Thursday, 3 June 2010

Stephen King - so variable!

In my 'pivotal' decade of the 1980s I liked to consider myself one of this writer's most enthusiastic fans. He could hardly do any wrong (well apart from 'The Stand'). Then he embarked on the series 'The Dark Tower', of which I've read the first three, but felt decidedly lukewarm about them. Also more door-stoppers including 'It, which, after a brilliant start rapidly fades whilst there are still several hundred pages to go. 'Needful Things' wasn't too bad, 'Rose Madder' somewhat better.....Could go on but what I want to say is that I left him aside for several years, then some months ago bought half a dozen at one go to catch up on some that I'd missed. I read first 'Just After Sunset' and felt so excited. This was King back on vintage form! Then 'Duma Key', not as good despite having its moments. Now today I've just finished 'Cell' - and what a clunker it is! I just don't think he can really carry off these novels set in an apocalyptic setting. The further he gets from reality the more boring the plotlines become. I think he's most successful in the 'small town' worlds of novels like 'Christine', 'Cujo', 'Misery', 'Pet Semetary' 'The Shining' and others of that ilk - plus many of his short stories are very fine. Sometimes they are so damned funny! Now in the 'still-to-read' pile beside me are 'Lesley's Story' and 'Everything's Eventual', but I almost hardly dare start them for fear of being disappointed. There's such a yawning gulf between him at his best and at his worst. But he's been so prolific there was bound to be differences of quality. And at his best, for horror writing he's been pretty well unbeatable.

9 comments:

  1. A few months ago Greg and I listened to Cell in the audiobook form. You are soooo right. What a clunker!!

    Then we listened to Under the Dome. Not quite a clunker, but not far from it. The plot was predictable, but I enjoyed the dialog. The ending was very sudden. It was as if his editor called him and demanded he finish the book that day, so he sat down and wrote out a quick ending in a single afternoon. Disappointing for us.

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  2. Not (yet) read 'Under the Dome', Larry - but in light of what you say I'm not especially looking forward to it. But I take it you DO like King sometimes? Trouble is he can be so good that when he isn't he disappoints all the more. Btw I think 'Cell' is the only book of his I've read that has a major gay character - and not really negative either, so that at least is a plus.

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  3. King writes as if he is on an assembly line and under great pressure to deliver immediately. I stopped reading his books many years ago. I did like "It" as I felt it delivered a very scary unseen terror. Probably, because I have always had great discomfort with clowns. I did reserve "Under The Dome" at the library, but because of Larry's review, I think I will cancel. I did reserve two books written by King's son, Joe Hill: "Heart Shaped Box" and "Horns." It will be interesting to see if the son has inherited the storytelling gene. I have never read any of King's wife's novels - always meant to. PS. Ray, what do those squares signify? I notice someone is always sending them to you.

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  4. Last point first, Paul - I dearly want to know how to decipher those 'squares'. A number of different readers have sent me comments that appear like this. I'm sure there must be some way to translate them into readable language but it defeats me how to do it - I've asked Larry (Cubby) if he can help but no answer so far. I'm wondering if they originate from the far east - Japan or even China, but whatever, it's very frustrating.
    Yes, King is all the more disappointing when one recalls what a brilliant talent he was at one time. Along with disco-dancing and bed-hopping in various European hot-spots, he defines the 1980s for me. Maybe he started trying too hard. I haven't even read anything he's written in the last 20 years that comes close to the brilliance to his first ever novel, 'Carrie'.
    Had no idea his son was now writing, nor that Tabitha was also an author. I might look out for them just out of curiosity while still yearning for a resurrection of that old King magic.

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  5. Sorry Ray, I'm clueless on the squares.

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  6. Ray, you are absolutely right. Those stories seated in "real" settings are his best. I didn't mind The Stand or Cell, but they are eclipsed by the subtle, simple eloquence of novels like Carrie, Christine, Cujo, Misery, Pet Semetary, or The Shining.

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  7. Our tastes coincide pretty well precisely, Kyle. Even though I mentioned them myself, those you list have got to be my own favourites. The question is, will he ever return to that early, simple form? Got to keep the hope alive!

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