Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stephen King Takes on 9/11 with "The Things They Left Behind"

Great thinkers address the topics of their thoughts in various ways. Bestselling author Stephen King, for example, possesses one of the world's most brilliant minds, in my opinion. However, he doesn't say, "Here's what I think about ..." Instead, he incorporates it into his literature.

His short story "The Things They Left Behind" is King on 9/11.

Scott Staley, an insurance executive, was one of the lucky ones that heard the random warning voice in his head the morning of 9/11/01 that kept him from being in his office on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. Like all New Yorkers--no, like all Americans--Scott is still reeling from that tragedy a year later when objects belonging to some of his former co-workers suddenly show up in his apartment. Repeatedly. And most frightening of all, each object--the whoopee cushion, the conch shell, the Lucite box with a penny in it--has a story to tell.

Like the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 impacted every single solitary American. In one morning, a beautiful flawless Tuesday morning with that perfect blue sky that bridges summer and fall, the world changed. 9/11 and its repercussions have, for seven years now, belonged to politicians and pundits. Part of me wants to write about how the right wing bastardized the concept of patriotism through this national tragedy, twisting it to suit its own purposes, but I'm still shaken enough by that terrible Tuesday when I was in my second week of internship for my career that I don't feel on firm enough ground to point fingers. There is enough hate in the world. Anyway, wouldn't I be doing much the same thing if I started that line of writing?

All of which leads me to why Stephen King is now, more than ever, my greatest hero ever in the world.

King was very honest about his difficulty in writing about the Vietnam experience in Hearts in Atlantis. He felt very strongly that his generation had been desecrated by both the war, the reaction to the war, and the reaction to the reaction to the war. Vietnam had been over for almost thirty years before King was able to incorporate it into his literature, and even then he was publicly uneasy with it.

With "The Things They Left Behind", King pulls no punches. He creates a character that was one of the many who chose to jump from the towers; he gave her a name, Sonja D'Amico, and a personality. The image of an executive, crying with his hair on fire knowing full well that he was going to die and wanting nothing more than to mow his lawn one last time. Victims that did things like blow conch shells Lord of the Flies fashion shirtless at a company event. Even something of a musical soundtrack; Lou Vega's "Mambo No. 5" was burning up the airwaves that summer.

What I liked best, and what critics probably like least, is that King allowed Scott to make some restitution. He was able to give both the actual victims and their families, a different sort of victim but not any less devastated, some degree of closure, maybe a little bit of peace.

I am reminded of the last words in "The Mist" (the novella, not the movie ... I still haven't been able to bring myself to watch that yet) ... "The first word was Hartford. The other was hope."

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