The Dead Zone by Stephen King

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It’s becoming a very bad trend that I start each blog post with an apology that they are coming in later and later, but I’m the kind of person that freely gives out apologies at the rate I would eat an entire tube of Jaffa Cakes (and I’m talking about the kind they sell at Christmas that have about four tubes inside to make out majestic Jaffa Cake stick the height of a 12-year-old) so I’ll do it again, knowing it is getting old – sorry, it (may not) happen again! Life and a period of procrastination has just swung on by but hopefully it is only briefly passing and only seems to crop up when I’ve discovered something new to watch so I’m apologising in advance for when House of Cards comes back on Netflix and the only thing live on this blog is the tumbleweed rolling by. Grovelling apology over!

So I actually finished The Dead Zone a while back and this struck such a mournful note with me. Never have I felt, I don’t think, such sympathy for the main character of a King novel before, despite the fact that the many that I have come across previously have suffered a great deal more than poor Johnny Smith. I think that this strikes me due to the fact King’s characters that have suffered more largely do so in the realm of the great big bad antagonist that usually overwhelms and drives the many other King horrors. The effect of that results in the other King heroes struggling in the supernatural binds King would set up with a slow-burn flourish and their losses are a result of that fight, therefore the extremity of their suffering (in this sense, I’m considering Louis Creed’s mounting losses in Pet Sematary largely of his own making and only influenced by the supernatural entities working as plot force) are somewhat othered if I can be allowed to use that annoying literary term that is usually in reference to foreign or supernatural themes. It makes the previous grievances not less shocking or striking a lesser impact in each of the respective novels but harder to contemplate in reality.

Here, however, Johnny Smith’s loss is given so much more pathos and poignancy because it doesn’t occur in the realm of supernatural horrors, but in a fairly normal incident which can be a horribly real event. To summarize the miserable events in the opening chapters of the novel, Johnny is a teacher dating a fellow colleague, Sarah who he takes on a date to the fair. It is at the fair that he decides to take up some betting on the Wheel of Fortune and gets into a disturbing trance wherein he seems able to know the exact bet for each turn of the wheel and wins a great deal of money. After taking an ill Sarah home, he takes a taxi back to his place but then a terrible collision on the road with another car takes place and Johnny goes into a coma which he remains in for the next five years. On waking up, he discovers that his once girlfriend whom he had a potential future with has now married and has a child, his mother has gone from devout Christian to following a disturbing, cult-like brand of Christianity and he has the power to touch people and know their futures.

The wonderful thing about this book is that the power Johnny has gained never gives the kind of superhero omnipotence you may come to expect once a cool power is introduced in a plot. It also, more importantly, doesn’t give him the solution to his problems and that is what makes Johnny such a tragic figure. There is no solution. He wakes up to realising he has lost five years of his life, the potential future he’s only known gone, and lives in a world he has to constantly catch up with with crippling, painful injuries that he suffers through. The power he gains only becomes another painful set-back, another inflicted obstacle in his life he has never asked for.

It might be a surprise here that I’ve only been discussing the tragic events of the main protagonist and not yet mentioned the antagonist and there is a reason for that. Surprisingly for a King novel, there isn’t really a terrible, evil figure that the protagonist has to battle it out with and with good reason, this may be the first King novel I’ve read so far that the main struggle highlighted is the protagonist’s external, emotional issues he tries to overcome and ‘bad guys’ Johnny encounters provide the moments where he comes close to the self-sacrificing hero using his powers for the greater good. There are two antagonists that both showcase the potential for what good Johnny’s power can offer and the pitfalls it can ensue in doing so: the Castle Rock murderer and Greg Stillson. The reader is exposed to more of the latter through a series of vignettes and he is essentially a mix of Donald Trump and Frank Underwood only he never actually succeeds in becoming President. He’s the stand-in for the Man in Black, the ultimate bad guy who must be stopped. You can take a guess how that all works out and I’ll give you a hint: the world doesn’t end. I’m starting to think it would be good fun if King just wrote a book and subverted all reader expectations and the bad guy wins, the world ends, the end, mwa ha ha.

If it sounds like I’m being flippant, it’s mainly because the whole need to save the world isn’t really the point or driving force behind The Dead Zone, nor is it about what can be achieved with a psychic power. For the most part, this is a novel that focuses on Johnny, on how likable he is, on how he earns for peace and a place for himself in a world he can’t recognize. This is probably one of my favourite King books so far, maybe just behind the wonderful 11/22/63 because it tries to be more than a depiction of horror or the supernatural, it hinges between psychological thriller and crime genre with a sprinkling of dealing with loss and overcoming painful challenges in life. It was a lovely, sad read and yes, I did get a little something in my eye at one or two points.

Next up is The Green Mile so I think I may have to expect a slight trend here getting weepy over a King book. I already know the ending – bloody WatchMojo of all things spoiled it for me – but I’ve known the endings of a lot of the other King books I’ve read and that hasn’t affected my enjoyment for them. It’s a short book so hopefully I should get a review sooner than this one!

