Jonathan Safran Foer just signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown in the US. According to his UK publisher, Penguin, the first, Escape from Children’s Hospital, will be published in 2014 and is “a fictionalised account of when an explosion in a summer camp science class left Safran Foer’s best friend without skin on his face or hands, leaving the author unscathed by inches.” (The boy who had been Foer’s partner at the table was very badly burned as well.)
This event had a profound affect on Foer, who was just 9 when the accident happened. He wrote an affecting piece on it for The Guardian in 2010, describing the event and subsequent trauma (which included fear of sunlight and a reluctance to use his burned hands), as well as some of the injuries of his classmates:
I was taken by a fireman into the school office. . . . The other boy from my table was stretched out on the principal’s sofa, with four or five emergency medical technicians working on him. It was a brown leather sofa. What was on the walls of the office? Think. Framed certificates. Think.
I remember large peels of skin hanging loosely from his body. I remember the bright pink of the exposed flesh. His hair had been singed. I smelled it. His fingernails were missing. Had they melted? He was flailing wildly. Two firemen were holding down his shoulders, and two his ankles. He looked directly at me, but I don’t know if he saw me. He screamed without sound.
In the essay, Foer claims he “felt no overwhelming need to write about” the explosion. Clearly his position has changed in the last few years. (On the other hand, when he asked his friend Stewart for permission to write about him in this article, Stewart said, “I figured you’d write about the explosion one day.”) His dozens of visits to Stewart in the hospital seem to have been as terrifying as the event itself: “Did I ever actually say to my parents that I didn’t want to go? Did I ever utter the words themselves? Is it possible that they didn’t see or intuit the profundity of my fear, that it was death to me?”
Foer writes, “We form new skin over our wounds, and shed skin. Stewart had skin taken from his thigh and grafted on to his forehead, and, like everyone else, my childhood is grafted on to my adulthood. These pages are a kind of skin. But I don’t know if these words are sutures or bruises. And I don’t know whom to ask.” Maybe Escape from Children’s Hospital is his way of answering that question.
Related in BookPage: Two interviews with Jonathan Safran Foer