita Hayworth on the wall of his cell.
One day while Red, Andy, and a couple other inmates are working on a roofing detail, Andy and Red hear one of the guards complaining that the government is going to get a sizeable chunk of an inheritance he has just received. Andy sees an opening and takes a dramatic risk.
He approaches the guard – the toughest and most notorious in the prison – and asks, “Do you love your wife?” Taken aback by Andy’s effrontery, the guard grabs him and pulls him to the edge of the roof. Prepared to toss him over the side, the guard asks Andy to quickly explain himself before dying.
Andy explains how the money can be shielded from taxes through a gift to the guard’s wife. Andy offers to lend his banking and tax expertise to help the guard get it all set up. All he asks in return is beer for himself and his friends as they work on the roof. The guard agrees.
Andy gets the job done. Soon, he’s doing freelance tax and financial work for other prison guards. He’s taken off laundry detail and is put to work in the library which also serves as a makeshift office for him to conduct meetings. He’s given a private cell. Andy crafts the most comfortable life possible for himself in the state prison. Red is in awe of what Andy has accomplished.
Before long, Andy is pressed into service by a corrupt warden. The warden runs a program for inmates to work on various construction projects in the area. He receives kickbacks from contractors not wanting to compete with the cheap prison labor and he cuts corners on supplies and pockets the savings. Andy helps him launder that money.
Andy’s world is rocked when a young, cocky inmate shows up at the prison with an incredible tale. Andy takes the young man, who is intelligent, but immature, under his wing and helps him study for his GED and vocational training. This young man tells Andy and the other inmates of a time he spent in another state prison with a cell mate who bragged of killing a woman and her lover at a remote cabin and letting the woman’s rich banker husband take the fall for the murders.
For the first time since coming to Shawshank nearly a decade earlier, Andy loses his composure. He begs the warden to allow him to get a lawyer to try to get the case reopened. He begs for the one opportunity to salvage his life. The warden, who knows Andy has him by the short hairs, won’t let him do it. He likes Andy right where he is. The young inmate with a tale to tell is sent off to another prison. Andy gets 30 days in solitary for misbehavior.
Andy emerges from solitary a different man. No longer so sure of himself, Red fears that Andy has been broken. Andy tells Red a tale of a remote Maine field bordered by a rock wall. In that field, there is a tree. Under that tree is a rock that has no business being in a Maine farm field. Buried under that rock is the key to a new identity and a new life of financial independence. He also tells Red of a small Mexican coastal town where a man could live out his final days in peace and comfort.
Red tells Andy to stop dreaming and stop hoping. Hope is the most dangerous thing in the world for a man doing life in a state penitentiary, Red counsels. Andy picks up his life as the prison’s financial go to guy, but he is a fundamentally changed man.
The days, weeks, and months pass as they always do inside the prison – days of routine and schedules. Andy goes about his work and Red continues to be the supplier of contraband for the inmates.
One morning, the guards conduct a roll call and find themselves one inmate short. A quick census shows that Andy Dufresne is the inmate missing. An immediate search of the prison grounds and the surrounding territory is launched. Andy’s cell is searched and there is no sign of Andy or his means of escape.
Finally, in frustration, the warden rips down the poster that was once Rita Hayworth, but has been replaced by a succession of pinup girls through the years. Raquel Welch’s likeness is ripped away to reveal a tunnel carved through ten feet of stone to a sewer tunnel. That sewer tunnel travels more than half a mile from the prison before emptying into a river.
Red recounts the search as he heard it from guards and other inmates. As far as Red knows, no trace of Andy was ever found. He was never seen in the area and has not surfaced anywhere. Months later, Red receives a blank post card from a Texas border town. Red believes Andy has just let him know that he’s on the move, on his way to Mexico to live out his life in that coastal town he dreamed of.
A short time later, after 40 years in prison for murder, Red is paroled. He is freed and ends up working in a grocery store. Freedom doesn’t agree with Red. He is an institutional man. On the inside, he’s the guy who can get you things. He’s an important man. On the outside, he’s just a used up old con with no future. He’s depressed, lonely, and contemplating violating his parole to get back on the inside.
