Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King

24
Jun
20

“I am wonderful, I deserve to be wonderful, and I contain multitudes.” CBR12 Review 14.

UnknownI haven’t been great about reading lately, and have been even worse about reviewing. But as a loyal Constant Reader, I felt like this might be the book to jumpstart my COVID reading habits, and I was mostly right.

Similiar to earlier collections like Different Seasons, The Bachman Books, Full Dark No Stars, and Four Past Midnight, If It Bleeds is made up of four long-ish, unrelated stories (or novellas, if you’re feeling fancy): Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, If It Bleeds, and Rat. Two of these seem awfully familiar, like old-timey King. One of the stories brings back one of King’s favorite characters, and ties itself in (I think) with the world of The Dark Tower. And one of the stories just might be my all-time favorite from King. High praise, indeed, seeing how much I love The Mist, The Jaunt, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, and Herman Wouk is Still Alive.

Let’s start with the familiar:

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a fine, but not particularly memorable story about a young boy named Craig who befriends his elderly neighbor, Mr Harrigan, and goes to read to him after school for many years. They bond over books, and later, over the magic of the iPhone (first series!). And when Mr Harrigan eventually dies, Craig misses having him around so much that he sometimes calls Mr Harrigan’s phone, just to hear his voicemail message. And sometimes, the next morning, Craig will have an undecipherable (or is it? I honestly don’t know) return text message from Mr Harrigan’s phone. As Craig grows up, he thinks of Mr Harrigan less frequently, but still calls his number every once in a while, mostly when things aren’t going so well in his life. After trouble with a bully, Craig calls. And when that bully suddenly dies? Is it coincidence? Or does Mr Harrigan have some sort of power that he wields from beyond the grave?

Rat is definitely a story idea that Stephen King has played around with before. If you could trade something good in your life for something bad in someone else’s life, would you do it? And who would you pick to suffer the consequences of that choice? (Thinner and Fair Extension are similar stories that come to mind. Are there others?) In this instance, a writer — who never really lived up to his potential — gets an idea for a novel, and heads up to his cabin in the Maine woods to write. The last book he tried to write ended up with his house almost burnt down and leaving him very very close to a nervous breakdown. But this time will be different! Not his most original story, but still, never boring. And a bit rattling to read during self-distancing, as there are some flu scenes here that are a little bit creepy, which certainly added to the ambiance of the story. SIDE NOTE: I listened to this audiobook, and Steven Weber did a great job with this story.)

The title story, If It Bleeds, is a Holly Gibney story. I like Holly a lot as a character, so I was all in on this one, but from what I’ve read, not everyone is a fan, so YMMV. Back at home after the events of The Outsider, Holly becomes obsessed with a horrific (seriously, AWFUL) national tragedy, and soon becomes convinced that the perpetrator of this terrible crime is in some way related to El Cuco, the face-stealing monster that she and Ralph Anderson faced in Texas a few years ago. I was tense throughout the entire story — and my anxiety was at 11 for the last 50 or so pages. Good news for fans of this year’s HBO miniseries, as this novella could easily set up Season two.

SPOILERS FOR IF IT BLEEDS:

I’m doubling down on my theory from The Outsider that the monster is related to Dandelo from The Dark Tower. Chet Ondowsky could have been Dandelo’s first cousin, their traits were so similar.

This brings us to The Life of Chuck, which I think is one of the greatest things King has ever written. I don’t even really want to talk about it because I would hate to give anything away…but I will say that it wasn’t at all what I expected after the first few pages.  The story starts in a not-too-distant time, when the world is breaking down. Disease, climate change, riots, and other natural and not-so-natural disasters are bringing us to the verge of the apocalypse. (Another story that was a bit chilling to read during our current global situation. Great timing, Uncle Stevie!). California finally falls into the ocean. The internet is barely working. Huge sinkholes open up, eating cars and making transportation almost impossible. And then, out of nowhere, strange billboards start popping up with a strange message saying “39 GREAT YEARS! THANKS, CHUCK!”.

