Author’s Note and Insights on
I wrote The Beach as an allegory, denouncing those monsters who have dared to think themselves worthy of using extermination and terror in an attempt to recreate the world in their image. While the inspiration for the story is drawn from the darkest pages of history, the source of certain physical elements, especially the large granite outcropping from which Alan often surveyed his never-realized kingdom, was derived from a much more personal experience . . .
Several years ago I was visiting a Jewish synagogue to attend the marriage ceremony of a longtime friend. I arrived early and since I’d never been there before, I took some time to enjoy the beauty of the grounds and the extensive gardens.
I first saw the five-foot-high granite obelisk from a distance. It was in a curious location—at the intersection of two sidewalks. Yet with its geometric shape and sheer size, it invited as much attention from its simplistic beauty as it did from its placement. As I approached the stone I noticed it was engraved on a single
side, requiring visitors to face east to read the inscription.
Instead of the expected Temple dedication or words of appreciation to a generous benefactor, it was simply a list—places and names that I didn’t immediately recognize: Bogdanovka, Janowska, Majdanek, Ravensbruck, and Sobibor. But as I continued to read, others were horrifyingly familiar: Dachau, Chelmno, Belzec, and Auschwitz. At the bottom of the list, two words stretched across the granite:
It was a reminder. A warning. And a damn good one.
Clues, Codes, and Efil’s Bottle . . .
The construction of Efil’s bottle was both a flight of fantasy and the result of a little research into the field of optics and light. No doubt some readers quickly deciphered the message printed on the bottom of Efil’s business card because of the way the brain can automatically reverse perspective and order. It’s similar to the process that allows us to recognize the image of an old woman and a beautiful young girl in the classic and often reprinted example of perceptual illusion. I’m also sure there were a few of you who took the line of text to a mirror to view the reflected page.
If you would like to see a real life example of this projected reverse image phenomenon—much as Alan did when he saw the inscribed line of text from Efil’s bottle cast upon the sand—take a look at the passenger side mirror on any late model car. Etched into the mirrored glass are the words: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. When the sun strikes the glass at the correct angle, those words will be projected in reverse onto the car door.
In an attempt to make the clue on Efil’s business card a bit more arcane, I used the equivalent Greek letters of Efil’s name—which I’m sure most of you recognized as the word “Life” spelled backward—to separate the reversed words. In cryptology these are called nulls, and are automatically removed or ignored by the recipient because of their inherent familiarity or personal significance (or by the use of a precut mask or digital filter). Efil inferred this possibility when he began to explain the wide range of options available to Alan: “And then that old favorite—especially with the Greeks—love. Many of your historians believe the Greek concept of love and life to be virtually interchangeable. And frankly, it’s my personal preference . . .”
While this may seem to be a very obscure inference, a formally trained professional negotiator—as Alan professed to be—is always listening for the interpretive and alternative meaning of every conversation. And from what I learned about the profession, Efil’s subtle suggestion would have been recognized as a significant revelation, especially by those who use these specialized communication skills at the highest levels of proficiency.
Alan’s Skill as a Negotiator . . .
Although Alan is fictitious, the skill attributed to his character—the ability to decipher an individual’s intentions by acute observation—is not. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating topic, there is a wealth of information available from books, training courses, and seminars. The discipline is called Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP for short. Books and home study programs will provide an introduction, however, proficiency is usually acquired through months of classroom-based instruction or personal tutoring. While researching the topic for this story, I was invited to attend several classes and workshops. I found even the limited amount of training I received incredibly useful, especially after I discovered how much of our communication takes place beyond the limitations of language and vocabulary.
References to Stereotypes and Cultural Presuppositions . . .
When Alan was given the opportunity to determine which groups and ethnicities would be removed from “his” beach, his natural inclination would have been to choose specific ethnic groups and then associate them with the destructive activities that he was so adamantly trying to prevent. For example, “the such-and-such race leaves their half-eaten hot dogs all over the beach,” or “the so-and-so people toss their empty beer cans into the surf.” And while I knew Alan would not hesitate to make such prejudicial accusations, I did not want one of my protagonists adding new negative stereotypes to the collection of racial, ethnic, and cultural presuppositions all too often propagated by the media and entertainment industry. So when it was time for Alan to demonstrate his shallow and self-centered importance by explaining his rationale for choosing which groups to be purged, I decided to restrict his reasons to existing and widely held clichés, hoping these less offensive—but certainly not more accurate—typecasts would be sufficient to reveal Alan’s character.
The Story’s Location and Setting . . .
Contrary to the popular notion that Florida beaches are blessed with constant sunshine and warm weather, there are some parts of the state that experience seasonal changes in both temperature and rainfall. This is especially true in the northern panhandle of the state, where winter temperatures ranging in the forties and fifties easily create the deserted beach setting that was so appealing to Alan.