Rereading Stephen King
September 8, 2012 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Rereading Stephen King Guardian columnist James Smythe has read everything Stephen King has ever written – and now he's revisiting each novel in chronological order. First: a young girl with some dangerous powers [previously] posted by KokuRyu (122 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
/Goes straight to Night Shift.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on September 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

You know, if he'd stopped at those shorts, Carrie and The Shining we'd probably still be talking about him just as enthusiastically today. Talk about a strong start.
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I draw the line on King's writing at IT. Everything up to, and including IT ranged from pretty good to brilliant. Even The Tommyknockers, which King now admits was written in a haze of coke and booze fueled jags and which he can't even remember writing, had flashes of brilliance that make it one of my favorite novels ever.

But after IT it was like he had run out of things to say. (This is a hazard when you enter writing, which tends not to create new life experiences, at a young age with a rather shallow pool of your own life experiences to draw on.) Everything got long and literary and finally he started dredging up his old stuff and redoing it, usually worse. After Dreamcatcher I advised my wife to stop the annual ritual of getting me the latest King for Christmas.
posted by localroger at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've said it I previous threads, but the novellas in last years Full Dark, No Stars are as strong as anything he's done before. Of course, that's my favored length for King so I may be prejudiced.
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

You know, if he'd stopped at those shorts, Carrie and The Shining we'd probably still be talking about him just as enthusiastically today. Talk about a strong start.

The only way that would have happened would have been if he'd been killed or incapacitated. As Smythe alludes to a couple times, it seems like King had all of this stuff inside of him and needed a way to get it out.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:11 PM on September 8, 2012

I have been rereading King on and off for a while, and have been struck -- much more strongly than when I read him as a teen -- by the very strong running themes of physically abusive fathers and abusive husbands.

(For example, most recently I read Lisey's Story: father with mental/paranormal "bad gucky" that "runs in the family". Hard not to see this as a metaphor for the cycle of child abuse.)

It makes me wonder how much that is shaped by his own experience. Has he written about this aspect of his writing at all?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:14 PM on September 8, 2012

I think King's father left the family when King was very young.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:16 PM on September 8, 2012

Guardian columnist James Smythe is wasting his life.

Stephen King! Pffft.
posted by LarryC at 2:19 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has he written about this aspect of his writing at all?

He's written two fairly autobiographical books (Danse Macabre and On Writing) that deal with where his writing comes from, but an abusive childhood was not one of them. His dad left to join the Merchant Marines when he was really young, and IIRC he doesn't have any real memories of him. His mom and grandparents seem to have been good influences with occasional flashes of real inspiration, best illustrated in his memory of a dowsing rod that his grandfather demonstrated for him.

FWIW I consider both of those to be among his best works, and are well worth picking up, even if Danse Macabre is a couple decades old at this point.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:20 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I draw the line on King's writing at IT. Everything up to, and including IT ranged from pretty good to brilliant.

Actually, you should really draw the line through IT. Specifically about 3/4 of the way through, when possibly King's greatest single virtuoso feat of mounting tension and one of literature's all-time creepiest villains (the wise-assed, seductive Pennywise the Clown) vanish into incoherence and D-grade monster-movie schlock.

That first few hundred pages though? That extraordinary opening sequence with the paraffin paper boat and Fur Elise and the rest? Masterful. As good as anything he's done (by which I mean as good as Salem's Lot, The Stand and Different Seasons).
posted by gompa at 2:24 PM on September 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

Danse Macabre is actually a really interesting book, full of insights into how horror developed as a genre.

I'm not exactly sure why, but Tommyknockers was the last King book I ever read way back when, but during my teen years in the mid 80's I would always get a King hardcover for Christmas. Christmas was a very stressful time, and my most pleasant memories of Christmas were actually Boxing Day, after all the stress and craziness had evaporated, curled up in a chair, reading Stephen King.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:25 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

After Dreamcatcher I advised my wife to stop the annual ritual of getting me the latest King for Christmas.

You should resume that ritual. Full Dark, No Stars and 11/22/63 are both superlative.
posted by kafziel at 2:26 PM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm a little pissed with Stephen King and you all, since after the last thread about him I read Full Dark No Stars and haven't been able to sleep with the lights off since. Thanks! (I read all of his previous stuff too but maybe I'm getting more fraidy-cat with age!).
posted by bquarters at 2:27 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by perspicio at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of King's theories of horror in Danse Macabre is "find the mutant." I recall this as a not very flattering view of horror. A group of humans finds the weirdo and destroy him. Is that the origin of BoingBoing's happy mutants message?
posted by saber_taylor at 2:41 PM on September 8, 2012

I'm not sure I care about the opinion of someone who uses the word "zeitgeisty."
posted by anothermug at 2:41 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will always have a nostalgic place in my heart for Night Shift, because it contains The Boogeyman, which I read at perhaps age 9.

I had a pretty good imagination, was an advanced reader as a tyke, and most things rolled right off my brain without trauma--such as the rest of the book. Giant killer rats and beer blobs and looming monsters in the fog? Enh. No big deal. The pages turned quick. The Boogeyman, though, that one got into me and turned my bedroom's closet into a Fear Generator. The door didn't set quite right in it, you see (old farmhouse) and wouldn't latch, so its natural state was slightly ajar. If you know The Boogeyman, a closet door being slightly ajar is Very Bad. But it couldn't be shut. And leaving it wide open would just be pure madness.
posted by Drastic at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

Rereading that fucker as a parent is harsh.
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually, you should really draw the line through IT

LOL good point. Yeah, it was about at the point you mention that he seems to have run out of steam, not just for that novel but for everything, and the wrapping-up was awkward to say the least.

However, it's not the first ending I didn't like. I'd say the first three hundred pages of The Stand was the best novel ever written, while the whole second stage epic thing kind of faltered by comparison. And while I love The Tommyknockers, I absolutely never read the parts between the kid disappearing at the magic show and the dig reaching the spaceship hatch.
posted by localroger at 2:43 PM on September 8, 2012

I think he's played it really safe here with his assessment of "Rage." I don't think King set out to create a villain, any more than an incredibly disaffected youth necessarily sets out to become one. To me, that novella has always seemed like a sort of "Tales From the Darkside" version of The Catcher in the Rye.
posted by hermitosis at 2:46 PM on September 8, 2012

I was not previously aware that King had asked for Rage to be pulled from publication. This strikes me as being a bit chickenshit, on the level of Kubrick pulling A Clockwork Orange, and I'm glad I have my early four-book Bachmann anthology that includes it.

