Different Seasons: Apt Pupil

Different Seasons: Apt Pupil
May 3, 2013 Constant Readers

Welcome to the second book of Different Seasons (subtitled “Summer Of Corruption”), in which SuperKid Todd Bowden—all-American slice of Wonder Bread—spots, photographs, researches, and verifies that an escaped Nazi War criminal, Kurt Dussander, is living on his Token Suburban Paper Route. Todd does what all well-adjusted kids would do in such a situation and confronts a man who he has proven to himself has killed lots and lots of people. Maybe Todd feels safe because he’s not Jewish?


Andrea: I love this story. It’s so freaking good.“I pulled Apt Pupil from shelves because I didn’t want kids baking cats and having vaguely homosexual relationships with Nazi war criminals in hiding.”
Pat: All right, well, that’s that sorted. Next!
Andrea: Should I take it that you were not as enthralled?
Pat: I don’t understand what a whatever-year-old kid is doing noticing a Nazi fugitive that no one else has ever recognized before.
Andrea: Well, yeah, it is totally unbelievable, but was it not also fascinating? I mean the point was that this was no regular kid. He was a sociopathic freak. But was he that way before or after?
Pat: I don’t think dude was transformed by learning about the concentration camps.
Andrea: Do you think he was transformed by the proximity to such an evil person?
Pat: No.
Andrea: OMG you so have nothing to say about this story
Pat: Well how would the proximity change him? What does that even mean?
Pat: What are you even talking about? This kid was already fucked in the head.
Blackmailed Dussander from the GIT GO.
Bought him a fucking Nazi uniform to wear.
Andrea: So do you think he was born with the sociopathy?
Pat: Well, yeah.
Andrea: Despite his annoying yet seemingly competent parents?
Pat: What exactly can parenting do about inborn neurochemical imbalances? In the seventies?
Andrea: Oh god, I have no idea.

Dussander and Todd go back and forth, the kid making accusations and offering circumstantial proof that Dussander is not, in fact, Arthur Denker, Random German Guy in the Neighborhood, but the architect of an entire camp’s worth of Holocaust deaths during World War II. Dussander is all like, “Nah, dude. And that’s racist, thinking all old German people who have killed Jews look alike. You’re worse than Hitler.”

Andrea: “Summer of Corruption”: Accurate subtitle?
Pat: Ugh, so fucking hackneyed.
Andrea: Well all four chapter titles are clichéd.
Pat: On one hand, the stretched-out timeline allows Todd to get to a shorthand version of where Dussander was when they met.
Trying to forget something he did, something he was associated with, something he wants to wash his hands of but can’t, until finally it consumes him again.
Which mirrors Dussander, which, okay, fine, I guess that excuses Dussander descending back into murder.

But yeah, Todd is so right. Denker IS Dussander, and Dussander is the “Butcher of Treblinka,” which, at worse, sounds like he might have been a bouncer at a gay Nazi nightclub. In exchange for his silence, Todd expects ol’ Dussy to tell him stories of the war, of the camps, because he’s already exhausted the available reading material out there, and he has yet to bust his metaphorical nut. Dussander agrees, and a love blossoms between them.

Well, not really. The only thing that drops is Todd’s GPA, arousing the interest of Guidance Counselor Who Also Moonlights As Your Best Buddy and Keds Model, Ed French.

Andrea: Did you sympathize with Todd, Dussander, Todd’s parents, or none of the above?
Pat: No one at all
Andrea: Yeah, there was really no one redeemable in this whole story except good old Rubber Ed.
Pat: He was too much of a tool
Andrea: Several characters notice that Dussander is careful never to mention Todd’s name. The German word for “death” is “Tod.”
Andrea: For all the reals.
Pat: Yeah, I didn’t get why Ed French would be bothered that Dussander didn’t mention Todd by name. Who cares, Rubber Ed? Keds Ed.
Andrea: That is so dumb. Why would he not want to say the word for death anyway?
Pat: I don’t see any reason why Todd would start knifing people.
Pat: It’s completely against the kind of sterile, clinical death Dussander told him about in the camps.
Andrea: Sterile clinical death? What about the nerve gas?
And the dog experiments?
Pat: That’s a pretty clinical way of doing it.
Andrea: I wouldn’t call it sterile.
Pat: You put people in a chamber and gas them.
I’d say it’s damn sterile and damn clinical.
Andrea: What with the dancing in their own poop?
Pat: It’s not like knifing someone violently, though.
Blood everywhere.
Andrea: Well, yeah, it’s not up close and personal like knifing.
Pat: Right, that’s what I mean.

Andrea: OMG the scene in the movie where he puts on the uniform and marches–so fucking chilling. Not so much in the book.
Pat: In the book it was sad.
Andrea: Yeah. That was when you truly felt bad for Dussander as a broken old man.
Pat: Then when he marches, it was chilling because Todd is seeing it’s not all make-believe.
These aren’t just stories.
Andrea: Apparently Anthony Hopkins turned down the Dussander role.
Pat: Do you remember the key difference in the movie?
Andrea: Yeah, he didn’t kill Rubber Ed played by David Schwimmer. He said he would accuse him of molestation, and then he didn’t go on a shooting spree.
Pat: I remember thinking that change was pretty awesome.
Andrea: I actually really liked that movie. Ian McKellan was AWESOME.
Pat: It was great. The best part is when Dussander sees that Todd is doing poorly in school and brings out that huge staff and yells, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS.”
Interesting fact: Bryan Singer, who later directed the X-Men movies, which starred Ian McKellan as Magneto, directed Apt Pupil.
Andrea: I knew that!

