Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Summer Thunder

SK short story

For some reason, I just love books, short stories, movies, television show, you name it, that make me cry.  And the uglier the cry, the better.  And don’t ask me why this is the case, although my monthly Netflix subscription fee that allowed me to binge-watch Sons of Anarchy over several weeks could be argued (well, actually it is) to be much cheaper than a therapist’s hourly bill.

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And along with Kurt Sutter, Stephen King has been one of my therapists over the years.  He is probably the doc I have spent the most time with…

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Divorce got you down?  Uncle Stevie to the rescue!  Job sucks?  Uncle Stevie has the best cure for that!  You just need to shut out the world for a bit and ignore all other living beings?  You guessed, Stephen King has a cure for that!

And his short story, Summer Thunder, part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, provides exactly the kind of cathartic release I needed (I didn’t know I needed it actually, but who am I to question The Master):  it is short and sweet, but still packs a power punch.  In other words, the ugly cry you have been looking for is right here in this story.

 


Synopsis

Summer Thunder centers around a man named Robinson, who is a survivor in a post-nuclear war.  Robinson has lost his wife and only child to the nuclear disaster, and has only a stray dog named Gandalf for company.  Robinson rescued Gandalf sometime after the great disaster, and caring for another living creature has given him something to live for, even though he knows that he will eventually die from radiation sickness, like the rest of the population.

Periodically, Robinson and his dog visit a man named Howard Timlin, the only man who chose to stay in lakeside cottage that he lives in.  The rest of inhabitants fled for Canada, and are presumably dead or will die soon from radiation sickness.  Robinson notices that animals in the surrounding woods are dying off, likely victims of the radiation.

On Robinson’s visits to Timlin, Timlin would pull at Gandalf’s fur, and marvel that the dog did not seem to be affected by radiation sickness.  Robinson and Timlin also talk about a motorcycle that is still in Timlin’s possession, that he was supposed to give up the next summer, on his 50th birthday.

Finally, on one of his visits, Timlin notices that Gandalf is beginning to lose his fur.  Robinson denies that his dog is ill, although he has to carry Gandalf back to his house.  However, Gandalf’s symptoms worsen, and it is clear that he is a victim of radiation sickness.

Robinson drives into the nearby town of Bennington to pick up a battery for his motorcycle.  Robinson then visits his neighbor Timlin, who has become very ill with radiation sickness.  He tells Robinson that he plans to end his own life so that he does not have to experience the pain of radiation sickness, and gives Robinson a hypodermic needle so that he may end Gandalf’s life humanely.  Robinson also realizes that he himself is beginning to suffer from radiation sickness.

After Robinson returns home, he struggles with the decision to euthanize Gandalf, but follows through in the end, so that his friend will not suffer.  Robinson hears a gunshot in the distance, and knows that Timlin has ended his life as well.  When he awakens the next day, Robinson notices more symptoms of radiation poisoning on himself.

The next day turns out to be a beautiful one.  Robinson gears up his motorcycle for his final ride and remembers better times before the nuclear holocaust.  Robinson shakes his fist at the sky, in a moment of final exultation, and travels to a sign marked Dead Man’s curve at a deadly speed.  He is able to just hit fifth gear on his bike before he perishes.


 

My Thoughts

Whew…

Three days later and this story is still stuck with me.  And that is a sign of some good writing right there!

This story really got to me, so let me try to talk about why it did.

First of all, the subject matter.

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I am not a child of the 1950’s like my parents.  My parents (and probably King, as well) grew up in the shadow of the Cold War.  My parents recall the drills, and the propaganda films that they were subjected too as children.  I, myself, grew up at the tail end of that era, and was a mere child when the United States boycotted the Olympics.

So, as you can imagine, I heard a lot about nuclear war as a child.  It was the subject of more than a few popular movies, and it seemed that almost every YA book I read as a kid dealt with the subject in some manner (Judy Blume in particular stands out, and there was also the book Z for Zachariah, which frightened me more than anything Stephen King ever wrote).

As you can imagine, I had (and still have) a horrified fascination with the subject.  In fact, when reading about the symptoms of radiation poisoning in this story, my stomach did a little flip-flop (gee, thanks, Uncle Stevie) and I felt compelled to make sure that I didn’t have any funny rashes on my person…and here I was thinking that only Web MD, and not The Master, was responsible for hypochondria!

And yes, Gandalf

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No, not that Gandalf.  I am talking about the dog in the story…

Yeah…

Remember that ugly cry that I didn’t know I needed?  Well, the story of Gandalf life with Robinson, and his death gave me that, and then some.

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I really had hope, at the beginning at any rate, that Gandalf would make it.  But then his fur fell out.  And the tears fell out of my eyes.

