I Remember Stand By Me: A Review of Stephen King's The Body by Aaron Burch

reviewed by Mike Tager

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Aaron Burch’s Stephen King’s The Body, part of IG Publishing’s “Bookmarked Series” is as much of an odd duck as Stephen King’s The Body is. That doesn’t mean it’s bad (which it’s not) and it doesn’t mean it’s good (which it is), it just means that it’s not about the content. It’s about context and personhood and the cusp between immaturity and adulthood. The Body is Stephen King’s paean to his childhood and to the death of innocence; Stephen King’s The Body is about Aaron Burch discovering truths about himself that both unlock his better nature and shut the door on his own innocence.

The “Bookmarked Series” asks authors to take a book that resonates with them and to deconstruct it, along similar lines as the “33 1/3 Series” or “Boss Fight Books” does with, respectively, music albums and video games. A relatively new series, most of the books deal with classics, such as Slaughter-House Five, A Separate Peace, or The Great Gatsby. What drew me, as a reader, to review The Body was the acknowledgement that the most important things to us are rarely high brow literature; when that’s the case, wonderful. But to most people, it’s shit like Stand By Me that hits home and has an effect unprepared for. And that’s really what Stephen King’s The Body is about.

Stephen King’s The Body is really a mashup of The Body and the 80s film adaptation of King’s work, Stand By Me (starring a cast of child stars for the ages: Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Keifer Sutherland and River Phoenix). Author Aaron Burch writes a highly personal work of nonfiction that weaves the book and the movie together with his own life, starting with the first time he watched Stand By Me and ending with a troubled time in his own marriage as he attends a Stand By Me festival.    

I was twelve going on thirteen when I first saw Stand By Me. I guess that would have made it 1990. As the narrator, Gordie Lachance, in a voiceover at the beginning of the film, says about the first time he saw a dead human being: “a long time ago … but only if you measure in terms of years.” This was slightly tweaked from the first chapter of “The Body,” the Stephen King novella the movie is based on: “a long time ago .. although sometimes it doesn’t seem that long to me.

It’s telling that Burch starts there. “The Body” (part of King’s book of novellas Different Seasons) is about time and youth and that’s what it means to Burch. And when he watches this movie about four friends trekking to see a dead body, he’s not really watching a movie, he’s reaching into the past and taking a hold of his past self. It’s a tie to his youth, to the friends of his past.

When reading Stephen King’s The Body, I found myself drifting off regularly. Not because I was bored, far from it—Burch’s prose is simple and clean, his musings and asides entertaining and enlightening—but because it triggered emotional resonance in me. I found myself thinking about the first time I listened to Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box,” the song that triggered my foray into music. I remembered the first time I saw “My Neighbor Totoro,” the movie that wormed its special way into the heart of my own fiancé. I relived the awakening of my own love of literature with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a book I’ve written about in passing before and its connection with my father. I thought of my own distant friends, people I haven’t spoken to in years, but who are still kept in my heart’s secret chambers.

That’s telling, isn’t it? When a book, written about another book, manages to call across time zones and years, from the paper to the brain of a reader and causes him to, not wax nostalgic, but wax purely happy. That doesn’t happen all the time, does it? I can’t imagine it does. It’s too easy to lapse into melancholy, which Burch does a few times, understandably so.

Nostalgia is not the best emotion; it’s tied in sadness and joy in equal measure. It’s a calling for a time that’s better than now by its very nature. Nostalgia is what Burch was channeling in his book about childhood and death, even if the end result was a net positive, for him and for the reader:

I started this book writing about nostalgia, because it is one of my personal go—to’s—in conversations, and in my writing—and because it seemed like a good argument to make about why “The Body,” and by extension, Stand By Me, work. And yet my very first memory of ever watching the movie, the first thing I wrote about for this very book, is my dad telling me that the movie might be a little mature for me but that it was worth it because it’s about friendship.

The journey Burch underwent while writing Stephen King’s The Body is on display here, notably his tender, bittersweet musings on his relationship with his wife, from beginning to current rocky (but strong) status. One of the main tenets of King’s work, and the movie it became, is about the dear friendships that happen organically in youth and fade away without a whimper. They’re so inextricably tied into what it means to be young that they’re inevitably dripping with emotions.

I remember listening to Nirvana with my high school friends. I remember playing Ogre Battle on my Super Nintendo, I remember passing copies of fantasy and science fiction books back and forth. I’d love to say I don’t still judge future friends by the contents of their Netflix queue or the books they admit to liking, but I do. I did it as a child and a teenager and even now. What we like and who we like are almost the same thing.

I love the movie, Stand By Me. I love the novella by Stephen King, “The Body.” And I love Aaron Burch’s Stephen King’s The Body. It made me remember my youth and the friends I spent it with. Would that more books could do the same.

Purchase Stephen King’s The Body here.