As his grades start to slip into a lime-soaked pit, Todd finds he has Ed French, guidance counselor, near- to all-the-way up his butt. So he blackmails Dussander again—this, after making the poor old man march around in a Nazi costume—to pretend to be his grandfather and speak to French. THE RUSE IS SUCCESSFUL.

Pat: There’s no mention, by the way, of Dussander covering up his accent in his meeting with Ed French.
Which, when he calls the real Grandpa Bowden, he doesn’t go, “How come this bozo doesn’t have a German accent?”
Andrea: Oh right. WHOOPS, STEVIE.

And after that, Dussander gets the upper hand: he lets Todd get involved deep enough that, now, knowing Dussander would get him in trouble. Not Nazi-war-criminal level trouble, but, you know, still trouble. THE YEARS ROLL ON.

During those years? Todd? Our, uh… hero, I guess? He starts dating, but man, that guy has trouble with the sex. Seems he can’t get aroused without things being vaguely Holocausty. He has nightmares of his girlfriend strapped to a table while Dussander directs him to do the violent sex with her. It’s kind of unnerving, both for him and us. But he at least SORT OF LIKES IT. What a fucking nutjob!

Andrea: It goes without saying that the rape/torture imaginings about Betty or whoever were pretty squicky. Unnecessary or needed?
Andrea: Yeah, like they squicked me out
Is that strange?
Pat: That is not a word.
Andrea: Like my whole body just curled up and went squick.
Pat: I don’t know that it was necessary, but it seemed like it would follow through from everything else, and it helped illustrate that he was thoroughly fucked from what Dussander had told him about the camps.
BUT all it did was make me think his violence and sociopathy were the result of repressing homosexuality.
Andrea: Well, yeah. They left all of that out of the movie. They just made it so he couldn’t get it up.
Pat: There just wasn’t anything to really tie up his sexuality with the Dussander stuff.
Andrea: Right. It was kind of a half-baked subtext.

Oh. Right. Then Todd starts knifing fucking homeless dudes. And Dussander starts making casseroles out of cats. We are in Non-Boner Country now, folks. Oh, but of course cats aren’t enough to satiate Dussander’s desires, and certainly not enough to keep the recurring nightmares at bay. While Todd dreams of weird pornographic episodes of Mr. Wizard, Dussander is being lashed and tortured by his past misdeeds in his dreams.

Andrea: Did you like the movie better than the book?
Pat: I don’t think one is better than the other. The movie takes place all in one year, right?
I thought that was better. The novella goes on and on over the years.
Andrea: Yeah, it kinda dragged toward the end.
Pat: First Todd has the power! Then Dussander has the power! Then they have equal power! Then Dussander has the power but says he doesn’t and Todd doesn’t believe him which basically gives Dussander the power by default!
Andrea: The hobo thing was weird. Like–they both started killing hobos independently of each other with no discussion?
Pat: Yeah, I found that odd. And why with a knife?
At least Dussander was gassing them, which fit with the thing of the camps affecting both their brains.
Andrea: I don’t remember if Todd killed hobos in the movie?
Pat: Nope. Dussander tries to kill one. Just one. He fails and has to have Todd finish the job.
Andrea: Oh! SO this is really interesting. Apparently this was almost fully filmed in the 80s starring Ricky Schroder as Todd. Which I can totally get behind.
But two Dussanders died in a row. So they bagged the whole thing.

So Dussander starts luring dudes back to his house! OSTENSIBLY for creepy old man gay sex, but ACTUALLY for stabby death times. UNSURPRISINGLY, THE OLD MAN GIVES HIMSELF A HEART ATTACK TRYING TO BURY ONE. Todd must help him finish the job, or they’re both fucked! Dussander especially but Todd definitely! He helps with the burial (smartly located in the basement cemetery Dussander built without any work permits, because Nazis just don’t care about your rules, WORLD) and then Dussander gets a nice rest at the hospital.

Andrea: What about the unbelievably ridiculous coincidence of having the guy in the hospital bed next to him recognizing him.
Pat: Yeah, at LONG LAST, there’s a holocaust survivor in the bed next to him.
Andrea: When no one recognized him for a billion years.
Pat: ALTHOUGH, the thing about believing God broke his back so that he could help catch this long-standing Nazi fugitive was so good.
And so Jewish
Andrea: Yeah I loved that guy! OK one guy I really liked was the Jewish guy!
Pat: BUT on the other hand, you’re, what, 75% through the story, and you get socked with the entire backstory of a Holocaust survivor.
Which is probably my least favorite thing SK does ALL THE DAMN TIME.
Andrea: I love the random backstories. When they are good, they totally drag you back in.
This could have been a shorter story I think.
Pat: WAY shorter.