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

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Alright, I know I said in the last blog post that I’d be getting back with a review sooner, but that hasn’t happened and I clearly set up a very high expectation of myself and underestimated how long it would take me to get through Salem’s Lot. Still, I’m sorry and I will do better next time! I will! Maybe. Perhaps. We’ll see.

On to my latest read by Stephen King, Salem’s Lot, a book about classic vampires infecting a sleepy, you guessed it – New England – town called Jerusalem’s Lot that comes with its own baggage and a haunting back-story. I have to say it is somewhat refreshing to read about vampires being outright villains after the years of the Twilight series and The Vampire Diaries giving us the impression that vampires are just sexy anti-heroes that struggle to abstain from their lust for blood. King’s vampires are what vampires are supposed to be: coffin-sleeping, flying in the night, alluring, allusive monstrous beings that can’t be negotiated with, understood, or rationalized and that is what makes the monsters of this book so frightening. King never truly bothers to provide an insight into the mind of any of the vampires or contemplate what consciousness they may have after death even after – and spoilers here! – a certain character we read about as a human transforms into a vampire. Almost instantly, they become othered and treated as an object of death, with insights into their thought-processes, emotions or internal feelings instantly cut off. And you can be certain they’re not wallowing in their own self-pity and are at all concerned with their sudden need to feed on humans – they just want it! And they like it! (Apologies to any one not familiar with the CW show, Arrow, incidentally the channel that also brought us The Vampire Diaries that confused all on the subject of whether vampires are villains or not. And distracted us with a beautiful cast).

What King does so well, as he does in his other books, is take on the elaborate and yet not dull task of setting up the setting. His town, not unlike any of the other fictional yet familiar towns set in New England, of Jerusalem’s Lot, is an intricate world that the reader is embraced into through the eyes of protagonist, Ben Mears, who comes back to the town to confront his own personal demons involving the Marsten House, which he entered as a child and encountered what he thought to be a ghost. Characters, minor and not, are carefully set up through the movement of time, and this slow burn pace is so effective as it gets the reader comfortable into an almost homey and familiar setting involving the various stories of the town’s people as well the unfurling of a romance whilst setting up a few unnatural and glaring pointers to through the reader into some unease.

All this effort means for many moments to have to read back and remember the many minor characters and places King throws in, yet this elaborate background creating a vast world is worth the eventual and devastating release of a dark monstrous entity that eventually breaks from the dark moments of the novel to the day. The set-up of the minor characters means the achievement by King to show the creeping and inescapable spread of the infection that turns all the town residents into vampires, very similar to The Stand’s disease that wipes up almost the entire population of the world. The disturbing moments that preclude this wipe-out of the town’s humans are classic King staples: a sacrificed and dead pet, a dead child, another dead child, and ghostly, creepy figures that murmur into the dark and go bump in the night. What King always does well is make you paranoid in the night about what’s lurking under your bed, even after you thought you got over that and you’re almost twenty-three years old!

So, all-in-all, a great read. Well, almost. I hesitate to complain but I will because, as always with King, with the exception of a few books, there is a always a great, well-plotted read with the right amount of tension, sometimes underwhelming rising action, and it is the denouement that he seems to flounder and just. Keeps. Writing. After what feels like the right conclusion that comes full circle back to two characters in the present time finishing their business with Jerusalem’s Lot that were first introduced unnamed to the readers at the start of the book, King goes on with yet another scene after that set sometime in the future. It adds on a few more minor characters and concludes with the haunting and frightening conclusion of the inability to conquer vampires. Both are absolutely fine ways to end of the book. The former scene is one of bitterness and hope, and the latter the equivalent of a jump scare in the final scene of a horror film before the credits roll.

But no. King goes on to add on after the Epilogue a completely separate section set way back in the past before the present events the reader is introduced to and the past events where most of the book takes place, made up as an epistolary elaborating and further constructing the original set-up and events of Jerusalem’s Lot. And it is completely unnecessary. There is so little effort to make this fit in with the rest of the book and the effect is an almost completely different short story that takes place in the same setting but with completely different timelines and it jars unnecessarily. As always, King over-explains and it ends with a head-scratching description of a Worm that is apparently the origin of all this. Frankly, I don’t understand his obsession with attributing all the monsters in his books an origin story that links back a strange animal – the Worm belongs in the same place as that bloody Spider from IT and that is, in my memory bin where both will reside.

And if you think that is all, in the version of the book I read, there is a section after that bizarre ‘origin-story’ attachment from the 1800s, a set of ‘deleted scenes’ which, I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read. If I was waiting to read them first before this blog post, this blog post would have never been written so I can’t say if they add anything to the book. But I can assume that they are deleted scenes for a reason and to just add them unnecessarily to the end of the novel seems both ridiculous and conceited. Seriously, King! And King’s editor!

I think it is still a fun read (so long as you find where the acceptable ending for you is and just leave it there). Next up is The Dead Zone, which I know nothing about but have heard it mentioned in relation to Trump? I got no idea! If there is another extended ending, this next blog post will probably turn into a rant about plot structuring so I’ll apologise in advance if that turns out to be the case!