Instead, he uses his free time to explore the Maine countryside in search of a field bordered by a rock wall. For months he searches until he finds the field, the tree and the rock that Andy described. Fearful of being caught and more fearful of being disappointed, Red contemplates digging under that rock. Finally, he sets about his excavation. He finds a box that contains a note from Andy telling him if he has come this far, he should go all the way. The box also contains some cash and a clue as to where Andy can be found.
The story ends as Red is sitting in a bus station at the Texas – Mexico border, waiting to cross over to a new life.
Of all of his novels, novellas, and short stories, this is the most uplifting tale Stephen King ever told. King brilliantly employs the first person narrative of an observer to develop Andy Dufresne into one of his most sympathetic characters. The story is dramatic and emotional. The climax is well crafted and the ending delightfully ambiguous. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption stands as one of King’s finest works bar none.
This story was made into a movie in 1994. The title was shortened to The Shawshank Redemption. It starred Morgan Freeman as Red and Tim Robbins as Andy. While the story centered on just the two principal characters, the move fleshes out tertiary characters to tell the story through the visual medium.
The movie was well received by critics and movie goers. It was so well received it was nominated for seven Oscars and stands as the top movie of all time on the IMDB list of the top 250 movies of all time.
Summer of Corruption
As much as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a tale of hope and salvation, Apt Pupil is a tale of darkness with disturbing characters for whom there is no hope and no salvation.
Arthur Denker is a lonely old man living an lonely old man’s existence in a Los Angeles suburb. He shuns contact with other people and spends his days reading, watching movies, and getting quietly drunk in the evening.
He is also a notorious Nazi war criminal. He has been on the run for years, first in Europe, then in South America, now in 1970s suburban America.
His world is rocked when 14 year old Todd Bowden shows up at his door.
Todd Bowden is a dedicated student of the Holocaust. He knows the story, the statistics, and most importantly, the players. He recognizes his neighbor, the lonely Mr. Denker, as the notorious Major Kurt Dussander, the SS’s masterful efficiency expert who was able to garner more stolen treasure from the Jews and more efficiently dispose of their lives in the name of the Final Solution.
Todd comes into Denker’s home and lays out all of his evidence. Denker denies, telling his pat story of not being able to get into the military during the war and serving his time working in the Essex auto works. As Denker tries to sell his false alibi, a bemused Todd tells him the jig is up and he is cornered.
But Todd doesn’t want to be a hero for outing a wanted Nazi. Todd wants history lessons from a man who helped make the most notorious history of the 20th century. He wants to hear all about the camps and the horror – the “gooshy” parts as he calls them. Denker is appalled and sick with dread. Todd has him cornered.
Todd becomes a regular visitor at the Denker residence. Denker tells him tales of his time overseeing interrogations, medical atrocities called experiments, torture, and mass executions. Todd takes it all in just as an apt pupil would.
The relationship is not symbiotic. Neither likes the other. Denker resents the intrusion. Todd is at once appalled and fascinated by what Denker tells him. Their story telling sessions soon drive each of them to darker realms of the human psyche.
One day, Todd shows up at Denker’s home with a present and demands that he open it. To Denker’s horror, Todd has purchased a replica SS uniform, complete with a Death’s Head pin on the cap. Todd orders Denker to put it on. Denker pleads but Todd will not relent. Denker puts on the costume and finds himself transported back to a time when he wore the uniform with pride. Todd orders him to stand at attention and march. Denker dutifully goose steps around the small kitchen, the commands and the movements as automatic to him in the 1970s as they were in the 1940s.
Todd’s parents become curious what their young son is doing spending so much time with the elderly German immigrant. Todd tells them that Mr. Denker is nearly blind and can not see to read. So Todd has been reading to him. His parents are proud of their charitable, caring son.