Who is Chuck? And what has he been doing for 39 great years? The answer surprised me, and the road to that answer fascinated me. I look forward to coming back to this story someday, I know it will stay a favorite.

As a post-script, here is the song that was in my head the whole time:

 

 

 

 

 

02
Jan
20

Next time, I’ll just read The Stand again. CBR12 Review 1.

downloadThis book had everything going for it, including multiple comparisons to The Stand, and a massive recommendation from the mothership. I started it back in August, thinking I could whip through it for the Pajiba Says bingo square, and well, I just finished it yesterday. I was…not a fan. I didn’t hate it, but I was incredibly let down by it.

The story starts out strong: across the world, sleepwalkers start marching toward an unknown destination. Their numbers start off small, and as the group (and the “shepherds” who are traveling with them) starts to grow, the world starts to ask questions: Where are they going? What’s wrong with them? How do they know what they’re doing? Why do they EXPLODE when you try to stop them? Meanwhile, a virus slowly makes its way into the population, and seems to be undeniably lethal and unstoppable. The CDC sends their best (and former best) scientists to the scene to try and figure out what’s happening with the walkers and if they have anything to do with the virus — now called White Mask — before its too late.

Here’s what I liked:

I’m down for any book that attempts to emulate The Stand. I’m always curious to see how another author interprets the potential apocalypse and the breakdown of society. I liked the idea of a specific destination (in Colorado, no less! With a special cameo by Las Vegas as the home for the worst of us at the end of days) for society to be rebuilt after the world that we know has come to an end. And I liked that the bulk of the story took place on the road — as the group of walkers and shepherds grew, we met more and more characters. I loved how they became a tight-knit community of RVs and trucks, following their loved ones into the unknown. I really liked Marcy, the ex-cop with a special connection to the walkers; Landry, who started out as a minor love interest but over time became quite a hero; and Dove, the mayor of Ouray, Colorado. I could have spent many more pages with them.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

Pretty much all of the main characters. ESPECIALLY Pete the rock star. UGH.

The quickly wrapped up ending where we find out how the virus really started and how many actually survived.

All of the action that took place within the computer program.

And most of all, I hated everything that was about Christianity and MAGA-veiled white supremacy. Basically, the author chose to make all of the villians members of a militia group that used the reach of the church to poison the minds of as much of society as it could get its hands on. I understood where it was coming from, as clearly the end of the world has to have some anarchy, and that the story needed clear-cut good guys and bad guys, but it was painted with such broad, stereotypical strokes that it was pretty insulting to the reader. And I’m confident saying that as neither a Christian nor a MAGA supporter in any way, whatsoever. If I wanted to be lectured about politics and the state of the world, I would have asked for it. I did not need to have Wendig’s opinions (which really were not opinions, as he is pretty sure he is right about everything) shoved down my throat, page after tedious page.

Did I mention that this book was long? Like 800 pages. It could have used a 300 page trim and wouldn’t have suffered for it. This was my first Chuck Wendig, and I can’t imagine I’ll be reading a second.

22
Dec
19

“He was only twelve, and understood that his experience of the world was limited, but one thing he was quite sure of: when someone said trust me, they were usually lying through their teeth.” CBR11 Review 52.

downloadWelcome to The Institute, my favorite book of 2019.

Was it the best book of 2019? Probably not. But I can’t think of a reading experience that I enjoyed more than this. This book brought me back to the feelings I had when I first discovered Stephen King, back in Junior High, staying up late at night, scared to death about what might happen to my favorite characters. Its been MANY years since those first late-night readings of The Shining and Thinner (not his greatest work, but no book EVER has made more of a lasting impression on me than Thinner. I can remember staying up all night long to read it, and how the ending GUTTED me), mostly worrying about the kids in the story, and if they would survive whatever hell had come down upon them. This story brought me back to being a kid again. Thanks, Uncle Stevie.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

The Institute starts off slowly…King introduces Tim Jamieson, a former Florida cop looking to start a new life in a small South Carolina town. King seems in no rush to get the plot moving, instead doing what he does best — bringing a small town and its residents to life. Tim gets a job at the Sheriff’s department as a Night Knocker, patrolling the town all night long, making sure the community is safe. Tim starts to settle in to his new life, when suddenly…

We aren’t talking about Tim anymore. And don’t think about him for hundreds of pages.