Carrie by Stephen King

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Okay, I know, I’m so late to this blog post and it really isn’t because I’ve just been binge-watching Line of Duty, that is only part of the reason and there are much better sounding reasons such as job-hunting for a mystical job that involves just reading books all day – oh wait, such a job exists in an elusive career path called the publishing industry and I got all the boxes ticked: work experiences and internships but now the next stumbling block seems to be the moment people see my face in interview and say ‘nah’. The other was that I went to Paris and drank rose and ate Nutella crepes drunk around all the tourist sites (that’s how you do things in Paris, right?) but that doesn’t sound like a good reason although I can assure you that is way to deal with unemployment.

Right, enough about my sad life and on to the review! There is something cathartic about reading about how someone else’s life is just so much more terrible than yours and I’d love to say it comes from a place of empathy and understanding but it’s more like when you see an ex on the street and they’ve gained weight and their hair is looking terrible and they’ve luckily caught you on the one day you decided to shave your legs and wash so you just get to let the triumph of having a more successful time than someone else wash over you in one grand successful moment. That’s pretty much what I got out of reading Carrie – that, and it made my period experience this month a little more perturbing than usual. I was a little mystified about some of the bullying experiences that Carrie goes through – maybe it’s just me but I’m pretty sure back in my school days girls were too stingy to start throwing tampons at someone – please, we need to keep just the one for emergency and no one has enough to start pelting them at someone like its Period War that just grew hot.

That being said, King does a surprisingly good job of referencing the kind of horrific experience that someone – and we all know a someone and if we don’t, we were that someone, has of just not fitting in, of something in their appearance just not being right, and somehow giving off a scent that cries out ‘single me out’. Also, the herd mentality of those who just go along with it in the sudden callous manner of lashing out, emboldened by others, only to be completely normal, decent people otherwise is so familiarly outlined in the opening pages of the book. The fact that Carrie has telekinesis is almost an afterthought, the plot point framed through fictional passages of future books and articles written on the subject of the prom and downplayed by a committee reviewing the events. It’s classic King at his starting point, however, and I guess you can see the origins of his horror here in his first, fairly benign and simplistic story, a lurking, magical or mystical feature burrowed in a normal, New England town, simmering under the surface and reaching a breaking point from its abject existence into present-day with the usual bloody consequences.

Oh, and this is a bloody book. Not bloody in the kind of body dismemberment that we may be familiar with in his other novels, but more along the lines of period blood and pig’s blood serving as bloody metaphor for the cruel coming of age that Carrie experiences. Being familiar with the image of a blood-drenched Carrie at prom, the ultimate turning point wasn’t a shock, nor is it meant to be but rather a point of no return and all the moments beforehand are just a slow-burning build up. I’m not sure how successful the tension is and I felt ambivalent towards both Carrie and the other paper-thin characters. I can’t believe I am going to say this but perhaps being a little longer might have served the tension better – there were so few intriguing characters and none had a stand-out presence apart from perhaps Carrie’s mother. It is not really the prom itself that provides the most emotional turbulence in the novel but the earlier scenes showing the traumatic and abusive relationship between Carrie and her mother rooted in her mother’s fanatical beliefs and her fear of Carrie’s power. I’d have loved to see that aspect of the novel but, luckily, we’ll always have the dominant and deliciously cruel Annie Wilkes who I can’t help but think was built on the demented Christian fundamentalist and terrible mother, Margaret.

Still, it was a fun read, and refreshing to have a female character as the protagonist. I’m not even sure if I would classify this as a horror – I found the whole plot to be more a tragedy with supernatural elements. I have to give it to King though – with a classic like this, it is impossible not to know at least a vague idea of the premise of the book, and yet I was still hooked and the plot still engaging.

So, next up is Salem’s Lot and it’s a long book again so yay, I actually started missing those! I promise this review will be up a lot sooner than this one, really! So long as the job search doesn’t leave me feeling like this:

The Shining by Stephen King

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HEEEEEEERE’S…my latest blog post on my latest read by Stephen King, The Shining (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist at least one little film reference). Speaking of the film, it has been ages since I last watched it through my fingers but that was lucky as I didn’t want it to distort my reading experience of the book and it turned out I didn’t have to worry at all about that because the book and film are extremely different takes on the general plot and location. There are no rivers of blood gushing through a hotel. No evil girl twins. No axe. No maze. No token black character that is the first to die. I could go on but you get the gist.

What I can actually remember about the film is really just the overdone meme parts (damn you, social media, damn you to hell). Now that I have seen both the film and the read the book, I’m just going to cease with the comparisons and just say what I thought about the book. At this point, surely I must be getting a little sick of King and, sure enough, the closely plotted structure of the book is starting to get a familiar tone and feel (good magic located in the enduring innocence of a child, check, bad magic in a place/demon/monster, check, good magic defeats bad magic, check), however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good read or discounts the rising, eerie tension in any way. I’d say this is the closest a Stephen King has really come to scaring me. I certainly can never look at hedge animals the same way again.

