Reading "The Stone Boy"
First reactions to first reading
First reading: Did you enjoy it? Did it move you? Does it strike you as an important story? Was it true to your experience of life? Did it remind you of something that has happened to you?
Enjoy, reading just for fun isn’t what comes to mind when I read this story. Its so sad, so deep and so true to life, and the scene with the gun going off not long into the story — sad upon sad. Two brothers, a gun to shoot geese, a walk near the woods, all too fortelling that something very bad is about to happen. Did I sense that at first? No, but any story for me that includes a child and a gun sets off my nerves in ways I can’t really describe. School shootings and daily child deaths to guns wasn’t part of life in 1957 when Gina Berrault wrote this story. Plenty of accidental shootings I suppose, which is what this is about, yet the gun being introduced into the story near the front spells a bad omen to me.
Yes it moved me, yes for sure it is important. In looking up when it was written, I found out that much has been made of this story, including two motion pictures, one in 1960, another in the 1990s or so. A signature story for this author, it seems.
The suspense is one element of what makes us want to read a story, “enjoy” it as we are told to do. Don’t know why I get caught up on things like wanting to question the concept of enjoying a story, of reading for fun, when that’s what the whole thing of reading stories and novels is primarily about, first for entertainment. To find out what happens, to experience a situation, told in a certain way. Obviously. Why do I fight at it.
Reminds me of my poem The Stone Man, written over 30 yrs ago, about the feeling of nothingness, hardness, persistance that reveals some opening, at the end (of that poem). End of this story has almost no hope, no openness.
Also reminds me of my brothers, very close, now at odds with one another. And of total misunderstandings, misreadings, mistakes that never, ever go away.
First reading: Did it in any way advance your understanding of life? Has it become - does it feel like it has the potential to become - what we might call a moral artifact?
yes, for sure, it is a moral —Tells how assumptions of a person’s motives become the reality - and that never changes, maybe never does
Second reading: Then read it a second time, trying to recall where you felt certain things on your first read. Or, trying to see what caused you to feel what you did. Can you trace the path your mind followed on that first read? Is there anything you didn’t understand? Places where you were confused about what was actually happening?
First time I didn’t understand the part about Arnold’s uneasy advantage over his brother as he looked down on him sleeping. I was looking too hard for deeper meanings and a slight confusion of who was the he in the first paragraph… but re-reading that part was obvious. The repeat of when Arnold is looking over his dead brother - flashback to earlier scene - fortelling, I suppose.
At first also I found them in the car heading toward town and thought no one had even spoken to Arnold at all about it - the part explaining that is later. When Arnold is sitting in the office on the bench next to his father, waiting for the sherrif who is next door where the body is. We follow Arnold’s movements here - no time to reflect at all, to even know what’s happened (for us the reader) until Arnold has time to mull it over.
This part - such a great description -
If he stayed, he thought, as he always stayed and listened when visitors came, they would see that he was only Arnold and not the person the sheriff thought he was. He sat with his arms crossed and his hands tucked into his armpits and did not lift his eyes.
This part — where there’s a chance of understanding, a possibility that his mother will help him
From the closed room her voice rose to him, a seeking and retreating voice. “Yes?” “Mother?” he asked insistently.
He had expected her to realize that he wanted to go down on his knees by her bed and tell her that Eugie was dead. She did not know it yet, nobody knew it, and yet she was sitting up in bed, waiting to be told. He had expected her to tell him to come in and allow him to dig his head into her blankets and tell her about the terror he had felt when he had knelt beside his brother. He had come to clasp her in his arms and pommel her breasts with his head, grieving with her for Eugene.
the nakedness, not just a metaphor, a reality. How it is. Actually naked. Actually bare before his mother, and that was not to be allowed, his nakedness unpardonable. He can not be forgiven for being what he is, he true self, his naked self revealed.
Arnold was aware suddenly that he was naked. He had thrown off his blankets and come down the stairs to tell his mother how he felt about Eugie, but she had refused to listen to him and his nakedness had become unpardonable.
This part, so masterfully written:
relief rained over his shoulders at the thought that his parents recognized him again. They must have lain awake after his father had come in from the yard: had they realized together why he had come down the stairs and knocked at their door?
another opening, his father recognizes that his sister is snubbing him by not passing the milk jug, the father moves the jog to Arnold and in so doing, recognizes him again as one of the family who deserves to be there. Maybe, he hopes, they knew how sorry he was and how he had wanted to cry with his mother about his lost brother, her son.
His mother asks about his knocking on the door last night, what did he want? (Why would she have to ask that - she would know how badly he felt about it - any mother would, wouldn’t they? Maybe not right away, she’s in grief and shock as well right now. — So she’s not reacting with understanding to Arnold just now. But will she later? What will happen the next day, and the next?
Will the family ever be able to properly grieve over this loss and understand that it was indeed accidental and that the guilt should not follow Arnold all his life. Though of course it will.
When my dad made one of my brothers take my youngest brother’s dog to the pound to be “put down” as they say, and it was all done without notice or consolation after (so the story goes as the youngest tells it) When this happened, it was nothing like Old Yeller where the boy has to shoot his own dog (or watch his father do it) because the dog was killing sheep (or what that story line was). In my family’s case, the death of the dog was not accidental, but a matter of convenience, and who knows what other pressures were brought to bear on that decision, about which I have no real information.
“I didn’t want nothing,” he said flatly. Then he went out the door and down the back steps, frightened by his answer.