Now King shifts the focus to child prodigy (and sometimes mild telekinetic) Luke Ellis, a 12 year old from Minneapolis who is about to start college at Harvard. One night, a black SUV pulls up in front of Luke’s house, the people in the car break in, murder Luke’s parents, and kidnap a drugged Luke.

When he wakes up, he is in his bedroom, but it isn’t really his bedroom. There aren’t any windows, and some of his trophies are missing. A startled and confused Luke makes his way outside, where he discovers that he is now at The Institute, somewhere in the deep woods of Maine. A place for kids who have either telekinesis (TK) or telepathy (TP), where they are supposedly trained as secret agents of the government, but in reality, are tortured (and sometimes even killed) in order to test the limits of their powers.

The Institute is run by Mrs. Sigsby, one of the worst King villians in a long time. Her prim pantsuits and calm demeanor can’t hide the fact that she is a monster who enjoys her work and the power she has over the children under her purview. Luke and his new friends (Nicky, Kalisha, George, Helen, Iris, and especially Avery), are subjected to horrible tests and unspeakable acts of torture, as the doctors at The Institute attempt to increase/improve/evolve the potential powers of the children there.

Luke is different than the other kids, though. He is literally a genius, and he has had enough. After he witnesses the death of one of the kids living with him, he decides to plan his escape, and to take down The Institute — and Mrs. Sigsby.

There is a ton of action, some great relationships, and some fun characters here. While I love when King takes his time to describe things, I also love when he ratchets up the tension and has short, one paragraph-long chapters that let you know THE SHIT IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN.

I listened to the audiobook of this, and was constantly trying to find excuses to get in the car and listen, or go for a walk and listen. Turning it off was painful. I needed to know what was going to happen next. I needed to know which kids would make it out alive (because, I knew most of them wouldn’t, and its never a good idea to get attached to anyone in a King story). I needed to know what was going to happen to Luke and Tim and Mrs. Sigsby. And once again (for the fourth time this year), kudos to Santino Fontana for narrating the crap out of this book. He did a great job creating different voices for each character and keeping me invested and on the edge of my seat.

The ending wasn’t perfect, but so much better than some of King’s famous mis-steps, that I didn’t care. I enjoyed every second of this book. Even when it made me cry. Glad to have read this as my cannonball book this year!

08
Dec
19

Burn, baby, burn. CBR11 Review 47.

Firestarter1Clearly, 2019 has been my year of reading Jane Austen reboots and Stephen King. I’m not complaining. For some reason, I just needed some cozy reading this year, and I didn’t stray too far from my comfort zone.

I first read Firestarter so long ago that I can’t even remember reading it.*** I know I did, because I’ve always been a completist like that, but I just don’t remember. I assume I was in 8th or 9th grade, which was NOT recently, so I was happy to revisit it.

***I do remember one detail from my original reading. I remember after reading about how Charlie’s mom was tortured and had her fingernails pulled out that I asked my mom, who was a nurse, about how fingernails worked. I had completely forgotten about that conversation until I reread that scene.

While the first few chapters are filled with uncomfortable 1980s racial/ethnic/gender slurs and commentary, the rest feels almost like it could have been written today. Its a pretty taut thriller, and has one of the few Stephen King endings that I wouldn’t change in any way.

I think most of us know the story:

Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run from a secret government agency called THE SHOP. Back when Andy was in college, he and his future wife, Vicky, took part in an experiment for money, and took a drug that ended up killing some participants, driving some others insane, and leaving the others with psychic powers like telepathy and telekinesis. The Shop, with help from the kooky psychology professor at their college, ran and monitored the experiement, and continued the monitoring for years after the fact, always keeping an eye on Andy and Vicky, especially after they had a baby. The Shop was obsessed with the potential powers that their daughter might possess.