I won’t summarize the plot because even by doing so in my own words, I’m pretty certain I’d be plagiarizing someone somewhere because everyone knows the plot of The Shining. Everyone. Other than the feeling of a tedious plot that I think is slowly dawning on with King-fatigue, I don’t have any complaints. I really enjoyed this book, obvious plot and all. The Overlook really needs to take a bow as a stand-out character that has risen up the list of things that scare me: it stalks the characters with creeping horror shows: masked party-goers, a lively, creaking elevator, a swollen body in a bath in room 217, a bursting boiler, carefully placed roque mallets, deadly hedge animals, and so on…a haunted place that seems to snatch at, ensnare and envelop the Torrance family, successfully taking over the weakest link: Jack Torrance.

Jack’s turn for the worse from the protagonist of the novel into the antagonist is the highlight of the novel taking place in the womb of the devilish hotel. As all my knowledge came from the film, it was a pleasant surprise how much I sympathized with Jack and his inevitable plight. And of course, that is deliberate on King’s part. Jack is a failed writer and struggling alcoholic with a hot temper who consistently makes damaging, destructive mistakes, from accidentally breaking his son’s arm to losing his job after punching out a student who slashed his tires. It is his love for his family, efforts to stay on the wagon, and hope to continue to do better that makes him an endearing figure. His character checks in (pun intended) to symbolize addiction, cycle of abuse and the fear of the past returning. So, we the reader just can’t help but want him to do better. His love for his family, especially his son, is the heart of the book and its his internalized fear of being the one to harm his own family that is the realized terror that haunts The Shining: the novel would have had a lesser impact without Jack written as a flawed, but sympathetic, character.

Wendy was a great change in comparison to the film as well. Not just a screaming, subservient wreck, she stands on her own as more than a suffering wife who actively chooses to keep her family together and, when crisis hits, does all she can to keep her son safe. Speaking of her son, Danny Torrance and his ‘shining’ ability, it seemed, much like the film, an afterthought, just a little magical mumbo-jumbo something-something there to defeat the hotel with along with Dick Halloran, otherwise known as the novel’s deux ex machina, otherwise known as a character from IT (ooh, cross-over, King-universe reference, how I love those!). But I don’t mind that. To me, the success of the book rests on the malevolence of the Overlook, its powerful, living presence that looms over and above Jack’s personal, hellish, and internal struggle, one that he ultimately is too weak to win.

Final thoughts on The Shining: it looks like I really couldn’t cease the comparisons at all! I am really glad I have read the book and am probably swaying more to preferring the book over the film for mainly the reasons of Jack and Wendy being so much more compelling and flawed characters but that doesn’t take away from how brilliant the film is as a visual medium.

Right, what to read next? I’m torn between Carrie or Salem’s Lot, probably going to be a toss-up between the two!

Pet Semetary by Stephen King

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So I’ve heard this is supposed to be one of King’s scariest reads but I’ll be honest – and maybe this is partly because I had just read this after the amazing 11/22/63 – this was a bit disappointing. Misery had far more of a scary impact on me if I’m honest. This just felt fairly disturbing at most with a carefully structured plot that, while plodding along at times, keeps you reading until the end, however, I just never felt the full force of the emotional turbulence and coming horror that was to be expected as the book unfolds.

Let me get on with the good points. So I did enjoy the premise and it is an interesting one that fits right into King’s territory. The idealistic Creed family, Louis and his wife, Rachel, and their two children, Ellie and Gage, and their cat, Church, move into rural Maine near a busy road where many pets met a fateful end and a Pet Cemetery where they are buried. So no supermarket or cheerful park like most regular houses get to have nearby but what do I know, I’m a city girl. Louis makes friends with his kindly neighbour, Jud, a relationship that gets a little weird after his family cat gets killed on the road and he takes him to some ancient burial ground where he can be resurrected, a pastime many people in his day decided to do after losing their pets. They could have just taken better care of them or tried to enforce speed limits on the road but no, resurrecting their beloved who become disturbed monsters seemed a much simpler solution.

You can see where this is going. First a dead pet rises from the dead who isn’t too much of an issue – Church only smells like death and savagely kills a few birds and rats from time to time and his family grow to despise him – Louis just can’t help himself wondering what would it be like if you were to raise a person from the dead, and low and behold, he is a position to find out after his son runs into the road and is struck by a truck before Louis can pull him back to safety. The plot points all do click into place rather neatly but, to be fair to King, this is due to the mystical power and influence of whatever demonic creature (it is called a Wendigo in the book) that possesses the dead that rise again. It seemingly controls the people who feel it necessary to show another the ancient burial ground, forces the deaths of pets and two-year olds and influences the victims through their grief and terror. All in all, a way better villain than resurrected Gage. I mean, he is two after all. How scary can a two-year old in a suit holding a scalpel can be?

There are some greatly poignant moments in the book when dealing with the issue of death and King does a good job of exploring the unthinkable; that of grief, loss and the consequence of having a choice to bring someone back from the dead. King really does push further outward past the limits of what we can expect out the ugliness and depravity of human behavior with certain horrific outward influences. Of course, he achieves a fantastic balance of absurdity, macabre in a lonely, isolated and rural setting with a far thinner pack of characters than he usually deals with. This is not an epic-building of an expansive universe but an exceptional, single and far off small world built upon the dealings of grief, cut off from the rest of the world.

