Fred's Reviews > The Body

The Body by Stephen King
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really liked it

Hello, welcome to another episode of Fred-Reviews-Books-Literally-Five-Minutes-After-He-Finished-Them!
After taking a very quick break from the (still very good) book I am currently reading, I started Stephen King's The Body last night and finished it just now.
I could not stop myself from reviewing it immediately; maybe a sign of how good it was!

The Body, or Fallen from Innocence (alternate title), is the novella which inspired the very well-known, revered film Stand By Me. It follows four young boys - Chris, Gordie, Teddy, and Vern - who live in Castle Rock, Maine. (Maine is also the setting of Stephen King's It; the only difference is that the more specific location is Derry, not Castle Rock.)
It is September 1960; it is almost the end of the summer; these boys then find out that a boy their age named Ray Browers has gone missing and they hear that his undiscovered body in some place near the side of the railway tracks. The boys then go on an expedition to find the body, purely out of fascination, whilst also taking some more psychological journeys of self-realisation and coming-of-age.

Characters include Chris Chambers, who comes from a very troubled family with an alcoholic and violent father; Gordon Lachance, whose elder brother has recently died in a jeep accident and is very ignored at home (this is our narrator in their adult self); Teddy, whose father is mentally unstable and has previously physically wounded Teddy as a young child, + Vern, the one who hears about the body in the first place and gets the expedition going.

Various themes in this book include self-realisation, the impact of death, continuing with life despite social pressure or social norm, childhood trauma, friendship through hard times, the difficulty of expressing yourself, memory...there are probably more themes a reader could pick out as even though this book is very short, it has many layers.

I thought this was a really satisfying, interesting and, at times, heartwarming novella. The most primary factor I appreciated about it was the following:
Considering the premise, as explained above, what is missing from this story, bearing in mind that Stephen King is the author?
Horror.
Very bizarrely, this is one of the very few Stephen King books which does not contain any horror elements. This factor was brilliant! I loved that this book had no horror.
The only Stephen King book I have read other than this one is It.
I gave that book five out of five stars but the five stars were not there because of the horror. The main element of It for me, rather than the children death parts of it, was the characters, the writing style, the themes, the pacing, and the unique subtext. There were some characters who I got quite fond of; the writing was as brilliant as it was in IT; the themes were handled to perfection; the pacing was so slow and steady + I could talk about the subtext for pages even having finished the book two to three weeks ago! I could not have cared less about the horror parts - they were not the reason I was reading - because I personally felt that the novel's authenticity and merit overrode the horror.

I am 99% confident that hardly any of Stephen King's books would have the same effect.
I am very happy and pleased to accept that he is an extremely talented and rightly well-loved horror writer and horror is a literary genre that simply is not for me. The reason I have given two books of his five stars and four stars is because one of them had so much to more to it than the horror and the other one, aka this one, was not a horror story at all!
You can probably now understand why this book agreed with me. It was more than wonderful to have some Stephen King material devoid of any horror. It meant that the book was stripped back to purely what I do like about Stephen King.

For one thing, his writing style is just fantastic. It is hardly George Eliot or Jane Austen but he is still so descriptive of emotion and feeling that you feel instant empathy with his characters. He has the ability to make his reader connect with anyone he wishes because he can conjure them up, flaws included to make them even more real, and each of them are distinct and clearly fleshed out on the page.
For example, Chris Chambers. After seeing River Phoenix's phenomenal (particularly for a child actor!) performance of Chris in Stand By Me, I was intrigued to find out how he was portrayed in the source material. It very much did not disappoint: Chris's character was written beautifully and so intricately. You can completely understand everything he is going through and you are cheering him on throughout the book. Definitely my favourite character in this one!

Additionally, you appreciate his writing even more down to how readable it is and how fluid the reading experience feels.
All of that is present and up to a great standard in The Body.

Another thing I liked about it was that I felt Stephen King really got the length of the book spot on. This did not need to be any longer, nor did it need to be any shorter!
Some reviews of a few other Stephen King books (e.g. The Shining or Gerald's Game) have commented on the fact that they felt the books were too long and dragged out. I am so elated that Stephen King did NOT do that with this one. It was the perfect length and had it been made any longer, I probably would not have appreciated it as much. He was able to say exactly what he wanted to say and despite the fact that it was very short, his message was still just as powerful and detailed. Therefore, it was really great that he managed to keep the book concise yet still convey every theme expertly.

The only very small thing that I would complain about with this book is the relationship between Gordie and his elder, dead brother. (This may be symptomatic of the fact that I saw the film adaptation before reading this.)
In the film, Gordie and his brother have a very close and dear relationship with one another. You can clearly see that Gordie misses him after he dies and how that emotionally affects him and his friends throughout the rest of the story. That was one of the things I really enjoyed about it!
Whereas in the book, Gordie writes the following:

For me, Dennis was hardly more than an acquaintance. He was eight years older than me if you can dig it, and he had his own friends and classmates. We ate at the same table for a lot of years, and sometimes he was my friend and sometimes my tormentor, but mostly he was, you know, just a guy. When he died he'd been gone for a year except for a couple of furloughs. We didn't even look alike. It took me a long time after that summer to realise that most of the tears I cried were for my mom and dad.

...

Oh.

I am not entirely sure why the writer decided to make Gordie so separate from his brother. Maybe it was because he wanted to convey a more realistic image of sibling relationships, particularly with siblings eight years older than their younger brothers. Perhaps, alternatively, it was to make Gordie's family dynamic a bit more believable in terms of Gordie being the disregarded child of his parents. Maybe that would have worked better with Gordie and Dennis not being so pally.
But considering their warm relationship was something I really admired when I saw the film, that was missing from the book.

That is my only quibble with this novella really. Overall, whether or not you have seen Stand By Me, whether or not you are a Stephen King fan, whether or not you are a horror fan, I would really, really recommend this book. I think it is fantastic. The characters are fleshed out; the themes are so impressive; the writing style will not disappoint...and it is also nice and short!
I will never be a dedicated fan of Stephen King, considering I am not a fan of horror and I am unsure how many of his other books will be like IT in the sense of having more to them than horror, but The Body is a good one. 4 stars.
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Reading Progress

January 21, 2018 – Shelved
January 21, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
February 3, 2018 – Started Reading
February 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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