And it turns out, The Shop should have been a little bit scared as well. Charlie did not have the mild powers of her mother (who could sometimes shut a door from across the room) or the “push” capabilities of her father (who could control people’s minds, but not without a negative physical reaction). Charlie was a pyrokinetic. She could start fires with her mind.

As Charlie and Andy run from town to town, trying to stay safe, The Shop always seems to be one step ahead of them, showing up just when Charlie and Andy think they are safe at last.

Eventually, Charlie and Andy are captured by John Rainbird, a hitman who works for The Shop’s defacto leader, Cap Hollister. They are brought down to headquarters in rural Virginia, immediately separated, drugged, and tested. They go months without seeing each other, until one day, Andy realizes he needs to wake up from his drugged state and save his daughter.

The last third of the book is more or less a huge battle scene — the McGees against The Shop, and it moves fast and furiously. And even when the battle is over, and the story seems to be winding down, the feeling of dread never goes away, and we know there’s more trouble coming for Team McGee. The bad guys will never let up until Charlie and Andy are permanently out of the picture. Until the very last page, we worry about poor little Charlie, until (SPOILERS FOR A 30 YEAR OLD BOOK) she walks into the office at Rolling Stone, and we know she’s going to be all right.

I went straight from this one into reading The Institute, so I’m all about kids with crazy powers and shady government agencies right now.

10
Oct
19

If Uncle Stevie’s name is on it, odds are I’m going to read it. CBR11 Review 44.

downloadCBR11bingo #TheCollection

Its no secret that I am not a huge fan of flying. I understand that it is the safest way to travel. But I usually choose to drive if I can. I like to be able to choose my own route, to leave when I want to leave, to stop when I want to stop. I like to be in control of my journey. I think the lack of that control in an airplane is part of what makes me uneasy. Oh, and the fact that I’m in a metal tube shooting across the sky is another part.

So the odds were good that this book about the potential horrors of flying was going to get under my skin. And some of it did, quite a bit.

Here is a list of what is included in this collection:
Introduction by Stephen King
Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
The Horror of the Heights by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson
The Flying Machine by Ambrose Bierce
Lucifer! by E.C. Tubb
The Fifth Category by Tom Bissell
Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons
Diablitos by Cody Goodfellow
Air Raid by John Varley
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Warbirds by David J. Schow
The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury
Zombies on a Plane by Bev Vincent
They Shall Not Grow Old by Roald Dahl
Murder in the Air by Peter Tremayne
The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King
Falling by James Dickey
Afterword by Bev Vincent

I listened to this audiobook on and off over several months, and to be honest, can’t even remember what some of these stories were about without looking them up…but I’ll do my best to try and figure out which one was which.

Highlights for me included:

Cargo, a story about a young guy in the military who was assigned to the cargo plane that flew the bodies of the Jamestown victims – mostly children — home after the mass suicides. What happens on the plane might even be worse than what happened with Jim Jones. This story was narrated by the great Santino Fontana, and he really made me feel for the young officer and the other military members on the plane.

The Fifth Category, which was suggested for the compilation by Owen King. Those Kings know their stuff – this one creeped me out. A former intelligence officer, infamous for his involvement in places like Guantanamo, wakes up completely alone on a plane. What was real? What was fabricated? And why?

Diablitos, a mesmerizing and horrific tale about a poor young idiot who decides to make money by smuggling South American artifacts back home to sell to rich Hollywood art collectors. Things do not go well for this guy, and for everyone else on his flight. And probably the rest of civilization.

You Are Released, by Joe Hill, who I’m finding has more and more to say about the state of current affairs. Like his dad, he isn’t afraid to name names and point fingers. In this short story, North Korea nukes Guam and the US retaliates, all while this small group of characters is on a flight. Unsure of where they are going and what they will find when they get there, this one scared me beyond belief.

