Saturday, August 14, 2010
Stephen King Career Restrspective Part 2
Four Past Midnight
A collection of four novellas, all of them terrible. Seriously, they were all just weird, strange, and dumb. Sounds harsh I know, but how else can you describe a story about a kid who keeps a book out too long and then gets raped by the library police man?
The third book in the Dark Tower series, and also the best. This is a straight up mind-blowing, fantasy novel unlike anything I've ever read before or since. This is King at his most brilliant and, more importantly, his most entertaining and enthralling. But don't even think about reading it unless you've already read the first two Dark Tower novels. You'll have no idea what the hell is going on.
Almost a really good novel, but it was somehow written -- or at least marketed -- as "the last Castle Rock story," which is the fictional town in which King set many of his novels and stories. King spends way too much time on blowing up the town then he does on creating a really great, fully fleshed out story. But I did like it. It reads like King Lite, and it's good if you just want some thrills and action without much substance.
My friend Anna recently read and reviewed this one on her blog, so I'm just going to go ahead and cut and paste what I commented over there:
"I remember this book as being the first *bad* Stephen King book I read. Or, at least, the first one I really didn't like on any level. It just seemed like a weird, uninteresting, mess.
I mean, the idea of somebody chained up with a dead body is terrifying, but there was just too much other weird psychological shit thrown in. I dunno, man. I didn't like this one."
Never read it. Or, at least, if I did, I have no memory of it at all. I've also never shopped at Liz Claiborne.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
A new Stephen King short story collection is usually something special, but this one missed the mark for the most part. The only story I remember liking was "It Grows on You." Other than that one...
Ughh. Somewhere in here is a good story, but it's hidden in the middle of a bloated, poorly written, overly convoluted story that is, ironically, so boring it will actually cure insomnia. Something odd about King's later stories is how the Dark Tower series began to take over and its mythology began to seep into all of his books and stories. So if you weren't following the series, many of his seemingly stand-alone works became impossible to follow. Insomnia is the worst of this kind of thing, and it seemed as though he was just writing it more for himself than for any readers. I've read the entire Dark Tower series, and even I find this book to be mostly incomprehensible.
Didn't read it
The Green Mile
Didn't read it, but enjoyed the movie.
Now this is a weird freakin' book. the best way to describe it is that a small town sheriff is possessed by a demon and he terrorizes all of the people unlucky enough to travel through. It's actually really fun and creepy. A return to form for King, although it is somewhat simplistic. At least there are no Dark Tower connections that get in the way. This was turned into a TV movie (I have no idea how they pulled that off, since the novel is nonstop gore and violence) but I skipped it. But it did have Ron Perlman as the sheriff, which seems like inspired casting to me.
Remember that Twilight Zone segment about the kid with magic powers who terrorized his family and town into doing whatever he wanted? Well, this novel seems to be a riff on that, only way more violent and scary. It's also less charming and fun, but it's fun enough. I liked it. It's also somehow a parallel novel with Desperation, in that it uses the same character names and similar situations, but I don't know why. They are different characters and nothing is the least bit related.
The Wizard and Glass
The fourth novel in the Dark Tower series grinds things to a halt as it tells a boring prequel story about the Gunslinger's youth. This novel is so long and winding that there is just as much to love as there is to hate, but for the most part I found it to be a chore. The only saving grace for me was the return to the Western setting found in the original book, as well as some really awesome villains. It's a good cowboy story, but the romance upon which the entire story was hinged never worked for me or felt the least bit authentic or enchanting. But it's ok. If you want to follow the Dark Tower series, you have no choice but to...
Bag of Bones
Another story about a haunted writer... but for this one I mean that literally. This book is nothing special and it's a bit too long, but it's a pretty good ghost story.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Didn't read it. Bad title. Here's the plot synopsis from Wikipedia:
"Patricia "Trisha" McFarland, a Red Sox fan, gets lost in the woods during a camping trip toilet break. As the days pass, she wanders deeper and deeper into the impregnable forest, home to the God of the Lost. To comfort and guide her, her idol, Tom Gordon, a Red Sox player, occasionally speaks to her through her walkman. "
Sounds awful. Anybody want to comment?