Dussander is mad fucked. Meanwhile, Ed French is poking around, still weirded out by Todd and suspicious of Kurt, who he figures out IS NOT AT ALL TODD’S GRANDFATHER. Better watch where you tread with them Keds, Ed.

Pat: So, when French Ed Rubber Keds goes to check the old report cards, he finds it’s been doctored.
Andrea: Right. And?
Pat: Why would the school have the copy of the report card that was sent home to the parents?
Andrea: Cause the parents have to sign and return it.
Pat: And even if, for some fucking reason, the school had both copies of every report card, the only reason the parents’ copy would come back to the school is if they had to be signed…
…then why wouldn’t Todd have doctored them back? For such a careful kid, that seems like a pretty dumb way to get caught, handing a doctored report card back to his teacher.
Andrea: Yeah true. PLOT HOLE, SK

ED IS FUCKING ONTO THE TRUTH. But so and then anyway he visits the ol’ Bowden household, while Todd—now super into guns and marksmanship—is cleaning his rifle completely without sexual subtext. The long and short of it: Ed, Keds, they both rhyme with “dead.” Well, “dead” or “deads.” Anyway, Ed is dead, he bled on his Keds and now they’re sort of red.


Pat: I spent most of the book thinking I remembered the end accurately. Which is to say, I thought there was a long drawn-out gun battle. But no, it was just a fucking sentence.
A sentence put an entire long thing in my head for DECADES
Andrea: Oh man, that was one of his best sentences ever and definitely in the top five best of his endings.
Pat: It was pretty great.
Andrea: But now I can’t remember it! Help me, oh ye of photographic memory.
Pat: “It was five hours later and almost dark before they took him down.”
Andrea: That’s pretty masterful.
Interesting that King never derided this story like he did Rage. I guess because the shooting was outside the school
Pat: “I pulled Apt Pupil from shelves because I didn’t want kids baking cats and having vaguely homosexual relationships with Nazi war criminals in hiding.”

Fucking Todd beefs it. We never know how, but rest assured: Todd is now the all-American dead boy.

Pat: I’m probably not as impressed with this because King does the coming-of-age-in-the-presence-of-evil thing way better in Christine.
Andrea: Well, yeah. I think that might be his best book.
Pat: There’s no one to root for in Apt Pupil.
Andrea: Whereas in Christine you root for everyone.
Pat: You’re hoping Todd and Dussander get tripped up. You want everything to go badly.
Name one person in this book you actually care about?
Andrea: Todd’s mom.
Pat: I don’t feel bad for his mom. Or dad. They’re robots.
Andrea: I felt kinda bad for the hobo.
Pat: I think SK missed a trick in having Dussander descend back into murder. At the very beginning, when he is plagued by what Todd is bringing up, you feel for him, weirdly. Especially when Todd makes him put on the uniform.
Andrea: Yeah. It would have been better if he were remorseful all along.
Pat: The counterpoint of Todd being the evil one, Todd being the one making him relive the horrors he committed in his youth, Todd becoming a murderer because the stories stop being enough. But King makes Dussander pitiable at the beginning, and then makes him a shit again.
I mean, it’s a good story. But it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.
Andrea: Well yeah. But don’t most of his stories?
Pat: Not Shawshank, bioooootch
Andrea: um yeah
It requires the suspension of disbelief that all those factors would align in his favor–his cell wouldn’t get moved, the pipe wouldn’t be blocked, he wouldn’t get paroled, etc etc etc
Pat: Well, no, that doesn’t require any suspension if you consider the universal law of stories.
Which is that if the story wasn’t worth telling–say Andy just got shivved in the first week, or his cell got moved–you wouldn’t be telling it.
Andrea: Well, yeah. Like, “Why don’t they ever have 16 and pregnant episodes about abortion?”
Pat: The analog would be if Andy just wanted to be able to get in and out of the prison so he could get Arby’s every once in a while.
Andrea: lol
“People do crazy things. Like eat at Arby’s”
TM Marge Simpson

Andrea: Bringing Up The Simpsons In Lieu Of REAL DISCOURSE Since, I Don’t Know, Man, 1993 Or Thereabouts?

Definitely one of his more underrated movie adaptations.
Pat: Good, probably longer than it needed to be.
See also: all Stephen King books.
Andrea: I will say that Apt Pupil is my favorite of the four.
Pat: How can you even joke that Apt Pupil is the best?
Andrea: It isn’t a joke. I liked it more than Shawshank.
It’s completely unsentimental which I liked because I have no heart.
Pat: You’re insanely sentimental.
Pat: Dunno. I have a note that says, “No good can come of naming a kid ‘Todd’.”
Andrea: LIttle did you know it meant DEATH.
What is SK’s obsession with terrible names like Todd and Tad?
Pat: He does seem a… tad obsessed.
Andrea: I hope Dussander lures you to his home for gay sex and then cooks you like a cat and you boil in your own bad puns.
Pat: Jesus, you just roasted me.
Pat: It’s been a blast.

Andrea has disconnected.