And of course, we have to talk about the all-time classic, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. There’s a reason that Richard Matheson is so respected and revered by authors like King and Hill. His ability to create a feeling of horror – in a story that literally EVERYONE knows – is unmatched. So much creepier than either the Shatner or Lithgow Twilight Zone versions. David Morse reads this for the audio version and he truly becomes Robert Wilson.

And yes, there is a “new” story by Stephen King in here…and it is fine. It feels like an old story, one that he wrote decades ago, but pulled out of a drawer and tweaked to add modern vocabulary and technology. It wasn’t that scary or threatening, but I still liked it. It reminded me a lot of Everything’s Eventual – a mysterious organization paying excellent money for someone to not really do anything at all, and it somehow makes a difference between life and death for everyone involved.

The absolute scariest thing in this collection was learning that James Dickey’s epic poem was based on the true story of a stewardess who was sucked out of a plane in 1962 and fell to her death. I can’t even imagine the terror of that poor woman.

None of the stories were bad, I just didn’t feel like they all belonged in the same collection. Yes, they were all about flying, but they didn’t all fit together too well. We had hard scifi, classic who-done-it tales, a lyrical poem, and zombies. Overall an interesting bunch of stories, but the lack of cohesion brought it down a star for me.

10
Sep
19

HOLD UP. This is the first of a trilogy? Yikes. Part of me wants to know more, and part of me is just too tired. CBR11 Review 39.

downloadI feel like a bit of a failure as a reader (well, a listener) after this experience. This was not easy.

I really wanted to love this story. It was beautifully imagined and written. This story had everything: drama, action, humor, and adventure. The audiobook performance was unbelievable. The African mythology it was based upon made me want to know more.

And yet, I barely made it to the end.

From Amazon:

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose”, people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent – from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers – he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving story. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.

I struggled from the very first chapter, in which our narrator, Tracker, starts talking to someone (we find out later, his inquisitor, as he is in prison) and telling random stories that don’t seem to fit together. (NB: having finished the entire book, I guess maybe the stories actually do fit together, but at the time I was so confused and discouraged that it was literally CHAPTER ONE and I was lost). And then Tracker talks for another 600 pages about his quest to find a boy. On his quest, he meets tons of fascinating characters, gets himself into crazy situations, and sees some unbelievable things that I didn’t completely understand, but most of the time just went along with.

Tracker is not a very reliable narrator. He’s very (Extremely. Extraordinarily. Oh, so very.) opinionated and is more or less fueled by the hatred he has for those who have done him harm. Or is he fueled by love? Are hate and love the same? I DON’T KNOW.

This book is dark. There is a lot of violence and profanity. Some of the violence was hard to get through (oh my god, in the scene with the white scientists, I literally had to pull my car over to the side of the road). I enjoyed the profanity a lot more than the violence, for sure. Some of it actually made me laugh out loud. I thought many times about just stopping, but remembered some of the reviews here on the site (narfna in particular) urging readers to keep going. I’m glad I finished it, but disappointed that I had such a hard time with it and wish I had enjoyed it more than I did.

I listened to the audiobook, which was an amazing feat of voice acting from Dion Graham. Each and every voice was different and distinct, which when you have such a large cast of characters, both men and women, is no small accomplishment. But I had trouble understanding a lot of what he was saying at times. Some of the characters spoke too quietly and some of the dialects were difficult for me to decipher. This was my problem, not Dion Graham’s. I give him nothing but kudos. Another issue with the audiobook is that I wish I had been given access to a map and a list of characters (which I think was part of the hardcover edition). At times I didn’t have any clue who was involved in certain scenes or plots or where things were happening. This world created in this book is huge, but I had trouble differentiating locations and people.

Something interesting that I wondered throughout is if Marlon James had read The Dark Tower books…Tracker and his crew often travel across huge areas by using “magical doors,” of which there are “ten and nine.” Those who have read any of King’s Dark Tower books know that magic doors are how Roland and his ka-tet travel from world to world and that 19 is a magic number. I’m sure this a just a coincidence, but I obsessed over it anyway.