Denker begins having horrible nightmares of the ghosts of the past chasing him, cornering him in the death camp, Patin, that he commanded. He finds that sleeping in the SS uniform helps keep the dreams at bay.
Todd is also having nightmares. He can’t sleep. The lack of sleep and the hours he spends passing the time with Denker take a toll on his grades. His parents are alarmed when their straight A student comes home with C’s and D’s on his report card. Todd promises he’ll do better. But the next report card is even more alarming with D’s and F’s. Todd knows he’s in trouble. As Todd plaintively relates his plight to Denker, Denker recognizes that Todd’s trouble is his trouble because if the real reason for Todd’s academic slide is uncovered, he is curtains.
Denker hatches a plan. He reports to Todd’s guidance counselor, Mr. French, posing as Todd’s grandfather. He tells the grandfather a tale of a Bowden home asunder and an innocent boy caught in the middle. Todd’s mom drinks, Denker tells French. The father is often absent and when he’s there, he does nothing but fight with his wife.
Denker promises to take his young grandson under his wing and work with him to get his grades up and make him the apt pupil he once was. A sympathetic Mr. French agrees to let Todd put things right before his academic record is damaged.
Denker makes good on his promise. He has Todd over nightly and drives him in his studies. Todd is bitter and resentful of Denker’s constant prodding, but it works. Todd’s grades climb back to their normal, stellar levels.
But Todd has other problems. He has developed sexual dysfunction at a time when his hormones ought to be kicking his sex drive into high gear. He also finds himself enamored with killing. He begins to seek out homeless people at remote locations and murdering them with hammers, axes, and knives.
Denker also finds himself lusting to kill as he once did. He starts by capturing a stray cat and baking it in the oven. He quickly graduates to bringing home transients and alcoholics to murder them and bury them in his cellar.
One night, after Dinker has just finished a dreadfully difficult murder in his kitchen, he suffers a heart attack. He is physically unable to move the body, let alone bury it. He calls Todd for help.
Todd tells his parents that Mr. Denker has just received a letter from Germany and is quite anxious to hear its details. He rushes over to Denker’s house and squares it away, burying the dead man in the cellar with the other bodies. Todd calls 911 then tells Denker they are quits. Denker assures them that they are not. As much as Todd once had Denker trapped, Denker now has Todd trapped. He has known that Denker is actually Dussander for years. If and when the authorities discover Denker’s true identity, they are going to take a strong interest in young Todd Bowden’s relationship with the fugitive Nazi.
Denker is taken to the hospital and placed in ICU. Todd’s parents compliment him on his quick and decisive action in the crisis. After Denker is taken out, Todd’s dad notes the two or three page letter written in German laying on the kitchen table, having been retrieved from Denker’s bedroom and placed there by Todd as a prop. Later that night, Todd returns to Denker’s home and puts that letter back in its hiding place.
As Denker is convalescing and recovering from his heart attack, he is soon joined by a roommate. Morris Heisel is also an immigrant to the United States and about Denker’s age. Heisel was imprisoned in the Patin concentration camp where his wife and children were put to death. The years have taken a physical toll on Denker and Heisel does not immediately recognize him as the camp commandant from all those years ago. They pass the days with conversation.
Todd is getting ready to graduate. He will be his class salutatorian. He has a bright and promising future, but can’t rid himself of his dark emotions or his dark activities. He continues to kill and starts contemplating highway sniping with his new .30.30 rifle.
Mr. French hasn’t forgotten Todd and his grandfather who came to him four years ago in crisis and how the grandfather was able to help get the studious Todd Bowden back on track. He looks up the old man in the phone book to call and congratulate him on the work he did to get Todd through a rough time in his life. The elderly Mr. Bowden answers, but has no idea what French is talking about. Mr. French suspects he’s been had, and resolves to investigate the matter.
Back at the hospital, Denker is regaining his strength and the charm he once exhibited as a proud Nazi. He woos the nurses and they are endeared to him. One evening, a nurse excitedly tells Denker and Heisel that her boyfriend has proposed to her. Denker says he wants to hear the whole story. “Tell us everything,” he says. “Omit nothing.”