I think Rage was King's attempt to do something like American Psycho, but it's not so apparent because King is deeply uncomfortable writing about sex. This is apparent in 'Salem's Lot which, while brilliant, may be the most purely asexual vampire legend ever created, and in Gerald's Game which was a deep, deep notch on his post-IT downward slide.
posted by localroger at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2012

There's worlds of difference between Kubrick, whose work was an adaptation not particularly admired by the original author and pulled due to outside pressure, and King wanting to pull his own adolescent (in both senses of the word) writings for what he feels are very good reasons.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:59 PM on September 8, 2012

In fact, The Long Walk is the earliest of all King's books, written when he was just 18.

WOW. The Long Walk is one of the most haunting things I have ever read, and his voice was already completely Stephen Kinged out at that point. That's amazing.
posted by something something at 3:00 PM on September 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

I gave up on him when he released the expanded version of The Stand.
posted by thelonius at 3:03 PM on September 8, 2012

I know it's fun to say that Stephen King is a shitty writer, but I have enjoyed just about every book of his that I read. I still think that the Dark Tower series was one of the most satisfying series I ever read (although his literal deus ex machina was understandably off-putting for some). I loved the King/Bachman experiment with Desperation and The Regulators.

It. The Stand. Pet Semetary. Needful Things. The Shining. All the Bachman books. Four Past Midnight. Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Misery. The two books with Straub.

I have only read a fraction of his books since graduating high school in 91, because it seemed like a lot of his work has been more "psychological" horror and really I'm just into the sci-fi/fantasy type of horror. But the newer stuff that I've read -- the aforementioned Bachman pairing, Under the Dome, even Cell -- have all been great fun.

To each their own, I say.

(Just don't get me started on Piers Anthony...)
posted by bpm140 at 3:08 PM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

"a young girl with some dangerous powers " -- doesn't that describe about half of them?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait you can get paid for doing this? I am so in the wrong business.
posted by tempythethird at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2012

I've been toying around with an idea of putting together a podcast where a friend of mine and I re-read King chronologically and then drink and talk about it. We started the initial readings and got a little intimidated, but I'm starting to think that it's worth starting and then struggling through the finish - which gets weird and uneven before he got sober, and then weird and uneven again for a long understandable while after the accident - because I think, honestly, it's worth it even if nobody listens.

I can roll around on the floor shouting about how amazing he is as a short story and novella writer, and the sublime Long Walk and (now socially unreadable, prescient) Rage, down through the weird post-accident years, and then back up to the amazing Full Dark and (yes, superlative) 11/22/63, as a sort of cultural experience of being a little too young to read the first ones - even though we did, and our mothers gave them to us, and what does that mean? - as late-30s/early 40s Gen Xer women.

In any case, rereads are a thing that serves King well, through the worst and the best.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:23 PM on September 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

I would totally guest on your podcast.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kubrick moved to pull ACO from distribution after someone (I forget exactly who) reminded him that he had an isolated country estate not so different from the one at HOME in the story, and that one day the Droogs might come for him.

King pulled Rage (and it's very interesting that he was able to get that done) because he didn't want to be blamed for something like Columbine. Which might have been prescient.

In another thread we were discussing Brett Easton Ellis and some other writer, and you know what? I would be serously disappointed (and doubt I ever will be) should he repudiate American Psycho. Part of the decision to create something like that is the decision to live with the consequences.

When the kuro5hin community asked me to put my little trunk novel out in the wild I thought about this very hard. I'm not a rich person with the freedom to move wherever I want and the juice to hire private security. Now maybe because only ten or twenty thousand people know who I am instead of millions I haven't attracted the kind of stalky obsessive horror movie cliche that real celebrities have to worry about, but I knew I would have to own Lawrence and Caroline and Fred and the odd chapters for the rest of my life.

I could have left it in the figurative drawer of c:\mopi. For that matter, back in 1994 when I woke up with a spectacularly vivid and fucked up image in my head I could have recorded the bowdlerized version hoping for publication instead of the truth of what I had seen.

About half the people who find my little project run in horror and probably think there is something deeply wrong with me. I am proud to count myself with J.G. Ballard in thinking this is a kind of success most writers don't even dare to dream of.

I called American Psycho and some book by that other guy assaults on the reader. Rage is an assault on the reader. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition is an assault on the reader. The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is an assault on the reader. Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is an assault on the viewer. Assaulting your audience is a dangerous game, but when it works it's glorious. You can find yourself in a whole new world after such an assault.

A couple of months ago I got an email from one of my own readers. He'd written me five years earlier to tell me that my story had inspired him to study artificial intelligence. He wrote me recently to let me know that he had completed his bachelor's and was now enrolled in a prestigious graduate program, and he thanked me for the inspiration that made it possible.

While I am glad it is working out for this fellow I found this profoundly disturbing, in that good way an assaulty story can make you feel. When I sat down in 1994 to record the story of Caroline's decline into heaven-driven psychosis it would not have occurred to me that I was reaching into this future young person's head to turn a lever that would influence his entire life. (Of course I didn't realize a whole subculture was forming that wanted more than anything to create Prime Intellect.) Actions have consequences, and even though I am only known in a small circle of geeks I've had a deeper effect on at least one other person than I ever intended.

But that is a feature, not a bug. Powerful feelings can inspire people to do both great and stupid things; I am not ashamed that I made a story that had such power. I'm saddened and disappointed that King and Kubrick, both men I generally admire, ran from the power of their own stories.
posted by localroger at 3:33 PM on September 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

I stopped reading King right in the middle of IT at the cockroach scene. Never picked up any of his work ever again.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:42 PM on September 8, 2012

I thought Full Dark, no stars, had some good writing in it, but really thought that they would have been better short stories. They feel flacid to me, like a lot of his later work. Mechanically better, but just taking an idea and making more of it than needs to be.

That critique aside, the woman's revenge story is pretty amazing. The trap she falls into, what happens to her....eesh. It's very good horror. It's the later Kill Bill part where I was just like come on.
posted by angrycat at 3:43 PM on September 8, 2012

Also, I volunteer for the podcast. I have opinions!
posted by angrycat at 3:46 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Those of you who stopped reading at #foo have missed a lot of good books and stories. But I am an unabashed fan of the man's work - his crap is crap, but usually at least entertaining and well-written crap, and his good stuff is incredible.
posted by biscotti at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

angrycat, that matches my experience with most other post-IT SK. Sometimes there are good ideas there, but it's too bloody long and keeps going after it should have stopped. King had a hint of a problem with that pre-IT but it really came to be a serious problem after.

It doesn't surprise me that he might have done some good novellas, but I've really just gotten out of the habit of following him. I have bookmarked this guardian series though and will be following it.

The Green Mile is the one exception I can think of; it was fantastic, but only because King was forced to brevity by the serial format.
posted by localroger at 3:48 PM on September 8, 2012

localroger, yep; contrast with "The Boogeyman," which as mentioned above is just a perfect cake-slice of horror

very nice
posted by angrycat at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2012

I think many people read all of King's work when they are teenagers or in their early 20s. (I did, certainly, as did many of my friends.)