But here are my issues with it which for me, make it less of a gut punch than it could have been. The characters are, overall, very thinly drawn out and could have done with more moments of character progression. Louis, for instance, is the protagonist and yet I found him to be really dull. On the other hand, his wife, Rachel with her tragic background dealing as a child with the suffering and death of her sister, was far more interesting and I couldn’t help wondering how much more tragic the book could have been had it been her thrust in the forefront, tackling the choice to be able to bring someone back from the dead. But I could have swept that all aside if, after all that momentum and slow build up, we had a little more Gage! I mean, the whole book is slowly ticking up until the moment he returns and you’re hoping for this relentless, horrific, demonic force controlling the body of a child about to rip apart this entire little world….and he’s around for like five minutes. Would have liked more killer toddler moments but ah well.

Still, a decent read so I’m not complaining too much. The actual ending itself is so bleak and chilling that it almost made up for the disappointing third act. Next up is a King book everyone knows mainly because of the fantastic film that I have seen so many times that I am hoping doesn’t affect my reading of it – The Shining! I finally get to read it and am so looking forward to it.

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I mean, look at this kid! Who didn’t want to see more of demon Gage and his scalpal??

 

 

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

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Apologies for the lateness of this blog post, especially considering this is hardly one of King’s longest reads – but in my defense, I’ve been dealing with some tragedies and general difficulties and, as the book likes to say, ‘life turns on a dime’. As it stands, it is probably the most successful of the King books so far because it turned out to be a welcoming, if not bittersweet, distraction to life’s miserable realities.

I’ll try not to give it such a melancholy review although I think re-reading it is something for the far, far future. Although I like the think the lives of characters breathing through the pages are altogether separated from real life just by the snapping shut of the book’s spine, a little of what goes on around us in reality does end up slipping into those pages when we’re living harsh events in-between the lovely escapism of the writer’s crafted world we dive into and then they always echo there on a re-read, ghostly memories sidling up against the words. But it did provide a comfort blanket over difficult, protruding thoughts by being another engrossing, exciting and creative delicately plotted book, not a King classic, but with his ghostly imprint of the 1960’s setting you grow accustomed to reading about with a King book.

When I say it is not a King classic, that is not meaning it isn’t a good book – it definitely is and it surprisingly up there with being one of his most touching ones I’ve read so far (I’ve not yet gotten to the end of Pet Cemetery and haven’t even approached The Green Mile yet although a darn Watch Mojo video spoiled the end of the film for me). It is just such a different book departing altogether from his usual horror and thriller into full-blown sci-fi, just entrenched in his usual Maine scenery. There isn’t too much violence and gore although that is not to say there isn’t any – there is, for instance, a sledge-hammer wielding, head-crushing, family-hating murderer – but that it isn’t the core of the book. What is replaced is something more tender and maybe even more painful than that which is love and sacrifice and those are themes you probably don’t expect to emerge from a typical Stephen King book. But, to me, that is what made it such a pleasant success – that King had broken from his usual mold and made something clever and new and when playing with the expectations of his reader, there is a twist in the conclusion as rather than ending in a bloody, gory battle with, its conclusion is – dare I say it – actually heart-warming. Sort of, anyway.

Of course, the subject and driving plot of the book isn’t exactly new and it’s that it is written in that stylized King way that makes the subject fresh and sharp. It is about a lonely high school English teacher, Jake Epping, who is shown a time hole/rip in time/portal/rabbit hole (choose one of those to your liking) by his dying friend, Al, who enlists him on a mission to stop the Kennedy assassination and make the world a better place. The time portal takes Jake to the exact same spot and date in 1958. If he were to go back through the time portal to his time, 2011, only two minutes exactly would have passed, no matter how long he spends in 1958. What’s more, if he steps back in once more through the time portal, he resets the timeline and any changes he may have made beforehand in his original trip is erased. Straight forward, right? Of course not. This is time travel. And anyone who knows anything about time travel and butterfly effects or anyone who saw that one Simpsons episode with a toaster can make a decent stab at guessing the ending – changing the past just makes things worse. And for people like me who watches the Flash and argues heatedly about all the logical fallacies in the way they portray time travel, everything ending badly was just a given.

But this book doesn’t only hinge on the dread and suspense of the time Jake spends in the past leading to the eventual pivotal moment in history that he stops in to change. It is a fantastically well-researched driven plot point that provides the overall hanging threat in the novel like an axe over the characters but its point as historical fiction hinges with really what is the heart of the book: the romance. I know, confused me for a moment there too. Did Stephen King really write a romance…and a good one at that? Oh yes, he did. A beautiful heart-rendering, jarringly real in its flaws and disappointments, and gentle romance that blossoms between Jake Epping and Sadie Clayton, a love affair to be doomed due to its dependence on time travel. And it is accompanied with the tragedy that Jake finds himself suffering from, wanting to live in the wrong timeline, the one in history he finds so refreshing, real, mystical, simple and brimming with optimism despite its jarring flaws: the Cold War, racism, sexism, homophobia, the weird little town world where neighbors gossip about what you’re up to, and so on.