That phrase triggers Heisel’s memory. He’s heard it before. He remembers that he heard it from an SS officer who was preparing to interrogate him. He stares deeply at Denker as he listens to the nurse go on about her marriage proposal. He summons the image of that Nazi officer from years past and realizes who lies in the bed next to him. He contacts the authorities.
Later that evening, Denker awakens to find an FBI agent and an agent of the Israeli government standing at his bed. He is under arrest for being the war criminal Kurt Dussander. When he is well enough to travel, he will be transported to Israel where he will stand trial.
For Kurt Dussander, his years of running from justice are finally over.
Just as Denker promised, the authorities do take an interest in Todd Bowden. They question him about Denker’s habits and acquaintances. They also ask him about the mysterious letter Denker received the night he had his heart attack. Todd’s dad says he recalls seeing the letter on the kitchen table. A search of Denker’s home reveals the bodies of several dead men buried in the cellar and some very old correspondence written in German, but the letter in question can not be found. Todd has no explanation. The investigators politely end the questioning and leave, convinced that Todd Bowden has known for years that the notorious Kurt Dussander has been his neighbor and confidant.
Dussander is getting stronger and soon will be deported to stand trial. He will not let the Jews decide his fate. One evening, he slips from his bed and sneaks into a drug supply closet where he steals a lethal dose of narcotics. He downs the pills and dies a peaceful death in the hospital, eluding his worldly pursuers and going on to face God’s judgment for a lifetime of evil.
Meanwhile, Todd Bowden finds Mr. French at his door. French wants to know who that man was and what happened all those years ago. Todd answers by flowing French’s head off, leaving his gray matter splattered all over his Saab coupe.
He then goes to a secluded area of trees near the freeway and mayhem ensues. It is four hours before police can take him down.
Stephen King has written about monsters who devour children, plagues that wipe out humanity, children and adults manipulated by malevolent forces to commit horrendous evils upon their fellow man. But he’s never written a darker tale than Apt Pupil.
Each of King’s novels and stories contain some heroic element. Somebody is always the hero, even if the story does not have a happy ending. In Apt Pupil, there are no heroes, only evil. Neither Dussander nor Bowden find redemption, nor are they worthy of it. Apt Pupil is not tragic in that Todd Bowden was corrupted by evil. Indeed, Bowden sought out that evil and was the apt pupil who sought the secrets of true evil. He was not only a willing participant, he was the instigator.
There are no light moments in this story. No throw away laugh lines are found. Neither Todd Bowden nor Kurt Dussander have a single redeeming quality. There is only evil in this story.
Apt Pupil was made into a movie in 1998. It received mixed reviews and lost money at the box office. It was nearly a straight retelling of the King novella. Without a hero, without redemption, and without a happy or dramatic ending, mainstream movie goers were turned off.
Apt Pupil is not as recognized as other tales from this book such as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body which was made into a fantastic movie called Stand By Me. This is because the mainstream public came to know the stories through the movies. Apt Pupil may not have made for a good movie, but it stands as perhaps the most emotionally powerful tale in Different Seasons and in King’s body of work.
In short, it is a masterpiece of dark drama.
Fall from Innocence
The Body is a delightful mix of childhood whimsy and dark childhood fears woven together into a coming of age story. According to King, he drew upon childhood acquaintances and events from his own childhood to develop this fantastic story that reveals how, as young boys evolve into adolescents, the emotional changes they go through changes every facet of their lives – especially the people they call friends.
The story is told in first person narrative with the author recounting the events many years later.
The story centers around Gordon LaChance, a 12 year old boy who enjoys writing stories and has three pals with whom he passes his lazy summer days. Gordy relies on these friends for emotional support and affirmation because at home, he is a ghost. His parents, grief stricken over the death of Gordy’s older brother who was a football hero and popular high school student, have nearly dismissed Gordy from their lives.
