How Long Is It Gonna Take Ya To Break My Heart THIS Time, Stephen King?

I used to luv me some Stephen King.

I still do, in fact: Stephen King the pop culture personality, Stephen King the advocate of writers, Stephen King the pop culture critic, Stephen King the b@stard too tough to be killed by a Chevy van.

Stephen King who wrote the world's greatest essay on Little League baseball.

And I dearly luvz me some old Stephen King: The early short stories that I found in the pages of Cavalier, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Different Seasons, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

...all the way up to Christine.

Christine was the moment where I blinked.  Up to that point I'd purchased every one of King's books in hardcover as soon as they came out, but Christine was the first time I felt I hadn't gotten my money's worth.

It felt b.l.o.a.t.e.d.

Someone would tell the protagonist "go see Farmer Brown; he has something spooky to tell you" then in the next chapter the protag sits down with Farmer Brown & gets the full skinny then in the chapter after that the protag tells somebody what Farmer Brown just told him.

"Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what ya told 'em" is sound advice for radio writers, but geeze, does it lead to some turgid prose.

I still bought the hard covers, but instead of devouring 'em in one sitting I found myself taking days weeks to force myself through 'em.

Then I bought Needful Things, got halfway through it, put it on the shelf, and didn't take it down to finish it until almost a decade later.

Okay, sez I to mesef, I'm done buying Stephen King.

(Only I really wasn't: I picked up an omnibus of his first four books, On Writing was well worth the money, and the occasional stray paperback drifted my way.)

But for the most part I started reading the new(er) King books from the library.

The Library Policeman and The Langoliers in Four Past Midnight finally broke me of my Stephen King reading habit.  The Langoliers starts out as a great spy thriller while The Library Policeman begins as a wacky descent into a surreal Kafka-esque world of Javert-like secret police determined to track down and extract punishment from those poor souls with overdue library books.

Two great beginnings...

...and King, writing himself in a corner, promptly whips out a can of booga-booga to explicate himself rather than come up with a climax worthy of the set-up.

Ska-rue dis, sez I to mesef, and my exposure to King over the next two decades became spotty indeed.

Since then I've read four or five books, none of which particularly impressed me.  The next-to-last one I bought was the paperback version of From A Buick 88 which turned out to be a good short story blown up to grotesque proportions and passed off as a novel.

Since then:  Nada.

The other day I was shopping with Soon-ok at the Discovery Shop when I saw a relatively recent Stephen King paperback available for 75-cents.

Okay, I figure for 3/4ths of a buck I can afford the risk.  Like Buick, the back cover blurb offers an intriguing premise, and the first dozen or so pages shows King in rare form.  I'm keeping it stashed in the car to read when waiting for Soon-ok's bus to drop her off.  I figure I should be through it by the time she retires.

Now the big question is, how many pages am I gonna be into this before King screws it up again?

(What's the title?  I'm not gonna tell you that: I know how some of you think; the next thing I know I'll be inundated w/spoilers)

Update (12 06 13):

About 1/3 of the way through the book now; clearly gonna turn into a booga-booga novel before it's over (which is a pity; King's really doing a good job w/family dynamics as well as writing about something he knows well & can offer a lot of insight on).  We'll see if the booga-booga gets in the way of the good character oriented stuff or not.

Also, if a magician draws your attention to a Perfectly Ordinary Deck Of Cards, you can bet it's gonna spit apple juice in your ear before he's done.  King has twice mentioned a specific seemingly unimportant item as well as made a big effort to establish one of the characters had access to the very thing that would make the seemingly unimportant item Very Important Indeed.  Let's see if that is deliberate plotting or if he just lays down so much track in so many directions he can go anywhere he wants.

I am liking this story, but I tend to like the first part of every King book I read. It's the way he ends 'em that frosts me...

Update (12 06 20):

Okay, hit the 2/3 mark.  Haven't had a patented Clive Cussler throw-the-book-at-the-wall-in-anger moment yet but I have encountered this:

"We need something to pin the booga-booga down."

"I know!  Why don't we get a washing machine from my heretofore unmentioned antique washing machine collection?"

"Good idea!"

(well, not literally that, but close enough; I'm trying not to reveal the title yet)

Followed shortly by a wealthy character with lots of connections being the victim of a major felonious physical assault.  Of course this character opts to keep their painful injury to themselves and hide their condition from a police officer assigned to assist them rather than call any of a dozen people they know who would bring the political wrath of God down upon the state attorney general and get him to issue round the clock protection not to mention physically lifting the state, tilting it on its corner, and shaking it until the criminal came loose.

Oh, Stephen...

Update (12 06 30)

Finally finished Lisey's Story, the King book I'd been slogging through for all this time.  Not his best book, far from his worse.

On the plus side:

  1. When the book touches on writers & writings, it really opens up new insight & territory.  King knows whereof he speaks and his observations about the craft (as well as the life needed to support it) are well worth reading.
  2. Top notch characterizations, really well done.
  3. The booga-booga actually does have a bearing on the story, particularly its outcome, and while it could be possible to remove it & replace it with a straight thriller plot, it did turn out of have an organic relationship to the rest of the tale.

On the un-plus side:

  1. Gawd, is this tub bloated.  I bet I could cut out every even numbered chapter & still have a coherent story.  I bet I could cut out every other paragraph from what's left & still have a coherent story.
  2. There are four human antagonists in the story:  One crazed stalker fan who is dismissed early on, one non-villainous jerk who is also dismissed, one villainous jerk, one nasty villain in the employ of the villainous jerk.  The last two are in search of the late author's last papers.  Crazed stalker fan can stay as he's a viable subplot, but the two jerks & the nasty villains shoulda all been rolled into one.
  3. Even King admits he's never been big on original ideas, that all his works are simply his variants on the ideas of others, in this case his take on Peter Pan and Neverland.  Instead of waiting until the last 3rd of the book to intro this, he shoulda gotten us to Boo'ya Moon ASAP.
  4. When the widow of a late author finds a big carton of blank paper with a cryptic note from her dead husband atop it, when the carton & contents are referred to several times in the story, when someone j-u-s-t-s-o-h-a-p-p-e-n-s to casually reminisce about the time the late author bought out a novelty store including its stock of disappearing invisible ink YOU DAMN WELL BETTER HAVE HIS LAST BOOK WRITTEN ON INVISIBLE INK IN THAT CARTON OF PURPORTEDLY BLANK PAPER!!!!! Have I made myself clear?
  5. Conversely, if you're going to chain a demon possessed kid to a 400 lb handset type printing press, said printing press had damn well better be established several chapters before it's put to use, not as a casual throw off line just before they shackle him to it.

And finally, not just for you, Mr. King, but for all writers north of the Mason-Dixon & west of the Pecos:

A Short Guide To Southern 2nd Person Plural Pronouns

1 Person = You

2 to 5 Persons = Y'all

6+ Persons = All Y'all

As Joe Bob Briggs would say, I'm surprised I hafta explain this to you...



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