I won’t spoil anything – I won’t even risk it! I’ll just say that there was something special about King’s treatment of time travel. He sidesteps the classic cliches, paradoxes and dismisses the elements of multiple and fixed time line arguments with a few stray sentences.The lurking evil in the small American towns that is King’s specialty are not monsters and demons but fleshed out humans playing out horrific incidents in a past that is obdurate, that is, refusing to be changed. And this is not left with lingering cynicism but counterbalanced with its protagonists. The heart and soul of the book is dedicated to a love affair that (okay fine, SPOILER ALERT) must be sacrificed for the good of the world.

Oh, and if you have the time (or the patience), do read IT before this as there is a special little cross-over between some of the characters in this book. Ah, that did get me a little over-excited. So do all the books exist in some Stephen King universe? Will there be an Infinity Wars book set in Derry, Maine where the protagonists come together to defeat a band of the King monsters: Pennywise, Gage Creed, and Randall Flagg all living in the Overlook Hotel and plotting the end of the world? Hold on, just going to jot this idea down and write to Hollywood…

So, I am actually on Pet Cemetery and it is quite short (I think I am actually missing the overly long Stephen King epics now) and that means I’ll have no excuse but to write up a review pretty soon. Not too scary so far. Disturbing as hell but that is to be expected.

 

Misery by Stephen King

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I thought I’d take a little break from the Stephen King epics and settle with something a little shorter and snappier while on holiday and Misery fit the bill – although if I were hoping for something cheery and lighthearted, I’d have been surprised to put it mildly. Luckily, I expect nothing short of severed limbs, psychopathic characters and disturbed plotting from King and Misery is another gruesome and intense quality horror story.

Vastly set apart from my previous reads (popular epics IT and The Stand), Misery breathes out with a far more settled (or to be more aptly descriptive, unsettling) and singular setting and, for the most part, only consists of two characters. I’ll be brief on the summary (AND SPOILERS) – popular writer of the Misery series, Paul Sheldon, gets caught up in a car accident and is rescued by an eager fan, former nurse and current occupation as a murderer, Annie Wilkes. Rather than take poor Paul to the hospital to fix his shattered legs from the accident, she decides a far more constructive use of her time would be to lock him in a room in her house, get him hooked on drugs, force him to write a sequel bringing back the titular character, Misery Chastain, from the dead, deprive him of food, chop off his foot with an axe, cut off his thumb with an electric knife, present him with said severed thumb on a birthday cake when it wasn’t his birthday, run down a state trooper’s head with a lawnmower after stabbing him with a cross…and that was all after she killed her father, college roommate, various patients as a nurse and narrowly avoid prison getting acquitted after getting charged for the murders of several babies.

I did know vaguely about the plot since watching the 1990 film when I was young and it fascinated – and terrified – but I was not certain about the ending. And the fantastic moment Paul pictures Annie leaping from a sofa brandishing an axe and killing him did trick me for Annie’s character was so damn driven, always a step ahead, so sneaky and careful yet unpredictable, wild and dangerous, that King created her almost inhuman, invincible that even with (and SPOILER WARNING AGAIN), her death, it seemed just as likely to me as it does Paul’s traumatized character, that she can somehow come back once more to terrorize him once again.

For me, the violence is never the scary part, though that detailed foot amputating scene had me biting my knuckles and grimacing. It is the moments in-between, the hair-raising scenes where Paul breaks out of his room using a bobby-pin in the lock, where he speaks out for himself, the moments where the scene hovers between its passing or an eruption of violence from Annie. It is a little (pleasantly) surprising to have from King such a tightly written, carefully plotted and wholly character-driven book which makes for an intense examination of the only two main characters but it has its purpose and with no filler, every page of the book focuses on the thin line that Paul hangs on – as with any wrong word, move or external motion, Annie could turn on him for the kill. It is necessary for the book to be short and without any filler as it becomes painful to read on past the continual pain and brutal physical and mental torture Paul is continually put through before the final few pages.

The English graduate in me can also appreciate some of the emerging themes of obsession and addiction that come out strong in the book alongside the gruesome horror and the terrifying remoteness of the setting. Well-paced, always teetering on the edge and suspenseful right up until the end, Misery is another great read. Just maybe not if you’re looking for something cheery on holiday.

Oh, and Annie also catches rats in her cellar, kills them with her bare hands and licks the blood from her fingers. Yeah, she does that as well. What a character.

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IT by Stephen King

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Another hefty read, IT is another terrific King work, a genre mix-up of horror, mystery, and coming-of-age and maybe like what Stand By Me would be like if there was a shape-shifting monster lurking nearby. The story’s central protagonist is really the sinister small New England town, Derry, and the monstrous being that lives under its sewage tunnels that emerges from time to time and feasts on young children and occasionally someone older. Often masquerading as a clown called Pennywise and luring in kids with balloons and the smells and sounds of a funfair, it does also shape shift into the thing that people fear most as a bonus – oh, and it can also manipulate people into doing its being, and has awakened since the beginning of Derry, had its human sacrificial meal, slumbered and risen again to continue they cycle of violence and death until IT finally encounters seven children that finally are able to come together and defeat it together and come together once more as adults to defeat once and for all.