Gordy’s best buddy is Chris Chambers. Chris Chambers comes from the wrong part of town. He has a last name that is equated by everyone in Castle Rock with failure and trouble. His father is a drunk. His mother is a drunk, and his older brother a hood. Yet Chris perseveres, doing his best to get by with his social baggage.
Gordy and Chris are reading comic books in their tree house with their friend, Teddy Duchamp, reading comic books when the fourth in their quartet, Vern Tessio bursts in and tells him he knows where there is a dead body. He asks if they want to go see it.
Tessio has learned about the boy’s body by overhearing a conversation his older brother was having with a buddy. The two had stolen a car the night before and had taken a couple girls down a remote country road that came out near some railroad tracks. There, they discovered the body of 12 year old Ray Brower who was reported missing by his parents after setting off to pick blueberries. It is obvious that, at some point, Brower got hit by a train and flung into the nearby woods.
The authorities are conducting a search for Brower, but the elder Tessio can’t tell the police what they were doing out on that remote road with a stolen car. Brower’s body seems doomed to spend years undiscovered.
The boys make plans to establish false alibis for the night and set off down the railroad tracks to a neighboring town to see the body. At first, they are excited, then Gordy reminds them that perhaps they should not be excited. He reminds them that a boy, a boy just like them, is dead. What they are doing is somber. They want to be heroes for finding the missing boy, but Gordy reminds them that they should not enjoy the process.
As they start their journey, we learn more about each of the boys and their relationships with each other. Teddy Dechamp is not too bright and he is disfigured, having an ear burned off. His father, in a fit of anger, held Teddy’s head to a stove burner, earning him a trip to an insane asylum.
Tessio is not terribly bright and is socially and physically awkward and a bit of a coward. He learned of the body because he was under his parents porch, searching in futility for a jar of pennies he’d buried days before. He was able to listen to his brother’s conversation from the seclusion of that porch.
Chris Chambers is smart, tough, but instinctively a peace maker. He hates conflict and always steps in to break up arguments. Despite his intelligence, he knows he’s doomed by his family name. Nobody will ever take him seriously because of his last name.
The four set off down the tracks and pause by the town junkyard to refill canteens from the pump there. Gordy is elected to travel across the dump to a grocery store in town to buy supplies. As he’s making the return journey, the dump’s keeper sees Gordy and sets his vicious dog, known as Choppers, lose on Gordy. Gordy sprints to the fence and makes it over just in time to avoid being devoured by the dog.
However, from the safety of the fence, Gordy discovers that the dog, well known as a hulking beast capable of devouring children whole, is really just an average, run of the mill mutt with a bad attitude.
The boys start taunting the dog and the junkyard manager starts berating them and promising to call the cops on them. He knows each of them and identifies them by name. Then he zeroes in on Duchamp, telling him he’s “the loony’s boy.” Teddy is enraged, screaming that his father stormed the beach at Normandy and he is a hero. The old man goes on taunting Teddy until he breaks down crying. The other boys lead him away, with Chris reassuring Teddy that the old man is a fat loser while Teddy’s dad is a war hero.
As they continue down the tracks, Teddy and Vern move ahead and carry on their own private conversation. Chris and Gordy also have a chance to talk and Chris awakens Gordy to some of the hard realities of life that they are going to confront.
Gordy, Chris tells him, will soon be moving on with his life in a different direction than the rest of them. He’s smart and does well in school. He’ll go onto the college classes. Teddy and Vern, with their intellectual limitations will fall into the vocational programs. Chris will be there with them because there’s no way the school is going to allow a Chambers kid to take college classes.
Gordy dismisses it, saying he’ll be there in the vocational classes with his buddies. Chris tells him he’s an idiot for letting his friends drag him down and destroy his future.
The kids cross a train bridge and Gordy and Vern are nearly run down as Gordy panics and can’t run on the railroad ties. Gordy, rather than abandon his friend, stays behind him, pushing him, coaxing him, and cursing him until they reach an area over land and leap from the tracks just in time.