If this is the case for you, I strongly recommend re-reading his books later in life. It really is amazing how much more different some of them are.

I recently re-read Pet Sematary and was struck by how the entire book is about how people grapple with all-consuming grief and loss. As a teenager, I was happily blind to these themes.

Reading The Shining as an adult is also a very different experience. Although I'm not a parent, I fear for little Danny in a way I never did when I was younger. As a younger reader, I saw Danny as more of a peer, or at least a reader stand-in.

As an adult, I see Danny as a small child alone in a malevolent world, left unsupervised by parents who are too wrapped up in their own dramas to see what is happening to their son, much less to help. It's all sort of the same, from Danny's perspective: the dead lady in the tub, and the angry daddy who broke his arm over a spilled beer. Heartbreaking.
posted by ErikaB at 3:58 PM on September 8, 2012 [20 favorites]

MetaFilter: I have opinions!
posted by Egg Shen at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

"I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries."

-Stephen King
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:06 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thinking of Kubrick - I can understand how a novelist might have difficulties with any film adaptation of their work, even one so well done as the film of The Shining. So I give him some respect here, although I disagree very much with his opinion.

I think Kubrick really got horror right. A few years ago, I re-watched "2001: A Space Odyssey", and I thought: this is a horror movie, not a science fiction movie, and I still kind of feel that way. The monolith backstory is a setup for the main story of the Discovery astronauts, trapped in the true middle of nowhere, at the mercy of an insane computer. The survivor completes his mission, only to have his humanity destroyed by an alien intelligence. The nature of that transformation is unclear, and the ending of the film is quite open to interpretation, of course, but that is one reading.
posted by thelonius at 4:08 PM on September 8, 2012

"I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries."

Yeah, to hear King give an interview you'd never know he taught, like, college literature or any hifalutin stuff like that. Just wrote some stories. Why, he don't even know what those dang met are for.
posted by localroger at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have such mixed feelings about King. I've been reading him on and off since I was a little kid, (and its true, you get something totally different from his work as an adult), and I always "decide that I won't read him any more", because I really dislike gore and woman-abuse and etc.

And then a few months or years later I'll find myself devouring a bunch of his work. And I don't know why. And at the beginning, I'll think "oh, great, a story about trucks that come to life and start killing. This is so stupid". And by the end of the story, my heart rate's up and I'm totally gripped and nervous.

So what I figure is that King's not a good writer because he writes books I want to read. He's a good reader because he makes me read his books even though I don't want to. And he's not a good writer because he writes stories about trucks coming to life, but because he can write a frigging story about trucks coming to life, for fuck sakes and somehow make it scary.

I've been avoiding his newer anthologies, assuming they would suck, but from the good reviews I'll check them out.

Oh, and lay off Piers Anthony! My love of puns apPiers to be directly caused by him! It's great stuff!
posted by windykites at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am pretty sure Pet Sematery had a lot to do with my eventual decision not to have children. (My childless podcast cohort and I will discuss this, possibly with ArtW and angrycat.)

I didn't find out until much later that it was his son Joe (Hill) who nearly got to the road; I never could deal with the idea of the feeling of having a primal-level responsibility so toddler-ly determined to meet his fate like that, and the tiny quantum difference* being that King snagged a finger in Joe's shirt before he got out of the yard. Joe and I are the same age. This has clearly left a mark.

*Tiny quantum differences being exactly what makes King's fiction so tremendously powerful. Obviously, crazed sentient semi trucks are almost entirely unlikely to happen...but it's within the reach of imagination.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2012

Other than a terrifying experience of reading "The Langoliers" at 9 in my mom's copy of Four Past Midnight, I didn't meaningfully read King until grad school. What a great experience that was.

And then a few months or years later I'll find myself devouring a bunch of his work. And I don't know why. And at the beginning, I'll think "oh, great, a story about trucks that come to life and start killing. This is so stupid". And by the end of the story, my heart rate's up and I'm totally gripped and nervous.

Yeah, he kinda nauseates me.

Also, I'm the only person who likes Gerald's Game. That's okay, I guess. I think it's a beautifully written, spooky little story.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:19 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

*he's a good writer, not reader. Sorry.
posted by windykites at 4:20 PM on September 8, 2012


I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but I wasn't; that's an actual quote from Stephen King.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:23 PM on September 8, 2012

No, I loved Gerald's Game. Not as a King book with all the baggage that comes with, but as a really amazingly down-home-terrifying one-off that gets you right in the bones.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:23 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am pretty sure Pet Sematery had a lot to do with my eventual decision not to have children.

It's interesting to note that Pet Sematary is another story King meant to bury, but in this case because it squicked his wife. It only saw the light of publication because he got into a situation trying to change publishers where he had to supply another book, and so he pretty much decided "you want a book? Try THIS one."

King refused to have anything to do with the movie, which is why it was the first movie of any of his stories that completely hews to the original story without any attempts to tweak the story for "better film." This was wildly successful, because really King is a very visual writer and his stories are like little mini-movies (even if some of them would be 18 hours long) and that started a trend toward making movies of his works very true to the source instead of "improving" them as was done with Shining, Christine, etc.
posted by localroger at 4:24 PM on September 8, 2012

Stephen King! Pffft.

Uh-oh, looks like we've got a Dean Koontz fan here.
posted by jeremy b at 4:24 PM on September 8, 2012 [15 favorites]

Benny, I was paraphrasing an actual interview I saw with Stephen King where someone asked him about a metaphor in one of his stories (a very obvious one as I recall) and he just went aw-shucks I don't do that complicated stuff.
posted by localroger at 4:25 PM on September 8, 2012

Ah. Thanks. My brain slow today.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:26 PM on September 8, 2012

Uh-oh, looks like we've got a Dean Koontz fan here.

We don't use that word as a pejorative here.
posted by kafziel at 4:27 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

The main thing I remember about reading King's novels is that he is very effective at creating books that I would read really really quickly so as to find out what happened at the end. Particularly the Dark Tower novels. But I never felt deeply into them. I have a friend who got very heavily into all the continuity and tracing back all the links in the world-building, and it seemed very interesting but when I sat down to read a King book myself I just blazed through it. I think it has something to do with that "literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries" quality.

When I was a kid I read The Eyes of the Dragon at my aunt's house and was freaked out by the poison that was used on the king. Dunno why.
posted by graymouser at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2012

We don't use that word as a pejorative here.

What word? Pfft?
posted by jeremy b at 5:09 PM on September 8, 2012

Fooking Koontz.
posted by Artw at 5:11 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of those links just go to the main splash page for the "rereading" project.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2012

hey, great timing. I just grabbed a copy of Bachman Books at a thrift store last week, and have already re-read Rage and The Long Walk.

