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I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will be prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.
When I was a teenager, I remember reading William Saroyan’s novel The Human Comedy. It’s been so long since I read it that I couldn’t begin to say what it was about. But now that I’ve read his short story “Resurrection of a Life”, I might have to go revisit that novel.
“Resurrection of a Life” is odd in that it is told in two different “persons”. The older narrator speaks in first person about himself as a boy in third person. It’s one person but told as though there were two. Not just any author could make that work but Saroyan uses it to great effectiveness.
The time frame in which the boy is living is 1917 – just as the United States is entering World War I. He sells newspapers for money to buy bread for his family. He skillfully shouts out the headlines while the older narrator gives the boy the ability to see the horrors of the war. The boy also goes to church on Sundays to enjoy singing hymns while the older narrator allows the boy to not believe in the faith being preached.
This is perhaps one of the most poetic stories I’ve ever read. It made me want to memorize it:
Everything begins with inhale and exhale, and never ends, moment after moment, yourself inhaling, and exhaling, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, moving, sleeping, waking, day after day and year after year, until it is now, this moment, the moment of your being, the last moment, which is saddest and most glorious.
“Resurrection of a Life” is included in The Best Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Seven of Clubs for Week 44 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.