One of the more famous questions in literature. I’m surprised it took me this long to get to reading The Body—probably has something to do with the fact that I could never quite remember which collection it’s in (Different Seasons, for those wondering). My dad always wanted us to like “Stand By Me” when we were younger, but as I’ve discussed previously, I’ve never really been a movie person. The Body is a great example of how books speak to me more than movies do: I was never crazy about the movie, but the written story was a much more effective method of delivery.
In the summer of 1960, Gordie Lachance is 12 years old. He and his friends spend the summer playing cards in a tree house on a vacant lot in Castle Rock, Maine. Over Labor Day weekend, his friend Vern appears in the clubhouse, out of breath and sweaty, and asks the fateful question. A boy had been missing for several days from the next town over, and Vern overhears his older brother Billy discussing the location of the boy’s body. Eternally fascinated by blood and gore, the boys make the decision to hike to Harlow along the GS&WM railroad tracks, near which Billy and his friend Charlie had apparently seen the body. As young boys often do, they envision a grand adventure in which they are lauded as heroes for discovering the body—but the journey ends up being quite a bit more than they bargained for.
So, this is out of character for me, but—having finally read The Body, I really do feel like I should see “Stand By Me” again, if only to make more accurate comparisons between the two. I don’t remember a whole lot from the movie, but I remembered enough to think that the movie seemed pretty faithful to the story, which adds quite a few points in the movie’s favor.
The Body is a pretty classic coming-of-age story—or perhaps more accurately, a loss of innocence story. It’s not just seeing a dead body that does it; the boys experience quite a few things along the way that would shake an adult to his core. Children are resilient, though, and though these boys are on the cusp of manhood, they are still young enough to bounce back—but things will never be quite the same.
For a story that’s about a bunch of kids tramping through the woods to find a dead boy, The Body is surprisingly touching. Gordie, the narrator, is the child of older parents; Gordie’s much-older brother, Dennis, has just been killed in an accident at Fort Benning, Georgia. His parents, who had doted on Dennis, largely ignore Gordie. None of his friends know, except the insightful Chris Chambers, who, despite coming from a family of violent troublemakers, is a talented mediator with a gift for reading people. Vern Tessio and Teddy Duchamp complete the quartet. Their journey takes them physically over train trestles, through leech-infested ponds, and over town lines; emotionally, they all travel much farther, particularly Chris and Gordie. It’s hard to describe without spoiling anything, but believe me, it’s worth the read.
Even if you’ve seen “Stand By Me,” it’s worth reading The Body. It’s a terrific story, and I can see why the movie is so popular and well reviewed.