The Long Walk in particular was always one my favorites of his, maybe of any writer, so it's cool to see here that others felt that way. I thought it was more or less forgotten by now. And I also never knew until now that it was the first book he ever wrote. I found it held up pretty well on the re-read, still amazingly haunting, although I was surprised by the amount of blatantly obvious continuity errors.

Rage .... meh. Nice try Stephen.
posted by mannequito at 5:15 PM on September 8, 2012

King wrote a great story in this month's Harpers magazine. I highly recommend it.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:22 PM on September 8, 2012

He's going to read one a week? For how long?
It takes me about 3 months to get through a 1000-page book, and King's got lots of those.
posted by MtDewd at 5:22 PM on September 8, 2012

The Long Walk may be my favorite overall, although I've really liked the majority of his shorter work and at least half of the longer stuff. (I actually liked - and still like - Insomnia, despite everyone up to and including the author himself disagreeing with me.)

But man, his stuff has gotten rapey, and I just can't deal with it any more. Under the Dome was just pure ugliness for its own sake, as much as I liked most of Lisey's Story there was a whole chunk that just felt purely exploitative, and Full Dark, No Stars didn't do it for me at all. So I am a lot more hesitant to read his stuff now. I don't pick his latest up in airport bookstores any more.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:23 PM on September 8, 2012

It takes me about 3 months to get through a 1000-page book, and King's got lots of those.

I read IT in 26 hours. All at once. It was the last SK book that had that effect on me though.
posted by localroger at 5:28 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

When King is good, he's very, very good (and when he's bad, it's the schlock that's horrific). One thing I think King's greatest strengths aside from being able to tap a dark portion of the psyche (something I think Neil Gaiman does quite well too, albeit he mines a slightly different portion), is character. When he's on his game, he builds characters so rounded and engaging, I have sometimes thought of them in my head as people. I think I read The Stand in 8th or 9th grade (the expanded version) and was utterly transfixed, for many of the reasons Smythe discusses in his review. And then last year, I re-read The Shining, and by goodness, if that isn't just a fantastic book all-around. He lays out the essential character and conflict elements in like the first 15 pages! Deftly! Without talking down to the reader! It's something to behold, and were I a fiction writer, I would study the hell out of it.

I love high falutin' literature, sure, but I dearly love a good story. And King generally delivers that in spades.
posted by smirkette at 5:31 PM on September 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

It takes me about 3 months to get through a 1000-page book, and King's got lots of those.

In my experience that's not how Stephen King novels generally go. Once you get into them, time and the book both tend to fly. I literally read his novels at twice the clip I'd read almost anything else. Part of why he's been such a successful author, I think.
posted by graymouser at 5:34 PM on September 8, 2012

I just read King's short story in the new Esquire and, damn, that was some gratuitously sick shit. It's like he's been reading Jack Ketchum and is trying to keep up.
posted by nicwolff at 5:53 PM on September 8, 2012

Oh, and lay off Piers Anthony!

Don't make me burn that creepy fucking pedo in effigy, dude. It is saturday night and I am bored and cranky and drunk and I will do it.
posted by elizardbits at 6:08 PM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Don't make me burn that creepy fucking pedo in effigy, dude.
I'm suddenly feeling like there are things that I don't know and am better off not knowing. So I'm getting the hell away from the subject of Piers Anthony.

As for the Long Walk, I really don't understand why people like it so much. I felt it to be one of his less effective books, personally- it seemed a little wobbly and thin (and I don't mean because it's short! I mean the story seemed thin!). I definitely think it's good, but the writing seems- I dunno, less practised, less skilled and mature, less rich. Finding out that it was his first doesn't surprise me much.
posted by windykites at 6:36 PM on September 8, 2012

... I kill with my heart.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

Also, I'm the only person who likes Gerald's Game. That's okay, I guess. I think it's a beautifully written, spooky little story.

[expect SPOILERS throughout this comment!]

Not at all, PhoBWanKenobi. I remember Gerald's Game as being one of his more suspenseful novels, certainly for the bulk of its (deceptively inactive) narrative. And the space cowboy still gives me the jumps, years after my most recent reading of the book. The degloving scene, of course had me quite literally squirming in discomfort and gasping for air the entire time I read it --- and not because it was novel or gruesome. As it happens, at the timeI picked up the book, I was already writing a story in which a degloving occurs, so I had done some fairly graphic research on the feasibility of it.

But even more than the book's visceral effect, I remember being struck by Jessie's realizations as she's cuffed there: she entered that room thinking she was in a stable, reasonably happy marriage, but once she's stuck with little to do but think about the predicament she's in and how she got there, she is forced to face the reality of her marriage: that she has been manipulated, subjugated, and ultimately abused by her dominating, belittling husband. That this has been going on for years, under the surface of their seemingly comfortable life. That she has been desperately ignoring her own goals and desires, cutting herself off from friends, ignoring all the red flags, and buckling to everything he asked for because it was easier --- easier than facing his annoyance and displeasure and easier than disrupting her affluent lifestyle --- but also, crucially, it was easier to live than to face the truth about it.

I had never seen that particular dynamic played out at length in a novel before: the person who has been avidly engaged in denying her own abuse suddenly forced to confront how deeply wrong the very matrix of her life is. But I think it's pretty common in real life: that lots of people spend years not consciously realizing that the lives they think of as basically happy and unremarkable are actually founded upon terribly unhealthy relationships. It requires not just realizing that the dynamic is wrong; it requires the person or character to self-identify as someone who has suffered a particularly nasty fate.

Jessie Burlingame didn't think she was abused in part because she doesn't think of herself as a woman who would suffer abuse; she thought that could only happen to other people. she has to readjust her identity --- and discard her distancing concept of who and what "an abused wife" looks like --- to incorporate this into her understanding of her personal history.

That sounds dry, but I found it incredibly powerful to see the transformative effect it had on her, and how it spurred her to access greater resources of self-reliance than she had shown earlier in the book, even in moments of extreme need.

[spoilers ended!]

