The Body, or Fall From Innocence (published in Stephen King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons) is rightfully considered one of the greatest teenage stories ever written. It probably helps that there is nothing supernatural about this novella; just a story, and a very detailed, very evocative exploration of that most vulnerable period of our lives. Written in the form of a writer’s memoir, King created a universal story, and one that will haunt you a lot longer than any number of demons and ghosts.
As ever, you can count on King for telling a gripping story. A writer named Gordie Lachance looks back on his childhood days and remembers an episode that had the biggest bearing on his subsequent life. It’s a small American town and a rather uneventful summer; four friends learn about the death of a boy named Ray Brower and embark on a two-day journey to see the dead body. They tell their parents they will go camping, they take all the money they have and set off. The plot is simple enough, and it is made up of a number of fairly simple episodes that disclose something about each of the boys, their families and their characters. Lachance’s account is honest, and you can feel the intensity piling up – slowly, behind the scenes. The boys’ initial defiance gives way to fear and insecurity.
They have to get through lots of perils as well as bouts of true friendship, heroism and betrayal, and each episode (swimming in a pond, running from a train, sleeping in the wood, encounter with older boys) is more than it seems. It’s the kind of fateful experience that puts the price on them and is bound to live in their heads long after it’s over – whether the effect is noticeable or not. Chris and Gordie feel they’ve matured, while Vern and Teddy stay the same. But it’s not just about feeling older or doing mature things – it’s also about waking up in the middle of the night for reasons you can’t explain. The body is found, of course, but imagining beats reality.
From start to finish, it’s masterful storytelling (although I don’t believe that the inclusion of the whole short story Gordie Lachance would go on to write was all that necessary) filled with King’s trademark love for a lush detail and haunting imagery. There’s lots of simple, evocative symbolism throughout, and The Body is a good testament to King’s practical yet imaginative command of language (when King compares a ball of lightning travelling across the sky with a scalded cat – it’s just beautiful writing). I wouldn’t say the book has ten thrills a page, but it certainly manages to stay thrilling in an understated, lurking-nearby sort of way.
With The Body Stephen King tells a story we can all relate to. The boys’ adventure is that sacred passage from boyhood to adolescence we all experience at some point. Maybe there was no heavy beating afterwards. Maybe there were no spooky noises in the wood. Maybe there were no bloodsuckers hanging on to your testicles. And maybe there was no body. But then… that’s what literature’s for.