Who Does This?
Monday, July 18, 2011
THE PLANTS UNDER THE RUGS ARE MOVING. Have I done this post before, where I talk about what you should read if you want to read Stephen King? I'm not sure. Anyway, I haven't done it in a while. So here are your recommendations, if by "recommendations" you mean warnings. In alphabetical order because there's no other order, is there?
Carrie: I hate this book, but it's effective and short. Ignore the boring anti-Christian boilerplate characterization of Carrie's mother and focus on King's startling willingness to enter into adolescent girls' body-shame and his surprisingly complex bullies. In general King, like Orwell, really understands the mindset of cruelty--see also Christine.
Christine: Speaking of. You shitters. This book is about a certain kind of ingrown meanness, a defensiveness which becomes anger. It's one of King's many addiction books, but mostly about the disgusting smallness of a soul which has indulged its wrath for far too long. CS Lewis fans, this is the most obvious starting point for you, although actually Lewis and King have a huge amount in common.
Cujo: A short book which gives you the best of King at his most subtly atheist. From the initial disgrace of the "Sharp Cereal Professor" through to the devastation caused by nothing more than a wandering dog and a bat and a disease, this is a novel about horror without meaning. It's fantastic, too, and if I were an atheist, I think this might be one book I'd suggest to explain why I held that belief. Taut and quick and brutal.
Different Seasons: Oh, I barely remember this one, I'm sorry. The Body struck me as more honest about child abuse than Stand By Me, but both are pretty blunt.
IT: OK, so I did actually stay up until breakfast reading this thing. And Derry, the place, still lives in my head, like the small town from Something Wicked This Way Comes--Derry is an October country for me. I'm also really in love with the structure, the way we're called back to Derry just like the characters.
That said, I mostly hate this novel and think its climax is cheaply edgy and really has very little to do with the fear and cruelty which animate Pennywise throughout the book. I mean, if you want King stories about why evil persists, "Strawberry Season" and "The Mangler" are both a thousand times better. And shorter.
Pet Sematary: In my opinion, King's best book. If you've read CS Lewis's A Grief Observed, this is basically the opposite of that. A lot of horror stories assert that trying to get the beloved back would backfire; this is one of the only--maybe the only--stories where that proposition actually has an argument to back it up. If you want her back, in this novel, you want her-the-object-of-love back, not her-the-subject. It's actually a pretty profound novel, wrapped up in horrifying images which will never leave you (Gage's shoe, Churchill stumbling, the tree overhung with ice, the noises upstairs). This is a novel as sad as anything I've ever read, and King's masterpiece; and also an up-all-night thriller.
The Shining: The first book I ever stayed up all night to read, with the exception of ElfQuest! Unlike the movie, which is survival-horror, this is addiction-horror. It's one of the greatest portrayals of the addicted mindset, the lying to oneself and the sick feeling when you know you're lying to yourself, that I've ever read. The scene with the wasp's nest... the scene with the "Martoonies" and the bicycle on the road... the scene with the time clock at the debate tournament... This book could only be written by someone who has been there. Every addict has had that moment when we see our face fade into that photograph at the Overlook Hotel.
I get why people like the movie; Shelley Duvall is amazing and the cinematography is great. But the novel gives you the inner life of Jack Torrance, the hell where guilt becomes fury, and the movie just doesn't do that at all. The movie is really about his wife, which may be why a lot of people prefer it, but I was never going to be his wife.
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