As always with King*, there are some bottoming-out moments where the story gets demeaned with cheap moments. Though I can't remember the specific ones from Gerald's Game, I always think of them as his nosepicker moments: the passages where a character, probably luxuriating on privacy, engages in some repulsive act with great pleasure or when King himself delights in lavishly detailing some bodily act or quirk. In Secret Window, Secret Garden, the one that stands out is a passage about the character suffering a bout of anxious diarrhea and sitting there breathing in the rich stink of his own waste. I'm sure King thinks these moments give the books the texture of reality, but for me they're so jarring that they knock me right out of the story. Those moments always read to me as if they were written by a particularly nasty child --- sometimes, when they're about sex or rape rather than snot or shit or farting, a particularly knowledgeable child, too, but a nasty one nonetheless.
posted by Elsa at 7:30 PM on September 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

*At least, that's my experience of reading him: that the story is clippin' along apace and then --- BAM --- some nosepicking moment knocks me out of the story.
posted by Elsa at 7:31 PM on September 8, 2012

I run hot and cold on King. Some I finish, some I don't and

"IT" was the SK novel that turned me into a fan initially and there were a lot of hardcover purchases of his work for years after. I'd have to say IMHO his weakest parts are usually the endings. They're often totally predictable or some off putting deus ex machina. In recent years I haven't really made too much of an effort to read his stuff.

The last King novel I read was "Under the Dome". Discuss. Discussion Point: The ending sucked
posted by MikeMc at 7:39 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, I'm the only person who likes Gerald's Game. That's okay, I guess. I think it's a beautifully written, spooky little story.

Gerald's Game remains the only book to have ever made me physically jump (the scene with the shadow that isn't, or it is? You know the part I mean). I love it, it's wonderfully written and very clever, especially how it sneaks back and forth between the psychological and the supernatural. I think it's one of his creepiest, spookiest books.
posted by biscotti at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read most of SKs books before I turned 13 and probably haven't read anything of his since leaving my teenage years. But, I remember that summer in the 80s when I got the hardcover version of It - I carried that thing around all summer, reading and re-reading it until the spine was tattered and the pages were falling out. Loved that book. It makes me sad that I rarely find books that scare me like his did anymore, though his son Joe Hill has made a good start with the very creepy Heart-Shaped Box.

Also, I couldn't for the life of me remember the cockroach scene mentioned above and in (unsuccessfully) googling around for it, I found out that It is being made into a two-part movie. Also from the same article, The Stand is being made into a multi-part movie by Ben Affleck.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2012

I just want to say that I read The Wind Through The Keyhole since the last King thread, and that book was bloody brilliant. That is The Dark Tower I signed up for.
posted by Mezentian at 7:45 PM on September 8, 2012

I am a huge fan of Stephen King. He's practically my neighbor, since his primary home, this spooktacular mansion, is about three blocks away. People who come from out of state usually want to see it and take pictures in front of the bat/spider gate. That gate is extremely unique but somewhat cheesy, like, oooooh, scary house, scary gate! I'm scared!

I've seen him out and about here in Bangor over the years, the most memorable time (for me) was watching him walk down the street, reading a book at the same time. The cracks in the sidewalk kept making him trip, but he just kept on walking and reading. Whatever it was he was reading, it must have been good.

He also owns The Zone, a radio broadcast organization that does the only local rock and roll program (WKIT), and the Pulse, the only "liberal" talk radio in the local area. The kids in this little city wouldn't have the baseball field they have and the nice swimming center they enjoy if it weren't for Stephen and Tabitha King....they donate heating oil vouchers to families in need. Tons of local philanthropy.

I think it helps tremendously, for me as a reader, is that he is frequently describing locales that I know well. Derry, one of the places in Maine he frequently sets his novels in, is his depiction of Bangor. This city is very small, about 35,000 residents, so it is very easy for me to go deep into the no. When you can fully picture the setting as YOUR setting, it gets even creepier.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 7:52 PM on September 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

Not at all, PhoBWanKenobi

Reading, nodding along to all of this. Man, I love metafilter.

I still, deep down, really think King's plan to release Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne in one volume should have come to fruition. The books share so much more than just that eclipse. Generally, I just love how King writes women.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Should say ~it is very easy for me to go deep into the novels set in Derry or Castle Rock.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 7:58 PM on September 8, 2012

I just read my VERY FIRST Stephen King novel, 11/22/63. (I don't like horror and I know about myself that it sticks in my mind and won't get out once I've read it, so I never got into King as a teenager.) Here is my clean-slate King-newbie* take: What stood out to me was how much the writing gets out of the reader's way. It reads fast and clean and smooth and I was almost never aware of the mechanics of the story or the language in the background. I have a few quibbles with the book (not least that it was, at base, Baby Boomer wish fulfillment to the extreme), but I really enjoyed it. I kept wanting to know what happened next and I was deeply engaged in the story. It was a lot longer than it "needed" to be, but I didn't mind at all, because I was really enjoying the story. It wasn't a great literary novel, I guess, but King is a hell of a storyteller. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with another author whose writing reads so smoothly.

*I have read "On Writing," and "The Langoliers" was in a short story collection I read for class in high school, though I don't remember discussing it or anything. Liked both.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:04 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just happened to have finished 11/22/63 about an hour ago. I hadn’t read any King since maybe the early 90s, and I have to say, the man’s still got it. If it weren’t for little annoyances like sleep, food, and work, I could have read it in one sitting.
posted by mubba at 8:08 PM on September 8, 2012

Mr. King is also notoriously shy and skittish. He has gotten some backlash from people who think he's a Satan worshiper, so I can imagine he would be weary of that.

I can say that (over 30 years of random SK sightings in stores, restaurants and the sidewalk) I have observed him to appear nervous and self-conscious, and he presents a very strong nerd vibe.

I really think he would make a great Mefite. If I ever get to talk to him personally, and he doesn't run away all skittish celebrity, I will ask him if he's a friend of Matt Houghey.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:33 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, the very best thing King has done or will ever do is his guest spot in Sons of Anarchy.
posted by kafziel at 8:45 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am actually from Stephen King's home town of Durham, Maine. I've read a few of his books and enjoyed them, but I'm just a casual fan because I'm not fond of the horror-suspense genre.

The thing that always strikes me about King is that he's a gifted storyteller. Even if he's working with a half-baked plot or taking too much time with his points, he's got you in the moment. It seems ridiculous on its face, but the person whom I often compare him to is James Herriot: the stories have nothing in common except for the dense and descriptive, yet still thoroughly comfortable prose that they used. The story as a whole can be wracked with flaws, and you still finish a chapter feeling as though you witnessed the events. I don't know what you're going to get from rereading. Some of the stories will still work beautifully, and even if they don't they'll be written well enough that you won't feel cheated for investing the time. If the story's not quite worth telling, or it ends up as two decent acts and a tack-on, getting there will be fun.

