Christ In Concrete by Pietro di Donato, 1938
The magic trick:
Painfully descriptive writing about the construction accident
The Christian symbols and metaphors in the story are laid on a bit thick for my tastes. Those, to be sure, are the showcase literary motif at play here. What I want to talk about instead is the writing in the final section of the story, the description of the construction accident. These scenes are drawn in remarkable detail, and it’s emotional detail too. Di Donato takes the reader into the minds of various construction workers during their horrifying final moments as the building collapses. He does not hold back. Many of the images are incredibly gruesome, which only adds to the power of his psychological descriptions.
Di Donato’s real-life father was killed in such an accident, so without doubt this material is close to the author’s heart. The quality and passion he pours into the building-collapse section of the story certainly betray that connection. And that’s quite a trick on di Donato’s part.
He paused exhausted. His genitals convulsed. The cold steel rod upon which they were impaled froze his spine. He shouted louder and louder. “Save me! I am hurt badly! I can be saved, I can – save me before it’s too late!” But the cries went no farther than his own ears. The icy wet concrete reached his chin. His heart was appalled. “In a few seconds I shall be entombed. If I can only breathe, they will reach me. Surely they will!” His face was quickly covered, its flesh yielding to the solid, sharp-cut stones. “Air! Air!” screamed his lungs as he was completely sealed.