I know that Michael B Jordan has purchased the rights to produce this as a film or a show. I hope it becomes a show on a network that can throw a lot of money at it, because I think it could be amazing to watch.

CBR11 Bingo: #farandaway

 

04
Sep
19

“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not on the subconscious level where savage things grow.” CBR11 Review 37.

920686#CBR11Bingo — #bannedbooks

The first time I read this book was the summer before I went into 8th grade. A friend at camp had her mom’s copy of The Shining, which we all read, and became obsessed with. The next time I went to the library, I headed right over to the Adult “K” section, and found a paperback of Carrie, sitting along with Firestarter, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Cycle of the Werewolf, Night Shift, and a few other King titles. I read them all that summer, and never looked back.

I remember enjoying Carrie, but other than the prom and the pig blood, really didn’t remember much about it at all. Why did it take me so long to read it again?

The story of Carrie White is pieced together through book/magazine/news/interview excerpts. When the book starts, we already know a few things.

Carrie White is dead.
Carrie White had telekinetic powers.
Carrie White had not had an easy life, both at home and at school.
Carrie White killed her mother and hundreds of other people at the school and in town before she died.
Carrie White was not a monster.

We learn that Carrie was often (frequently) picked on for being different. Carrie has a crazy mother. She never wore the right clothes or said the right things or had the right (or any) friends. For as long as anyone can remember, she’s been the butt of every joke. Every desk and bathroom wall has her name on it:

“Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, but Carrie White eats shit.”

Carrie’s mother was a religious fanatic. She punished Carrie for going through puberty, locking her in a dark closet to pray for hours (days?) at a time for being impure. Of course, Mrs White never bothers to tell Carrie anything about her own body, so when Carrie gets her first period in the locker room showers, she thinks she’s dying. The girls in class think this is just about the funniest thing ever, and pelt her with pads and tampons, while chanting “plug it up!”. Only the gym teacher and one other classmate, Sue Snell, feel even a bit of remorse for how they treated Carrie that day.

The emotions she experiences from this incident –ANGER. SHAME. — wake up Carrie’s dormant telekinetic powers, and soon she can control pretty much any object at will.

Sue Snell feels so badly about how they treated Carrie in the shower (not to mention how they’ve been treating her for years) that she convinces her boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom, unknowingly saving her own life by doing so. Tommy agrees, not only to make Sue happy, but because deep down, everyone knows that they’ve been mean to Carrie for no good reason for too long.

“But hardly anybody ever finds out that their actions really, actually, hurt other people! People don’t get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don’t stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it. Lots of kids say they feel sorry for Carrie White—mostly girls, and that’s a laugh—but I bet none of them understand what it’s like to be Carrie White, every second of every day. And they don’t really care.”

Everyone knows what happens at the prom. Pushed too far, Carrie releases all of her power at once, destroying everything and everyone in her path.

I think the most amazing thing about Carrie is that even though everyone (honestly, even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you still know) knows what happens, every single thing that happens fills you with dread. When the book starts, we know that Carrie and hundreds of others from her small Maine town are dead.  But the devil’s in the details here – everything we find out about Carrie, her mother, and the kids at school, ratchets up the uncomfortable feeling that this is going to end way worse than we though. The whole thing is pretty impressive for a first time novelist who supposedly threw his first draft in the trash. Thanks to Tabitha King for taking out of the garbage and making Uncle Stevie take another look at it.

Carrie appears on the ALA list of 100 Most Challenged books 1990-1999.

 

23
Apr
19

“When creative people do their best work, they’re hardly ever in charge, they’re just sort of rolling along with their eyes shut yelling wheee.” CBR11 Review 17.

Unknown-1I have had this beaten-up paperback copy of Everything’s Eventual in my backpack for at least a year, reading a few pages here, a short story there. I was enjoying it, but kept forgetting it was there, usually opting to listen to Audible or read on my kindle when I had some free time. And finally, I went for a walk at lunch today, found a cute table outside a sandwich shop, and sat down to finish it.