Well, overall, I’d say this was a thrilling and, at times, nerve-wracking read although not as scary as I first expected. The characters are, for the most part, beautifully fleshed out and their budding, blossoming friendship that form the Losers Club is touching and their boundless optimism and ability to accept the stranger parts of their lives is a lovely homage to childhood itself. The seven misfits are: Bill Denbrough, the leader of the group who suffers from a stutter and whose younger brother, Georgie, is the first victim of IT, Ben Hascom, overweight as a child and helplessly in unrequited love, Beverly Marsh, from the poorest end of Derry and struggles to live with her increasingly abusive father, Richie Tozier, known as Trashmouth who endlessly makes Voice impressions, Eddie Kasbprak, who from dealing with an overbearing mother who continually insists he’s frail becomes a hypochondriac and convinced he is asthmatic, Mike Hanlon, the only African-American in the group and his family the only black people in the town of Derry, and finally, Stan Uris, who is Jewish and the only one in the group who is unable to face IT the second time as an adult. Each of the children become a target for the cruel and sadistic bully, Henry Bowers usually flanked by Vik Criss and belch Huggins, and become united against him.

There is a lot to say about the book, and it can’t all be discussed in one article otherwise we’d be here all day so I’ll get on with what I liked and didn’t like. The two interlinking timelines between the characters of the Loser Club as adults coming back to defeat IT a second time and the earlier timeline of them as children is an effective construction of the plot by prolonging the mystery, unveiling each and every moment where the children first encounter IT, and becomes a method of portraying how their childhood traumas continually affected them as adults. Coming back to defeat IT is not just to defeat a crazy child-eating monster but to deal head-on with the issues that doggedly pursue them as adults – much like the bully, Henry Bowers. The many characters, endless information on the history and lengthy descriptions of the geography of Derry help to build up the town as a world on such a grand scale with carefully constructed detail which is something really special with King. The place of Derry has so much context, so many minute characters, that it becomes engrossing and envelops you into its haunted mystery and disturbing moments.

However, there were a few bits – I think to say hate would be a strong word – that I didn’t think worked in the book. For me, it really is too long – there is so much that could have easily been cut out and not affected the plot at all. Audra’s character for instance really didn’t need to be in the final chapter of the book and her presence made so little difference to the unfolding of the plot and the defeat of IT. Patrick Hockstetter, the psychopath who joins Henry’s gang at one point before being killed by IT, is another useless character. A psychopath who murdered his infant brother by suffocating him and locked pets including kittens and puppies in an abandoned freezer certainly raised the point about Derry on how as a town itself and its inhabitants are always able to turn away from the disturbing aspects of it which allows a character like Patrick to continue his antics, but his story goes absolutely nowhere, much like the scene where he indulges in some sexual foreplay with Henry. It is pointless and I found it just plonked in there to add some animal torture for the sake of it.

Which leads to Henry, who in turn, is little more than a sadistic, racist, vile bully. Yes, he becomes increasingly controlled by IT to do its bidding and pursue and murder the members of the Loser Club but from his first appearance running after poor Ben who just wanted to borrow books from the library, damn it, already takes out a knife to carve his initials into him. Why is he like this?! What on earth makes a character, as young as he is, so hateful, vindictive and murderous? Never really fleshed out by King, he is just one of those one-dimensional classic bullies who has it out for the central protagonist just because.

Another issue is the reveal of IT itself. Of all its many sinister forms, its final reveal is not one of the scary ones. Turns out it’s some sort of female spider alien thing with yellow ‘deadlights’ eyes and the children have to defeat It using the ritual of Chud which involves biting its tongue. Oh, and there is a Turtle that pops up every so often, refers to Bill as ‘son’ and made the Universe. It really is as bizarre and head-scratching as it sounds and I found the ending and final reveal and explanation just too daft. Where King starts to detail the metaphysical and the sci-fi elements in this tale, I find it all falls very flat. And I won’t even bring up a certain even stranger and really unecessary scene which can only be described as a pre-teen gang-bang that almost soured the entire book for me. I truly cannot fathom why King thought that was a good idea and why his editor didn’t put a giant red cross over that scene and write ‘WTF?!’

However, complaints aside, there is still so much of the book I truly enjoyed despite finding the ending underwhelming at best and there being a little too much unnecessary fodder. It is only the final few chapters that are disappointing and I think, like the characters, it’d be best if I end up with selective memory loss.

So what is next for me to read? Another King novel? I think so, the books I’ve read so far haven’t been disappointments at all, far from it, but I am a little torn on what to start next. I’ll let you know what I chose on the next post!

The Stand by Stephen King

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So I’ll be starting my first book review for this blog for a major Stephen King novel, The Stand. And when I say major, it’s not just implied flattery relating to its grand success and wide acclaim but its almost ludicrous length. I read it electronically on my iPad and it’s one of those times it can be a little tricky to gauge just how long a book actually is just by noting the amount of pages – you think pff, that’ll be done in a week whereas when you see the book itself, well, it’s enough to make you look for something a little slimmer. I spent my third year of uni reading nineteenth century novels written at a time where authors were financially motivated to write longer and had I seen The Stand in real life, I’d have almost certainly thought ‘Nope. I’m retired.’ But hey-ho, I didn’t really know at the time how long it was and once I get started on a book, I can’t leave it unfinished as much as I can avoid scratching an itch on my nose. And I am glad I wasn’t put off because the book really is as fantastic as I’ve heard.