Total aside: sharing a (time-shifted) childhood with Stephen King gives you absolutely incredible insight into where some of his stories originate. Our home town is tiny, dark and creepy. The Old New England Town With Dark Secrets is kind of a trope, but King lived it and he absorbed it. I don't have the skills to describe it to you and elevate above a trope, but Durham's got everything: abandoned homesteads, ancient graveyards, and most importantly, the bizarre rituals of isolated, rural poverty elevated by time to seeming normalcy. Our town started life as a farming community and Quaker outpost. Its heyday was as the center of an early 20th Century cult called "Shiloh." Some of King's work draws heavily from the town that he grew up in. I've spent a lot of time when reading his work asking "Is that a general thing? Is that a Maine thing? No, that's Durham." It's funny-- I have seen Stephen King once, in passing at Fenway Park. But I feel much closer to him: we attended Durham Elementary 25 years apart, but it wasn't uncommon for a book to have been checked out of the library so rarely that only a couple of people had the book between he and I. He kind of permeates the town: he and Shiloh are the only interesting things to ever come of it.

(Coincidentally, there is another Metafilter member who is also from that tiny town, and she also now lives in the same Greater Boston town that I do. We discovered this through Metafilter. It's a very small world. Isn't that nuts?)
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:00 PM on September 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

King frustrates me enormously as half goodtime joe and half snooty elitist. The laziness he displays so often and his tin ear for the way humans actually talk both take me out of the story and turn on the internal critic I hate so much, but he never ceases to entertain, and reading his stuff is exhilarating and just plain fun.

I almost always enjoy reading his stuff but always finish up wishing I'd spent the time on something a little more rewarding. The Big Mac and fries analogy he uses to describe his own work is spot on.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:01 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

watching him walk down the street, reading a book at the same time. The cracks in the sidewalk kept making him trip, but he just kept on walking and reading

I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only person who does this. It's a lot easier with a Kindle than a paperback, too although mine is a little cracked now as a result of one of those trips.
posted by Slothrup at 9:48 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gerald's Game was my first King novel... I was 13. Much too young to read that particular book, but I did. Pretty much immediately I embarked on a mission to read as much of his stuff as I could find. I think I read most of the stuff he had put out by then, except for some of his oldest, like Rage. His stuff has always resonated with me. I have always liked the way he writes kids and outcasts. Seems like he has such a detailed knowledge of how they think and feel, it's eerie.

It was the first King novel I loved. It drew me in, I couldn't do anything but stay up and read and read til it was finished, jumping at shadows and turning on every light on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The way the two timelines were woven together, the scariness of a monster that was always the worst thing you could think of... I was scared out of my skin and often still am. Someone posted a photo of a balloon tied to a tree out in the middle of nowhere, and it gave me chills.

I agree that he isn't the best at endings, but his characters are fantastic and the situations he comes up with are enthralling and I always find myself staring at the "k" section in the library, deciding which I want to reread.
posted by Night_owl at 9:49 PM on September 8, 2012

For me, fundamentally, the story is the thing, and King is one of the best storytellers around. His characters feel real to me, and I disagree with a previous poster-I think he writes natural dialogue better than almost anyone. I was comparing him to Kim Stanley Robinson the other day-who I also love-but Robinson is all Big Ideas, cleverly strung together-there's not much story and I never cry when a character of his dies.

Also, no other popular author has nailed the pure horror of abusive parents and domestic violence like King. I don't know how he knows what he knows, but he's got it down. Rose Madder, with the violent cop husband-man, chills me to the bone.
posted by purenitrous at 9:51 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

DO NOT: sneak up behind him and shout "Vrooom Vrooom!"
posted by Artw at 9:56 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Someone posted a photo of a balloon tied to a tree out in the middle of nowhere, and it gave me chills.

Last Halloween, I was out running some errands. Standing in the print shop at noon, I glanced out the window and


Across the street was a man dressed simply in a suit, but with a white skullcap, white gloves, a red balloon bouncing at the end of the string he held in one hand. I got chills down my back. I nudged my husband ("Hmm?Oh. EEESH.") and we watched the clown man walk down the street in the bright sunshine, his back to us. As we ran more errands around the downtown of our small city, I braced myself in case we were to turn a corner and find ourselves face to face with the clown.

I never even saw his face, and I still think of him... oh, I'd say every week or two.

I just said to my husband, sitting across the room, "Hey, remember Halloween? The guy?"

He came up with it immediately. "Oooooh, the clown. Don't like it. No."

I can't begin to trace how much of the clown's indelible chill came to me or to him from IT and how much came from a more general ACK CLOWN trope, but I know that while we chattered about the possibility of running into him, I croaked out "WE ALL FLOAT DOWN HERE, GEORGIE."

posted by Elsa at 10:12 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Stand is being made into a multi-part movie by Ben Affleck.

With such a good cast, I still wonder at that TV mini-series in the late 90's being as bad as it was. I'm not optimistic. IMO, one of the reasons The Stand is so awesome are all the details, the sub-sub-sub plots and such. These things don't translate to film well.

And The Shining mini-series with Tim Daly and Rebecca De Mornay? It may have been factually more aligned with the source material, but it pure dreck.
posted by smirkette at 10:17 PM on September 8, 2012

I really like Stephen King.

I got 11/22/63 when I was in Berlin - and I sat down and read it in one day. I cried at least twice.

He really cares about his work and he tries hard and he has a feel for his material.

Plus, he writes short stories still, and places them in small magazines that I get, and I'm pretty sure that the $2K he gets for a short story in F&SF isn't worth one day's royalties to him, but he does it because he has an idea and wants to get it out.

Viva King. May he continue to write for decades to come.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:38 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, I am trying, again, to read the Dark Tower series, and today I just finished Book One, and I'm really having trouble mustering the enthusiasm to press on. Is this normal?

I dunno, that's about par for the course with me and King. I remember several of his books fondly, even admiringly in a few cases. Then I start rereading one after a long absence (as I am doing this week with The Shining which is perhaps my favorite of his books) and I remember. The ideas --- the themes, the plot, the characters --- generally work for me. But my experience of King is different from yours. I routinely find that he lards the stories with long incident descriptive passages of incidental acts that don't deepen character or further the story and that do (as I mentioned above, the "nosepicker" moments) knock me out of the story. It dampens my enthusiasm.

I'm not turning my nose up at King, and certainly there are plenty of writers (popular and otherwise) that I find less readable, less compelling, less entertaining. But I've been reading him so long that he's almost like a beloved gauche uncle; I always know that there's an embarrassing outburst or another nosepicking moment coming, and I often know when they're coming.

Of course, that's not a universal observation about his writing, but even if it were, I don't know that it would be fixable. A good deal of the texture in his writing comes from passages that don't move the story along and don't exactly deepen character, but that do raise the stakes or subtly motivate character choices. The best example I can think of is [SPOILER for The Stand] Lloyd Henreid, locked into an unattended prison and starving, maneuvering the corpse of Trask from the next cell into a position where he can reach him... just in case.