I’m pretty sure that this was only my second time through this specific collection of stories from Uncle Stevie. Kind of strange to have spent so little time with this book, seeing how many times I’ve read Skeleton Crew (seriously, I’ve read The Mist at least 10 times) and Just After Sunset. Some of these stories I’ve only read once before, but you know how it is as a Constant Reader… some of these – The Little Sisters of Eluria and The Death of Jack Hamilton – I’ve definitely read numerous times in various places (I can remember my dad sending me some of these that he cut out of his copy of The New Yorker, along with some of the cartoons that he thought would make me laugh and a few crossword puzzles).

What I love about King’s short stories (and the same mostly goes for Joe Hill’s short stories) is his ability to make the reader become invested in characters and situations in such a short period of time. Some are just a few pages. Some are really novellas. But they move quickly and pull you in immediately. Sometimes you want the story to move faster, maybe its scaring the crap out of you and you just need it to be over (The Road Virus Heads North), and sometimes you wish there was a little bit more (seriously, how did Dinky make his final journey over to Algul Siento?).

My favorite thing about this book is how King provides either a little blurb at the beginning or the end, explaining why he wrote it, what inspired him, how it came about. I’m fascinated by the way that he can turn a very simple idea into a fully-fleshed out story, almost immediately. For one of the stories (Luckey Quarter), he said that he had an idea in a hotel room, sat down, and wrote the whole thing out on the hotel stationary in pencil. I can’t possibly imagine ever being that inspired creatively, and it is truly amazing. I can barely write out a list of things I need at Trader Joe’s this week.

For my money, the scariest stories are The Man in the Black Suit (old time HORROR) and The Road Virus Heads North. Did you ever see that bizarre miniseries that TNT made about 15 years ago, taking some of King’s short stories and attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to translate them into one-hour blocks of tv? I remember watching all of them and thinking some were great (The End of the Whole Mess with Ron Livingston and Henry Thomas), some were crap (Hi, Steven Weber, I’m talking to you and the bizarre You Know They Got a Hell of a Band episode), and some were riveting simply because the actor involved really got what King was saying. Tom Berenger played horror writer Richard Kinnell in that episode, and I remember the terror on his face when he realized just what was going on with the creepy-ass painting in the trunk of his car. Re-reading the story, I pictured Tom Berenger, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I still tore through the story breathlessly.

Everything’s Eventual has something for everyone. Dark Tower stories. An award-winning homage to Nathanial Hawthorne. Historical fiction. Inspiration for a lackluster John Cusack movie. A few are genuinely frightening (The Man in the Black Suit, Autopsy Room Four, The Road Virus Heads North). A few are unsettling (Lunch at the Gotham Café and That Feeling, You Can Only Say What it is in French). And two are must-reads for fans of Roland and his ka-tet (The Little Sisters of Eluria and Everything’s Eventual).

Flipping through a list of my previous King reviews, it looks like I’ve rediscovered old favorites like Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. I’ve been underwhelmed by bulk of the stories presented in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and content with the collection in Just After Sunset. I think its time for me to dig up an old copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes or pull out the most dog-earred book I own – my original copy of The Bachman Books…watch this space.

03
Jan
19

“Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go farther still.” CBR11 Review 1.

unknown-1The latest “book” from Uncle Stevie leaves me a little confused, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Elevation is a short book, shorter than many of the “short stories” that King has famously published over the years — definitely shorter than The Mist, or Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, or The Running Man. I’m not quite sure why this was released as a stand-alone novel. I think it would be better suited as the featured story in a new collection. But I’m not a publisher, so what do I know?

Another weird thing is that Elevation seems to be borrowing plot points from some of his earlier work. Like in Richard Bachman’s Thinner, this story is about a man who is losing weight against his will. Every day he weighs less and less, and he knows that sooner or later he won’t be able to survive. Except there are no gypsy curses here. Scott just starts weighing less, even though his body looks the same as always. Of course, this all takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, a town that is no stranger to weird things.