That night, the kids move off the tracks and camp for the night. After dinner, the boys all want Gordy to tell them a story. They all enjoy hearing Gordy’s stories so he tells them a humorous revenge tale of an obese boy who gets back at all of his tormentors by entering a pie eating contest and then puking all over the stage, causing everyone else on the stage and in the audience to puke.
This is an interesting diversion in the story because King pauses to write the story himself rather than abridge the tale and write it as dialogue coming from Gordy. It is set in a different font in the book and is a story within a story.
We see Teddy’s intellectual limitations come to the fore as he demands to know what happened to the kid after the contest. Did he get in trouble? What did they do to him? People who enjoy a good story and are gifted with imagination don’t need an author to bring the story all the way to conclusion. Teddy’s not that gifted. His imagination won’t stretch beyond what Gordy has told him, and he finds the tale unsatisfying.
There are bits of humor mixed into the story as they wind their way down the tracks toward their ultimate goal. They stop to swim in a pool created by a beaver dam. As they are swimming, Chris notices that Vern has leaches on him. They all run out of the water, naked, screaming, and covered with leaches. In their panic, they start pulling off the leaches and pulling them from each other. Then Gordy finds that he has a leach attached to his scrotum. He’s terrified beyond speech. He slowly removes the leach, covered in blood drawn from his most delicate parts, and faints.
While Gordy an his buddies proceed on foot toward Brower’s body, Vern’s brother shares his story with his hood buddies, Ace Merrill and “Eyeball” Chambers – Chris’ older brother nicknamed thus because of a deformed eye. They hop in their cars and head off to “discover” the bodies and become heroes.
Gordy and his pals see the country road off the tracks and head for the woods. There, they find the broken body of Ray Brower. He is lying on the ground, “knocked out of his Keds by the train that hit him,” as our narrator puts it. They stand there and ponder their own mortality at age 12 briefly before Chris orders them to gather sticks to build a litter so they can haul the body out.
Just as they are doing this, Ace Merrill and his thug buddies show up in their car and tell the boys the body is theirs and they are going to claim the credit. Merrill whips out a switchblade and tells the boys to go home.
With too much invested, both emotionally and physically, in the quest to claim Ray Brower’s body, the boys refuse. Merrill advances with intent of doing bodily harm. Vern and Teddy flee in terror. Gordy stares down Merrill has he advances, waving the blade. Just then, Chris produces a gun from his backpack and fires a shot into the air. Merrill, momentarily distracted, halts.
He tells Chris to give up the gun and go home, saying he doesn’t have the guts to shoot a groundhog. Chris responds by shooting again, this time at Merrill’s feet. Ace knows he’s out gunned and backs off. He and his buddies leave, promising harsh retribution for each of them.
Having confronted their own mortality once again, this time at the tip of Ace Merrill’s switch blade, their lust for heroic recognition abates. Ray Brower was a kid, just like them. They should reap no reward for finding him. They resolve to make an anonymous phone call when they get home. They then set off for the journey home.
They make their anonymous phone call and Ray Brower’s body is found. Gordy then tells us that Chris’ predictions almost all come true. As they start junior high the next year, Teddy and Vern fall in with the vocational class crowd. They drift apart. Soon, they become nodding acquaintances in the hallway at school.
Chris’ dire predictions of his own future didn’t play out the way he foresaw. He did enroll in the college courses, much to the chagrin of his teachers. He worked hard and made the grade and went on to college.
However, Chris would meet an unhappy end. While he was in college, he was in a fast food restaurant when an argument erupted between two customers in line in front of him. Always the peace maker, Chris stepped forward to try to break it up. His reward was a knife in the throat that killed him.
Teddy and Vern also met unhappy endings. Vern Tessio was killed in an apartment fire in a slum in Brooklyn. Teddy died drunk behind the wheel of a car, taking several people with him.
Gordy went on to be a famous horror writer. He looked back on that walk down the tracks from Castle Rock to Chamberlein as a seminal time in his life. He looked back on those three friends and remarks that the best friends he ever had were the ones he had when he was 12.