That's probably the passage I remember most viscerally from the book. It's powerful, the way it describes a plight that I might never have imagined, even as I was imagining the infinite tiny disasters of a world largely depopulated by a plague. King creates a world in that prison cell, bounded by the cells next to it, and he creates a powerful backstory for Lloyd, who is maddened by his hunger, by the need to contemplate cannibalism, by (eventually) the need to commit cannibalism --- but more than that, he is maddened by sheer hatred of the forces that left him locked up there to suffer that fate. He is primed to take the path that he does, to embrace the man who shows up there to release him, and to remain loyal to Flagg long after a sane person would abandon him.

But I'm not sure it's possible to distinguish meaningfully between this passage I found so powerful and the bits I called "nosepicking passages." Surely there are readers who find the passage with Lloyd ruminating on the possibility of eating Trask repugnant, who think it's gratuitously repulsive? Or who find Lloyd's wandering stream-of-consciousness, complete with its "DOO DAH DOO DAH" chorus, childish and clumsy? And who am I to say that my opinion is right and theirs is wrong?
posted by Elsa at 11:09 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read The Dead Zone at a sitting one afternoon some thirty years ago and still see it as the best novel of the normal paranormal I have ever read or likely will, though the count must be well over a hundred by now.

From his other work I couldn't have guessed he had it in him to write anything so melancholy and so moving.

I've been avoiding rereading it for the last couple of years, mostly from fear that I'd find it hadn't faded, I think.
posted by jamjam at 1:50 AM on September 9, 2012

I don't really care all that much for King's post-Tommyknockers work, but when the man is on, he's on. I once made the mistake of reading The Shining while all alone at home late at night, and I got to the part where

SPOILER Jack goes into room 217, freaks out without actually seeing anything, then turns and flees, convinced that the dead woman from the bathtub is following him. He makes it back out to the hallway, slams the door, and has just finished convincing himself he was imagining things...and the doorknob starts turning behind him. /SPOILER

To this day, it's the only time that reading a book has literally made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and it's a perfect illustration of the principle that what you don't see is a thousand times scarier than what you do.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:19 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

This thread just reminded me that 23/11/53 exists.
And so I am online trying to buy it.

And thanks to this thread tomorrow I am going to read Delores Clairborne and Gerald's Game. Back to back.

This thread has me really curious to re-read King's entire work start to finish. I'm not sure that I could, but it has been almost 30 years since I cracked the cover of IT. Or The Stand.

On the other hand, I am trying, again, to read the Dark Tower series, and today I just finished Book One, and I'm really having trouble mustering the enthusiasm to press on. Is this normal?

Personally, The Gunslinger is pretty much the best of the Dark Tower cycle. Arguably. Dark Tower is kind of a jambalaya of King's ideas and interests. It is a wild ride, and as it was written over decades you can be okay not rushing on to book 2-3 and more. I found all off the books from Wolves of the Calla frustrating.
posted by Mezentian at 4:22 AM on September 9, 2012

People rag on King's work post Tommyknockers (ish), but as far as I can tell there are no bad (unreadable) books.

I'm curious to know if anyone stopped at that point (and you can't use the coke, he doesn't even remember Cujo at all) came back and still found his text toxic.

(Assuming they weren't killed by flying Coke machines).
posted by Mezentian at 4:25 AM on September 9, 2012

There are arguments for and against the expanded version of THE STAND (I'm in the pro camp myself), but one thing that's always really jarred for me was the updating of the action to a point contemporary with the reissue in the early 1990s. For one thing, the original text was so totally a product of its era (post-Watergate Sixties-backlash angsty Bicentennial state-of-the-nation address) that relocating it seems only to dilute its original intent; for another, the updating rewrite is cosmetic at best, with little niggling anachronisms bumping up against each other and jolting you out of the narrative. Why'd ya do it, Big Steve?
posted by Prince Lazy I at 4:59 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know, Mezentian, I remember Dreamcatcher being just so terrible. I've read a lot of SK, and enjoyed most of it, but that one really sticks out in my mind as being almost unreadable. I also was really disappointed in Cell, which had a great premise but sloppy execution. But what do I know? Christine is still one of my favorites.
posted by wintermind at 6:13 AM on September 9, 2012

Count me in with the others who thinks King has returned to form lately. I read pretty much everything he wrote solo up to the mid-eighties (i.e. no Talisman) but somewhere around The Tommyknockers I found I was losing interest in them. I stuck my head back in a couple of times in the ensuing decades (Four Past Midnight was decent, The Green Mile was underwhelming, Cell was hugely disappointing), but just recently begun to find him interesting again -- by sheer chance, my father and I gave each other copies of 11/22/63 last Christmas (despite neither one of us ever having mentioned King to the other), and a couple of weeks ago I picked up Full Dark, No Stars, which I am halfway through and enjoying.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:01 AM on September 9, 2012

And yes, Dreamcatcher was dreadful. It read like someone doing a clumsy parody of King's writing style: aping his tics and mannerisms, but without any of his storytelling ability.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:03 AM on September 9, 2012

Personally I only read discussions of reviews of SK's work and the occasional discussion of his houses. This meta-King was a good read!
posted by sammyo at 7:07 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read pretty much everything he wrote solo up to the mid-eighties (i.e. no Talisman)

You missed out!
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:10 AM on September 9, 2012

Aye. Talisman was fantastic. '
The Black House less so, but in part because it was hampered by The Dark Tower.
Readable, though.
posted by Mezentian at 7:14 AM on September 9, 2012

Never read Black House, but The Talisman is indeed aces. One of the best thing either King or Straub wrote.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:15 AM on September 9, 2012

Chiming in with some love for Gerald's Game, at least the first two thirds. No other scene in any book or movie has lingered as long or as unnervingly in my memory as the watcher from the shadows.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 7:16 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just pulled my copy of Gerald's Game down to read (damn you, MeFi!) and I just noticed there's an inscription: Happy Father's Day 1993 from Garry and Ginny.

Having not read the book: am I right in thinking this may not be the best Father's Day gift?
posted by Mezentian at 7:23 AM on September 9, 2012

Under the Dome was brilliant, and yes, the ending sucked. Howevs, the thing that made it very very good was the thing that made the ending almost impossible


Everybody under that dome should be dead. But you have main characters whom the reader is heavily invested in. What do you do? Well, you could a) Have the dome disappear and everybody is like WTF yay! (which would have been a much better ending) or b) have the leatherheads act. Now, what would cause the leatherheads to act? Imagine how cool it would be if an adult leatherhead sort of waltzed in and was like WTF no? That would make some sense and be a bit redemptive. The pleading with the aliens via reinactment of pread human trauma? No. No no no.
posted by angrycat at 7:30 AM on September 9, 2012

In my opinion, angrycat, all of the characters should have died. That would have had an integrity consistent with the notion of alien children torturing insects. I know that a lot of readers would have been really unhappy about that, but it would have been something both unexpected for King and unusual in modern popular literature. Instead, he opted for a really weak deus ex machina sort of thing that was really unsatisfying. I also stand by my argument that the book would have been dramatically improved by some serious editing.
posted by wintermind at 10:51 AM on September 9, 2012

My opinion: 11/22/63 was a good novel with a terrible frame. I understand that the book is basically a love letter to King's youth, but it wouldn't have taken much additional effort to make an ending that didn't rely so heavily on authorial fiat.
posted by SPrintF at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, publishing order is garbage. You start with The Long Walk, which is one of the best books I've ever read.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2012

Whenever I go for a walk, I always wonder am I walking too slow? Will I get a warning?