And like Joe Hill’s short story, “Pop Art,” about a boy who is more or less a balloon, nobody seems all that worked up about the details of what might be happening to Scott. Yes, they are worried for him, but if I lived in Castle Rock, I would for sure be questioning ALL OF THIS.

King also shoves in a subplot about tolerance and bigotry, which doesn’t quite work here. Scott has been feuding with his new neighbors, a married lesbian couple who came to town to open a wonderful restaurant that none of the locals will go to BECAUSE LESBIANS IN MAINE. Scott becomes obsessed with making things right between him and the women before he weighs nothing. I understand that being neighborly is a nice feeling, but this whole thing never really works for me.

And yet.

Constant Reader, I still kinda liked this story, Warts and all.

I liked that Scott never feared what would happen to him when he hit zero on the scale, and that he was filled with happiness just living his life and appreciating the beauty of the world around him. The joy he describes while running in the rain, or breathing fresh air, or eating a wonderful meal were just lovely.

Even though very little of this story made sense, I still enjoyed it. There are no monsters, no evil clowns, or gunslingers here. This is just a strange little story about a man coming to terms with the end of his life as he knows it, and surrounding himself with people that matter to him to help him figure out what comes next.

05
Oct
18

“When the mind’s filter disappeared, the big picture disappeared with it. There was no forest, only trees. At its worst, there were no trees, either. Just bark.” CBR10 Review 36.

Unknown-1The reviews on Uncle Stevie’s latest tome have been mostly similar: a great, suspenseful first half, telling a story about a police investigation into the brutal murder of a child by a seemingly innocent man…and a less successful second half, filled with supernatural elements and a character from earlier novels. Most reviews have pointed out that the story presented in the first half were quite enough for a full novel: local good citizen arrested for horrific crime, town turns against him and his family, regardless of what his alibi may be.

I’m talking about spoilers now, so be careful if you plan to read this.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

A few hundred pages from King about the nature of small towns and how a crime like that which was committed against the Peterson family, might have been a great mystery. OR…a story about a supernatural face-swapping “vampire” that travels around the country and commits murders in order to feed off of the emotions of the victims…that might have been a great standalone book.

Do these two plots fit together and create a successful whole? I think so. I get why others don’t think it worked. But I enjoyed it. Uncle Stevie does what he likes.

I think a lot of it boils down to how you feel about the Bill Hodges book trilogy, and the character of Holly in particular. I liked her, so it made me like this book more than some, I suppose. Honestly, once I saw that King was somehow going to connect this story to the Hodges books, I was just grateful that fracking Brady Hartsfield wasn’t involved in any way here. He was the worst part of those books.

There were sections of this book that were flat-out amazing. Nobody can write about a small town better than Uncle Stevie. The mob scene outside the courthouse was a masterful thing. The feelings of grief and sorrow that can overwhelm a family after a tragedy were beautifully described. And the struggle for these every day regular people had in trying to accept that something supernatural could be wreaking havoc on their lives? I completely bought into their doubt and the difficulty most of them had in opening their minds to other possibilities.

Yes, sometimes King can predictable. But that doesn’t always negate my enjoyment of reading his stuff. When a group of five heroes marches off to face the monster, we all know that at least two aren’t coming back. When he introduces a real asshole character, we know that this character will somehow end up choosing the wrong side of the battle (often not even making that choice consciously), and that they will most probably die horrifically. And we know that ka is a wheel, and all roads lead to the Tower.

(I found at least three connections to the Dark Tower in here…At one point the word “ka” was actually used…the star of the Mexican horror films was named Rosita Munoz, and in Calla Bryn Sturgis, Roland had an affair with Rosalita Munoz…and lastly, I’m pretty sure that El Coco was a monster similar to DANDELO (a distant cousin of Pennywise?), but he fed on sorrow instead of laughter.)

Despite the incredibly dark subject matter, I enjoyed reading this one. It kept me interested and questioning until the very end (and that Stranger Things-inspired shaving scene at the very end almost got me!).

#cbr10bingo #listicles — Pop Sugar’s 13 Most Chilling Horror Books of 2018

 

 

 

 




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