Hearts in Atlantis
I read this because of its supposed "Dark Tower connections," of which it has many, but none of them mattered. All in all, I didn't like this one. One of the stories got turned into a movie with Anthony Hopkins. Yeah, I didn't see it either.
Nonfiction novel about writing. Good book for anybody interested in writing, or just in how Stephen King approaches writing. Worth reading because King's nonfiction prose is always as charming and fun to read as his fiction. But I'll go ahead and save you the time by telling you King's only real secret to being a writer: Write a lot.
I didn't read this one, though I've always meant to. It sounded cool, but I think I was too influenced by the awful movie. But I could see how the book might've been good.
Sequel to the Talisman which I loved. But... I didn't read it. I started it a few times but never stuck with it because it was boring. Also, it had way too many references and connections to the Dark Tower series again, which seemed even more self-indulgent than normal. Why did he think co-writer Peter Straub cared about that?
A better short story collection than Nightmares and Dreamscapes, but still vastly inferior than either Nightshift or Skeleton Crew. Some good stores in here, but not enough to really recommend in my opinion.
Standouts: "1408" and "Riding the Bullet."
From a Buick 8
A lot of people hated this one, but I really liked it. It's definitely slow-paced and almost nothing much happens, but it's pretty entertaining and has a charming tone of voice. It's about a troop of small town police officers who find a car that may actually be extraterrestrial. It's just fun.
Books five, six, and seven of the Dark Tower series were all written and published back to back, completing the series after almost 30 years or so. And they are good... but not great. The build up over the course of those decades was so great that maybe no finale could live up to reader expectations, but it still could've been a little more epic than this. For a series that had so many amazing villains, the lack of any real, satisfying showdowns with any of them was a bit of a letdown. But, all in all, The Dark Tower series was brilliant and well worth the journey.
Meh. I started this one but never finished it. The story felt trite and all of the characters were obnoxious. I still remember the exact line of dialogue that finally made me close the book and never open it again, "I've always been a slow learner, but never a no learner." Now tell me... would you have finished a novel about characters who say crap like that? Also, the entire thing was meant to be King's diatribe against the evils of cell phones, but I simply can't get behind an opinion that stupid. Cell phones aren't evil. Cell phones, in fact, are one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. They brought the world closer together, make people safer, and changed the entire paradigm of human communication for the better. Stop demonizing things like cell phones, King, and go back to demonizing, well, demons.
Didn't read this one either, which makes me notice a pattern here: I've skipped every Stephen King novel that is either centered around or named after a female character. That was completely unconscious on my part, but it seems to be true. What does that say about me? I guess I just can't relate to female main characters or just don't care about them. Oops.
Didn't read it. Maybe the title sounded too girly.
Finally another really good, really interesting stand alone King novel. It's also another novel about a troubled writer, but that's ok because it was also really good.
Just After Sunset
Short story collection. Didn't read it.
Don't know much about this one, other than that it was released as a Kindle exclusive and that it is possible about a haunted Kindle... or something. Sounds dumb. And just let me get this straight: Stephen King hates Cell phones, but Kindles are ok?
Under the Dome
A classic King story about trouble that befalls a small town in Maine. Not his best, but damn good and really entertaining. But way too long! It could've used some real pruning and editing to excise some of King's more drawn out excesses and asides, but it's well worth reading.
And... that's it. Here are the drive in totals for anybody who wasn't keeping track:
Books reviewed: 52
Books you should Read: 29
Books you should Skip: 12
Books I didn't read: 11
Out of the 41 books I actually read, I highly recommend 29 of them, which amounts to a success rate of about 70%. That's pretty fantastic, considering how most writers never even write a dozen novels that are great. I recommend 'Salem's Lot as a great starting point, then maybe the Shining, and any thing else from that point on that made my read it list.