The fates of two young men collide on a bridge when a group of terrorists take over a schoolbus filled with children.
After the First Death is not the book I remember it to be–it was one of the enigmatic reads of my childhood. But now I see that it’s pretty straightforward, or maybe I just know a lot more about terrorism than I did when I was a kid.
Cormier is a pretty manipulative author, in terms of how he treats his characters. Of course, all authors play God (that’s the fun of writing fiction), but Cormier’s one where you really feel him pulling the strings. In a work like The Chocolate War, he gets away with it because one of the aims of the book is to interrogate the way control operates in interpersonal relationships and in institutions. It makes sense for those characters to be constrained.
In After the First Death, the manipulation just feels unfair, particularly as it relates to the death of one of the children in particular. Though just before this takes place, there is a startlingly honest moment with the bus driver that knocked me out of my socks. She’s ready to be a hero, but then finds herself relieved (and ashamed of her relief) when they choose the child anyway.
I’ve read a few Cormier books since starting this blog (click the Robert Cormier tag for a complete list), and what I’m finding is that he impresses me less now that I’m an adult. When I was younger, I thought he was the greatest writer alive–and he certainly has considerable storytelling powers–but his books don’t affect me the way they once did. I think it’s because his books offer younger readers a peek at adulthood in a way that’s compelling, even seductive, and it seems elliptical, even occult. But now I’m old enough to know what Cormier knew when he wrote these books, and that means that so much of their power has been dispelled for me.