Balloon Boy

AP - A homemade balloon aircraft floated away from a yard in Colorado after a 6-year-old boy was seen climbing in, setting off a frantic scramble by the military and law enforcement before the balloon slowly touched without the boy inside.

I happened to turn on the TV when the news came across that a balloon was drifting in the Colorado sky carrying a little boy in the basket. Instantly, I recalled the opening scene in Ian McEwan’s novel Enduring Love that I had first read as a short story in the New Yorker, followed by the novel, and later viewed as a film with Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton. Who could ever forget that opening scene?

The beginning is simple to mark. We see in sunlight under a turkey oak, partly protected from a strong, gusty wind. I was kneeling on the grass with a corkscrew in my hand, and Clarissa was passing me the bottle—a 1987 Daumas Gassac. This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man’s shout. We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing, I was running toward it…There was the shout again, and a child’s cry, enfeebled by the wind that roared in the tall trees long the hedgerows. I ran faster. And there, suddenly from different points around the field, four other men were converging the scene, running like me….What were we running toward a I don’t think any of us would ever know fully. But superficially the answer was a balloon….We were running toward a catastrophe, which itself was a kind of furnace in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes. At the base of the balloon was a basket in which there was a boy, and by the basket, clinging to a rope, was a man in need of help….

I wonder how many others had the same association? No one in the media yet, as far as I can tell or in any of the literary blogs I read. Do you recall the story? The opening incident, its outcome, the effect on the lover’s (Joe and Claire) relationship, and the subsequent ominous encounters with a man (Jed) who was also there in the field, pulling hard at the ropes to bring the balloon down. The novel and the film are as enduring as the opening scene and they have remained with me throughout the several years that have passed since I first read the excerpt in the New Yorker, then the novel, followed by viewing its film version a few years later.

In the afternoon I turned on the TV once again. At that very moment the “Breaking News” came across the screen that that the 6-year-old boy was found hiding in a cardboard box in his family's garage attic Thursday after being feared aboard a homemade helium balloon that hurtled 50 miles through the sky on live television. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wolf Blitzer quite so happy.

Now in the morning there are concerns being expressed about the public costs of the saga (the Denver airport was closed while the balloon was cruising in the gusty winds across the Colorado sky and a large search party was formed to scour the area for the boy). And apparently the boy’s father had uttered something to the effect that “we did this for a show” so investigators will try to determine if the whole thing was a hoax, beginning by questioning the family that apparently has a history of public display (the boy’s mother and father had appeared on “Wife Swap”).

Still there is no word yet from Ian McEwan or discussion of the striking similarity to his work of fiction, or to the way in which there is often little distinction between fiction and reality. However, a few Tweeters have noticed the resemblance. “I wonder if Balloon Boy and his parents have read Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love? “Great book centered in a similar tragedy.” “Balloon Boy reminds me of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.”