The Stand wasn’t my first Stephen King novel – I lost my reading-Stephen-King virginity to The Dark Tower during my time of reading a lot of classic dystopia which I found all-in-all a bit meh, a little unimpressive and I will give it another chance, I promise, but I thought to myself how can this be, surely this can’t be his best work. So I turned to the internet to discover what was arguably his best work and now I get it – I just get it. Gripping, emotional, darkly funny and sometimes downright terrifying – at a few moments, I found myself turning my light back on because I am no masochist – it is an epic book. An epic is probably the best way to describe what it actually is as it grandiose enough to take on several genres from fantasy, post-apocalypse, dystopia, horror and even parable. The book begins with the plot of the spreading sickness later named ‘Captain Trips’ that causes the death of the majority of humanity all over the world and leaves few survivors that begin to get drawn in through their dreams towards the choice between good or evil and this eventually culminates through the choices characters make into a battle between the two. This wasn’t the easiest of reads when commuting – the descriptions of the easy way in which this particular deadly strain of flu infects millions of people through coughs and sneezes while enduring the random real-life moments of coughs and sneezes had me regretting that I always leave my antibacterial hand gel at home – but that is the genius of The Stand and King’s work in general, matching the normal and mundane with unease and fear.

Many protagonists and antagonists of the book each have their introductions before the world as they know it ends: Stu Redman, Nick Andros, Larry Underwood, Frannie Goldsmith, Harold Lauder and Trashcan Man to name a few. We as the reader follow their individual journeys until they are guided towards grouping up once again. Randall Flagg is the monstrous evil who sets up a despotic world in Vegas luring in stragglers by exploiting all their various vices by bringing out the worst in them and preying on their fear whilst his counterpart is the elderly Mother Abigail who believes she is able to communicate with God and offers hope and safety to the lost survivors. What is terrifying is not the emerged existence of the evil monster that is Randall Flagg who is at times an unstoppable force, all-seeing, able to control animals to do his bidding, and triumphant for most of the novel – but how he implicates others. I’m talking (and hey – mild spoilers here!) about the character Harold Lauder, a fat, self-conscious and weak-willed boy who falls in love with Frannie Goldsmith who in turn falls in love with the hero of the novel, Stu Redman. As unfortunate love triangles, this one ends as badly as you’d expect. It’s the capacity in all of us to feel hate and jealousy that can guide our actions that is most sinister – and Harold’s turn from the lonely loser writer into furious killer is the emotional crux of the book for me. The build-up of tension as the unwitting protagonists live peacefully alongside the increasingly hateful Harold whose hatred he first lets loose in his writing before turning to action is the book at its most frightening. The end is inevitable, yet you hope against hope that it is not.

It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom throughout the book although it rests of the premise of the overwhelming capacity of humans to continually repeat their mistakes and that the capacity for evil a continual one. The characters are richly drawn from heroic, noble, and caring to ugly, cruel and mad (seriously, Trashcan Man is insane – the guy drove a nuke. A NUKE) and represent a wide span of differing human natures whilst being fully individual alive ones. The settings descriptions are so effortlessly done, setting up with a flourish the probable impact of what the state of America would be after such a cataclysmic event. The ending is a little wobbly and felt a little bizarre and hastily done (though I was thrilled of the conclusion for one of the characters involved) and after what felt like the main conclusion, it drags on a little. But overall, it is truly a glorious epic fantasy.

Turns out, I discovered after reading, I’d actually read the extended version of the book. A little like when I watched the extended versions of Lord of the Rings first time I watched then. Well worth it!

I think I’ll be sticking with Stephen King for a while – next up for me is ‘It’ which I think is his second-longest book – clearly I can’t get enough of King. Now I think this is the one with an evil clown? I’m not scared of clowns per say, my only experience of clowns is Ronald McDonald back in the day when everyone got at least one birthday at McDonalds and I associate him with Happy Meals, McFlurrys, and the days when McDonalds were red and yellow so, all in all, I’m coming to the conclusion I’m not scared of clowns…but whilst I have talked myself into reading this book with that in mind, I’m still very sure this book will scare me. Night light will be staying firmly on!

Hello there

Hey there!

I’ll keep the first blog post to the point – I like reading. I like it a lot. I liked it so much I chose to study three years of reading and concluded with complete amnesia about all my feelings towards books before an undergraduate degree. Luckily, after taking a break from books (and getting distracted by the joys of Netflix and the general freedom from essays and seminars) I’ve gotten back in the swing of things and have discovered, much to my dismay, people don’t actually want to hear me harping on about books after the first few polite minutes. Crazy, I know. So for all the book lovers, general book readers, people on the look out to start up reading, and those who have just stumbled on this page late at night occupied with internet browsing with morning regret still a distant time away, welcome to what will be my book review blog where I will at times ramble on about my latest book read and what I thought about it. Cheers!