Contented Reader

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Stephen King

Pocket Books

I used to love Stephen King.  He wrote a new book every year, regular as clockwork, and I never missed them.  Big, fat paperbacks with lurid, embossed covers, his name bigger than the title of the book.  I never paused to think about their literary merit- what they are is page-turners.  There’s no time to savor how the sentences are constructing when you’re racing through a book to find out what happens next just as fast as the words will go.

As I got older, I kept reading every book, but with less enthusiasm.  I don’t think it’s my growing literary taste, either.  When a King book is good, it’s still a page-turner.  He may not be a giant of literature, but he’s a hell of a good storyteller.  But as time passed, more and more of the new books by King that didn’t quite meet my expectations.  What the hell was going on in Tommyknockers?  When Roland finally reached The Dark Tower, I discovered that I didn’t even care any more.  When I closed the cover of Gerald’s Game, even though it was a relatively short book, I thought, bitterly, I want that two hours of my life back.  

My thoughts are in italics.  A King-ism, though he doesn’t do it in Carrie.  In Carrie, it’s parentheses.

It’s his first novel, and while it isn’t his best or his worst, it’s the one that comes closest to tapping into that spot in the brain where a story becomes a myth.  Knowing that King would soon be absurdly wealthy, it’s fun to read the introduction and imagine him as a starving high-school teacher, typing drafts single-spaced to save paper.

What happens to Carrie on prom night is inevitable from the book’s first pages, and it simultaneously satisfies my sense of justice, and reminds me of my own awkward high school days.  Of course, Carrie is wrong to slaughter the entire population of her high school on prom night.  But She’s completely right, and good for her, says a tiny voice inside me.

Do the kids still read this book?  I have no idea.  There are new authors now that every teenager has to read, and King doesn’t have the reputation he once did.  He has a tendency toward self-obsession, and too many of his books turn back in on themselves and him as if they are some kind of exercise in typographic masturbation.  But I’ll defend King’s prose style against any attackers.  It may not be fancy, but it’s effective, and, when it works, does exactly what the author wants it to do.

I think King deserves to be immortal like Lovecraft and Burroughs are immortal- not because the beauty of their writing and the wisdom of their ideas make their works classics assigned in school, but because their stories stay so entertaining that generations of ordinary readers keep them in print.


Written by Contented Reader

September 8, 2012 at 7:14 am

Posted in Reviews


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