This story resonated with me on a personal and emotional level, as I’m sure it did with many boys who grew up in rural parts of the country. Near my home were railroad tracks that my buddies and I walked, fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand, talking about the things 12 year old boys talk about in the language unique to 12 year old boys.
I, too, had close friends when I was 12 who had difficult home lives. I was a bookish kid, in the band, socially and physically awkward. I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood where many of my friends went on to vocational pursuits while I pursued academics. They were tough guys. I was their geeky friend. Sometimes they picked on me and abused me. But they were always there for me in a fight or when I just when I wanted to hang out and do the mischievous and sometimes dangerous things twelve year old boys are wont to do.
Such is the magic of this story. It is hard for any man to read it and not see himself and his friends in its characters. Although it was set in 1960 and my own idyllic pre-adolescent years were the late 1970s, It could have been a story about me and my friends.
The Body is a character study. King wrote few character studies. His most developed character study was Gerald’s Game which isn’t even worthy of mention in the same sentence with this story. Stephen King is a teller of tales, not a writer of character studies. But like every other story in this book, King leaves his comfort zone and achieves greatness.
As I noted above, The Body was made into a movie in 1986 that starred the late River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell. It was retitled Stand By Me with the iconic song serving as theme song. The movie was critically acclaimed and was Rob Reiner's breakthrough movie. It was the breakthrough movie for the child actors who starred in it as well.
The movie deviates from the story in certain places and has a different beginning and ending that serve the first person narrative of the story on the big screen, but is otherwise a straight retelling of King's wonderful tale.
After reading Apt Pupil, this story leaves the reader at once emotionally lifted, yet slightly melancholy for days when we were twelve and we had the best friends we would ever have.
The Breathing Method
A Winter’s Tale
The Breathing Method is two stories within one narrative and while it is probably the weakest tale in a compilation of brilliantly written stories, it is a fine story well worth reading.
A middle-aged lawyer is invited by a partner in his firm to join him at a private men’s club in midtown Manhattan. He goes to the club and finds a group of men in a dark paneled, dimly lit room enjoying drinks and cigars. He is invited to join them. He sits, observing the obviously wealthy men as they banter and chat before getting down to business. Their business is telling stories.
As the man prepares to leave the club, he is told he is welcome to drop by anytime. Don’t stand on invitation, he is told by his boss, because he won’t get another one. If he does not come again, he is welcome to dismiss himself.
The next day at work, the partner treats him just as he always has – as a subordinate hardly worth his time. The man is puzzled and a little upset, hoping the invitation to the club would translate into professional advancement. He decides he won’t be going back to the club.
A few months later, as Christmas nears, he decides he will go back. He is worried as he travels to midtown, worried that his long absence or his lower social status will lead the members to dismiss him. However, he is warmly greeted by the butler and led into the club where his boss and the other men are gathered. He is greeted warmly and welcomed back into the group. The banter goes on for awhile before a doctor among them says he has a tale he’d like to tell. He launches into his tale. . .
As a young doctor, he’d set up a practice in Manhattan in the 1930s. One day, a young woman showed up for an examination. She was pregnant and wore no wedding ring. In those days, young pregnant women were pariahs shunned to live in seclusion until their “problem” was gone.
This woman was determined to go forward with her life as a salesperson as long as she was able. Like many women in New York, she had aspired to be an actress, but was working at a department store to make ends meet. Her boyfriend got her pregnant. After promising to take care of her and do the honorable thing, he split, leaving her in a jam.
The doctor immediately came to admire the woman’s determination and resolve. He agreed to be her physician and see her through her pregnancy. She insisted on paying him in advance for his services and produced cash to pay. The doctor’s disapproving nurse took the money and set the appointments.
As was to be expected, when her pregnancy started to show, she was fired from her job. She was evicted from her boarding house. In Depression era New York, this would have been daunting for the hardiest soul. But the woman, she told her doctor, had secured work and lodging from a blind woman as a caretaker. The blind woman remained unaware of her condition.
