The Stars are Falling
Joe R. Lansdale
What does it mean to be dead?
When does death occur? Is it the moment when physical life as we know it ceases, or is it when the person we know as a person ceases? Is it possible to haunt your own life?
The men who went to fight in World War I had no way of knowing what they were facing. World War I and the Civil War may have had the greatest lasting impacts on the way that the world processes both war and death. In the case of World War I, the technology changes were radically beyond comprehension for a great number of people, and the Civil War literally reworked the way that Americans comprehended death. The very act of dying changed, we came to see a new definition of a ‘good death’, and as a society we even had to start changing how we handle our dead-the American habit of embalming our dead can be traced in large part back to that particular war.
It is not surprising, once you start reading the accounts of trench warfare, to understand why pop culture would eventually name the men who fought in World War I the Lost Generation. Whoever it was that went to fight, they were not the men that came back home. Set in the early Interwar, Lansdale’s piece poses a question: is it possible to come back from battle alive?
This is not the conventional ghost story. There’s no specters, no hauntings in the traditional sense. However, Deel is fully aware that he died somewhere on the front line and he is just waiting for his body to catch up with what his soul actually knows. Maybe because I’m from a military family, or maybe because I know people who left their souls overseas when they ended their service, but this was a very hard story for me to read. The story falters a little from a slightly unbalanced narrative style, but I think that sometimes the extreme difference between locales (Lansdale is much more effective at showing Deel’s time in the trenches than at telling us his issues at home-so it can come across as a little surprising that he takes the actions that he does) sometimes makes his actions that much more understandable.