And Robinson having to do that final act of compassion for his friend…don’t even get me started.  I had to do a final act of compassion on my friend, Igloo, earlier this year.  Like Robinson, I knew it was right thing.  I knew it was the best thing.  And I was glad that she was no longer suffering, as Gandalf was suffering.

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But it hurt.  Did it ever hurt.  I knew that it would, don’t get me wrong.  But you can know something in an academic sense.  That does not prepare you for the actual experience.  Like Robinson, I was unprepared.  And like, Robinson, I felt my life was being ripped from me, and that I was truly alone now.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sons of Anarchy.

Yes, Sons of Anarchy.  It is a well known secret that Kurt Sutter and Stephen King are fans of one another, and it shows in this story.  I loved it.

Some would say to go out with a bang.  Pull out all the stops.  And all that.  Robinson certainly did pull out all the stops, just like my hero, Jax Teller.  I can’t say that I blamed him…after all, like Jax, what did he have to lose?

Sometimes, the finale can be a bit sad.  But it can also be glorious.  It can be beautiful, as there is often beauty in pain.  And if it absolutely must end, then it should end gloriously, so that we forget the pain of it ending, at least momentarily.

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Letter to Sir Reggie Wayne

Dear Reggie Wayne,

This is a letter to you.  I know you wrote one to us.  And it was lovely, although that part didn’t surprise, since you have been a class act since day 1.

But really, Sir Wayne, we need to be writing the letter to you.  The city of Indianapolis and Indianapolis Colts fans everywhere are indebted to you.

Reggie Wayne,  Charles Woodson

People talk about the Colts, and often Peyton Manning comes to mind.  And that’s understandable, as he brought the franchise to another level, with his outstanding play.  He even brought Indianapolis its first (and only) Super Bowl ring.

Or perhaps they think of Andrew Luck.  You know, that young quarterback about to start his fourth year in the NFL.  For some reason, people think he’s pretty good.  Some think that even more rings will be brought to Indianapolis with Andrew Luck under center.  And they are probably right.

Myself, I have so many Indianapolis Colts whom I love, all for different reasons.  So its hard to pick a favorite.  I try to be like how my parents say they are…I don’t pick favorites (yeah, right).

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But you, Sir Reggie Wayne, will always stand out to me.  People often say that Colts fans are spoiled, as we have gone from having excellent play from Peyton Manning to having excellent play from Andrew Luck.  Two gunslingers, in other words.

But there is one important part in those two eras that needs to be addressed.  And that part would be you.

You played among the greats, such as Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.  And Sir Wayne, you would need to be included in that list of greats.  Many others played a vital role, but Peyton Manning could not have done it without you.  You were a favorite target in the Peyton era in Indianapolis for a reason.  You made ridiculous catches.  Oftentimes, you were airborne, or you caught that ball with one hand.  You gave us some truly spectacular plays.

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And then there is the Luck era.  The Colts were not supposed to be good after almost the entire organization underwent a massive rebuild in 2012.  Almost was the key word, as you and a couple of other players from the Peyton era stayed on. No one expected much from you and your teammates that year.  Winning four games would have been an accomplishment.  But, again, the Colts proved their doubters wrong.  Part of that (well, a big part of that) was due to the spectacular play of your teammate, Andrew Luck.  But again, Andrew could not have done it without you.  Once again, you made those ridiculous catches.  Sometimes, you were airborne.  Andrew Luck needed a security blanket that first year, and you made one heck of a security blanket for him, with your spectacular play to boot.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

You have been invaluable to the organization and to the city of Indianapolis.  You have taken young players such as TY Hilton under your wing, and helped mold them into outstanding players and outstanding citizens (although I don’t think that last part was terribly difficult).

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And again, your play during the time you were an Indianapolis Colt…I just can’t say enough about the spectacular plays you made!  I still get shivers down my spine when I think of that game winning drive your teammate, Andrew Luck, put together to win in the last few minutes of the game again Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers in 2012 (the fact that my husband is a Packers fan has absolutely nothing to do with my memories of this game.  Nothing at all).  That is just one of the moments that stands out to me.  And who could forget that 53 yard touchdown you caught from Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLI, which was instrumental in bringing Indianapolis its first (and so far, only) Super Bowl Championship?

Reggie Wayne, your number was chanted for a reason.  Number 87 has become associated with excellence.  Excellence both on and off the field.  There is no other way to put it.

Sir, you may no longer be a Colt.  Perhaps you will retire.  Or maybe another team will snap you up.  Whatever the case may be, the city of Indianapolis and the Colts organization will always be the winners, as they were privileged to have not only a great football player, but also a magnificent human being in their midst for so many years.

So, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.  It was a privilege to not only have you as a player on my favorite football team, but also as a citizen of Indianapolis for so many years.  And I can’t thank you enough for that honor.

Sincerely,

Your grateful, humble fans.

San Diego Chargers v Indianapolis Colts