As the doctor prepared her for her eventual delivery, he produced a pamphlet that described what he called “The Breathing Method” for working through labor. Today, the doctor says, we call it Lamaze. He assured her it would help with her delivery. The young woman assured him that he enjoyed her complete trust and she would read and practice the technique.
As her due date grew nearer, the doctor and his patient developed a strong bond of respect and friendship. She scrupulously followed his direction and was a model patient.
The night she went into labor, New York was in the grips of an ice storm. She summoned a cab who started inching its way through the storm to the hospital. The doctor was at the hospital waiting. She commenced the Breathing Method in the cab.
As her labor grew more intense, the cabbie started to panic. He darted through traffic and hit the accelerator. He lost control of the cab and it collided with a statue in front of the hospital. The doctor rushed out to find his patient was decapitated in the accident.
Yet, her chest continued to rise and fall in regular rhythm prescribed in the breathing method whilst her head rested several yards away. The hospital staff stood around, stunned by the accident. The doctor ordered them to get blankets while he proceeded with the delivery.
The woman pushed and breathed, pushed and breathed, until she birthed a healthy baby boy. Once the baby was out of her, her breaths slowed and eventually stopped. Her sheer will and determination to have the child, the doctor said, allowed her to keep herself alive, sans head, long enough to give birth.
At the conclusion of the tale, everybody passes their Christmas gratuity to the ever present butler and makes their way out. Our narrator pauses to ask a question. He senses that questions are not welcomed at the club. But he asks anyway. He asks what is upstairs of the club.
Many rooms, the butler tells him. So many rooms, that a man may get lost and never find his way out. He is presented with his coat. The butler all of a sudden looks ominous, if not threatening. The narrator decides that perhaps the rest of his questions are better left unasked and he makes his way home.
When I first read this story more than 20 years ago, I was enchanted with the idea of a darkly paneled, dimly lit club where stories were told by fireside while the participants sipped brandy (or, in my case, scotch) and listened to macabre tales. Today, I belong to a book club where we discuss books, sip scotch, smoke cigars, and discuss stories, if not tell them. We meet once a month in various homes and occasionally at a cigar store.
I also belong to a much smaller (just five of us) group who meet every Friday at a friend’s apartment to sip scotch, smoke cigars, talk about various books (as opposed to the book of the month) and watch and discuss movies. Just as in King’s group, we each suggest and contribute movie suggestions.
Not quite what King brings us in this story, but close enough to make me feel like I’m lucky to have as many friends as I do who share my love of stories – be they stories from books or stories from movies.
The story is dedicated to fellow horror writer, Peter Straub with whom King was collaborating on The Talisman. King's exclusive club very much resembles Straub's Chowder Society from his novel Ghost Story. King never says, but one can't help but think perhaps the story was a homage to what many regard as Straub's best novel.
King wraps up Different Seasons with a narrative account of how each story came into being. Each story was written in a brief period between books. The Body was written immediately after the completion of ‘Salem’s Lot. Apt Pupil was written after The Shining was put to bed. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was penned after the Dead Zone was shipped to his publisher, and The Breathing Method followed the writing of Firestarter.
He goes on to mourn the loss of the serialized novella that passed when the pulp magazines that used to publish novellas in a serialized format passed away. These stories went unpublished for so long, King says, because there was no market for them.
He also discusses his agent’s fear of being typed as a horror writer. Back then (and to some degree, today) horror writers were not taken seriously as writers. King looked back at the writers he admired in his youth – writers like Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Ray Bradbury and decided he didn’t mind being typed with that fraternity of great writers.
So, here concludes my review of Stephen King’s first published mainstream stories. With the movies being made more than 10 years after its publication, the book has grown in stature and is now recognized as one of King’s finest works – as it should be.
As for the King's town of Castle Rock, The Body is the only story in these books set there. The character, Ace Merrill is introduced here and will figure as a prominent character in the next King book set in Castle Rock, The Dark Half.