Then I got that Nike+ running app for my phone and realized just how quick 4mph is. I would've bought my ticket multiple times over.

posted by Lucinda at 4:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

In terms of books, the original The Stand is an awesome book, but the early 90's rewrite is full of glaring anachronisms that really detract from the story.

The Mist is one of the bleakest stories I've ever read, and I find the movie actually kind of depressing.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:49 PM on September 9, 2012

Yeah, the 90's Shining miniseries is a more accurate adaptation, but only an okay one.

I didn't grow up in Maine, but being from MA, I love recognizing bits he has poached from the Bay State -- Off the top of my head, in "It", one of the characters drives up route 1 past a monument company with a sign "DRIVE SLOW: WE CAN WAIT" (annoyingly, it now says "DRIVE SLOW - LIVE". I mean, really, come on.) And IIRC "The Shining" mentions the Wilbraham "Friendly's" restaurant topiary visible from the Mass Turnpike.

One of the things I love about the book "The Shining" that is really not part of the movie is just how incredibly unutterably DOOMED Jack is. No matter what he wants, no matter his intention, he will irrevocably be doomed and will hurt his family. The booze will win. The Overlook will win. He can't do anything but lose.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:12 PM on September 9, 2012

I understand that the book is basically a love letter to King's youth, but it wouldn't have taken much additional effort to make an ending that didn't rely so heavily on authorial fiat.

In the afterward, he credits his son with suggesting a "better ending." Which naturally made me curious what ending he had in mind originally. (There are also two endings he could be referring to there, the conclusion of the larger dramatic arc, and the sort of postscript that wraps up the narrator's personal story.)
posted by torticat at 6:51 PM on September 10, 2012

Original ending to 11/22/63
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh wow... thanks Eyebrows McGee! Interesting.
posted by torticat at 8:23 PM on September 10, 2012

WRT King's career in general, I'll link back to an earlier comment that I made regarding his different phases. Since then, I've read 11/22/63 and The Wind in the Keyhole, and enjoyed both of them, in very different ways. The former had a lot of what I've really come to enjoy about King's work upon re-reading it: his ability to give a real sense of place and time. One of the things that impressed me about the book early on is that, when the protagonist first goes back in time, he's at a point where the industrial plant that has closed by the present day is still up and running, and the town is more prosperous as a result... but also the place literally stinks from the industrial fumes. The latter was clever with its story-within-a-story-within-a-story, even if the innermost story that forms most of the book was basically a repeat of most of the tropes of The Talisman. I'm looking forward to Doctor Sleep, and Joyland looks interesting.

Also, I loved Mayor Curley's description of Durham; I'd love to visit there sometime, although I might hesitate at staying there... overnight.

Also, too, I learned about menstruation from reading Carrie. Make of that what you will.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:05 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chiming in late here - so what. Thanks for this, I'm going to follow the whole series.

So.. Back in the 70's, I was in the 3rd grade & already reading fairly adult novels because I had picked up reading like wildfire. My mother was a bibliophile, I grew up in a house that was practically a library. So while looking for something to read one day, I came across Carrie. Did I understand 100% of everything? No. But it do know it scared the ever-loving-shit outta me in a "pretend" way and I decided right then that being being scared by books was decidedly delicious!

I instantly became a life-long King fan and I'll pretty much buy his new books the day they come out and then quickly devour them. Listen, I read a shit-ton and I read lots of different genres. I've always read as my main form of entertainment and, for me.. there's something special about King's "voice" that makes me want to return to home again & again. He's the only author where I buy the book the day it comes out. It's like putting on a well-worn, perfectly comfortable pair of shoes. You just slip right in and it's tailor-made for you. For me, it's so easy to slip behind his characters eyes and just be gone inside the story. The rest of the real world? Poof, gone! I LOVE that part about opening a new Stephen King story.

I think people who say that stop at this book or that and never read him again - you are missing out. Baby, bath water, etc.. If I don't like a particular book, I don't put it down and never read that author again. I just put down that PARTICULAR book.
posted by trixare4kids at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Dead Zone review is up.
posted by localroger at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

That is an extremely good review, localroger; I had to stop reading it several time to let the horripilation recede, and it succeeds at least in pointing toward the ineffable strangeness of that book.

Thank you very much for the notification.
posted by jamjam at 9:24 AM on September 16, 2012

Very appropriate for an election year, especially this one.
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think Smythe will have a few more surprises among the early SK books. King was doing things in those days that other writers weren't doing, and a lot of it probably came from his familiarity with more literary venues. Other writers have picked up his riffs but in the 1970's nobody dared write about menstruation, or to put little italicized interior thought bubbles in the middle of spoken dialog, or in the middle of a novel let headlines and newspaper clippings tell a chapter's worth of story -- in DZ, even the final chapter that resolves the story.

And one of the things I don't like about the New and Improved SK is that he doesn't seem to be doing that kind of innovation any more.

Smythe is wrong in one regard about The Dead Zone; it does very much have a bad guy and we meet him in the very first chapter. John Smith's antagonist is God, a being of irresistable power and dubious motivation who has apparently realized it has a problem in the form of Stillson (that pesky free will thing being what it is), and so it has picked Johnny to be its agent of Kismet correction. So God touches Johnny as necessary so he can see the future and he saves his friends (but not all of them, because he lacks sufficient conviction) and ultimately he saves the world, a fantasy many of us might entertain on a summer afternoon. But to get him to save the world God has denied Johnny the simple dignity of an ordinary life, a life he manages to glimpse or touch only a couple of times after the accident.

For me the greatest horror of DZ was realizing that Johnny wasn't chosen at the time of the horrific accident; the hole in his life that made it possible for him to save the rest of us was carved in his childhood, a ticking bomb of which he lived in blissful ignorance. The truth was he never had a chance to lead the normal life he knew should have been his, and he died in service to the very agency that ruined him.
posted by localroger at 10:14 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stephen King... with extra supeheroes.
posted by Artw at 11:56 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Firestarter review is up. It's a bit more negative than the others.
posted by localroger at 7:56 AM on September 29, 2012

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