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I Continued On

In recent weeks, I have written a couple of times about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series of books.  First here and then here.  I am now pages away from finishing the fourth book in the series and I plan on continuing on.  Why?  Well, I’m curious about the thing and how my knowledge of the ending colors my view of the story as it progresses.

Here’s the thing …

PROCEED NO FURTHER IF YOU PLAN ON READING THE SERIES AND DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED

You’ve been warned.

PROCEED NO FURTHER

Hold on a sec … I’ve got a waiver in my pocket for you to sign should you wish to proceed.  Thou shalt not hold me responsible for ruining it for you if thou shalt decide to read further.

Sign here ___________________.

So …

Are you still with me?

This long … over both time and books and words … series ends with a recognition that the story is just a figment of the imagination of the author.  Which is understood.  We readers are kind of smart that way, you know.  It’s fiction.  It’s imagination.  But, you know, while we’re reading we want to believe that this is a world of its own.  Whether it is a romance or a detective novel or literary fiction, while we wallow in the thousands of words that fill page 1 to page XXX, we want to believe this is a world.  Of its own.  Of something.  But a world.  And for those moments we read, we are there.  The best fiction transports to another place we can occupy in the quiet moments we read.  And Stephen King at his best was a master of this.

The ending of the Dark Tower series flashes this in big bright lights, but in a way that I think most readers don’t want to see it.  And then there is this unsettling feeling I have as I read through the series again.

The main character is Roland, the last gunslinger in a world that has moved on.  At some point in his life he began a quest for the Dark Tower, which I can only describe as the center of all things.  My recollection of the end of the series is that once he finally reaches the Dark Tower, after many of his friends have died and he has committed many wrongs in pursuit of his quest, we that we, and Roland, are just in the author’s mind and upon reaching the tower, Roland must … well, start over and repeat the whole thing. Again and again and again.

As I read today, I began to realize that Roland may represent one of two things.  The more favorable interpretation is that he represents an author who never stops searching for his or her Dark Tower.  In this interpretation, the tower represents the story.  THE STORY!  The one.  Where everything comes out.  Perfection is obtained and one can finally rest.  The voices can be silenced.  And life can go on.  But we writers realize something.  That’ll never happen.  Once a writer, always a writer.  And with every completed story, the recognition that it is time to start over again.  In that quest.  For the tower.  For perfection.

My more cynical thought is this.  Roland represents us.  The readers of Mr. King’s stories over the last 20 years or so.  And the joke is on us.  I came to this thought because of my frustration with much of what he has written during that time frame — which oddly enough coincides somewhat with the devolution of the Dark Tower series.  My frustration stems from the idea that King’s creativity and ability to write new and unique stories has withered quite a bit.  What he really is doing with the Dark Tower series and Roland’s neverending quest that must be repeated over and over and over is to point out to us, his “beloved” Constant Reader, is that we are engaged in the same endeavor.

With every book King publishes, he puts us through the same drill.  The hope that he has found the magic again.  He has produced a story that brings us back to The Shining or The Stand or name your favorite early King story.  My favorite was the short story in The Night Shift in which a box of plastic Army men came to life and attacked.  Anyway, maybe, just maybe, the end of Dark Tower was King’s acknowledgement that he had lost the magic and he was just going to keep sending us out — to read his latest work, the product of his failing imagination — only to do it all over again, dissatisfied and hopeful of finding the magic he had produced once upon a time.

My belief in the more cynical interpretation is buttressed by the fact that the series pulls in a number of characters and story lines from other King stories.  Like Randall Flagg and Captain Trips.  It also pulls in other ideas from non-King stories.  Like The Wizard of Oz.  It’s like this grand trip in which King does everything he can to make this long, epic, monstrosity of a tale as convoluted and meandering as he possibly can, pulling in whatever pops into his head and then making it work in telling the tale, to demonstrate just how hooked we are on what he does.  I can’t help but feeling like he is the Man in Black, he is Marten.  And he is laughing at us.  All the way to the bank.

Three more books to go.  Three more books in which I can’t help but to feel massively manipulated.

 

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Maybe I Shouldn’t Waste My Time

A week ago, I posted about getting sucked back into Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. After publishing that post, I sat down with the first book in the series and had it finished twenty-four hours later. I decided to move on to the second book.

There’s an intriguing thing going on. Now that I know how the series ends, I can see things he’s doing …

well …

I guess I have to do this.

[Spoiler Alert]

If you don’t want to know the ending to the Dark Tower series, read no further.

You’ve been warned.

Last chance.

So, after seven books and thousands of pages, the Dark Tower series ends in a reveal that the entire thing, the whole story, the whole universe created in the books, is entirely in the writer’s head. Which I get — that’s the truth of any piece of fiction. But after seven books of the gunslinger looking for the Dark Tower, he reaches it only for the creator of the story to snatch it away from him and … start the quest for the Dark Tower all over again.

The fascinating thing about this is what it says about the writer’s curse. I think that’s really what the series is about. We writers never stop our own search for the Dark Tower. We never stop sending our characters out there in search of that something. That answer to everything.

The thing is when I read somebody else’s story, particularly one that goes on for seven books, that cannot possibly be the ending. Roland needed to find the Dark Tower and the story needed to end.

The problem now is that I’m halfway through book two and it is just plodding along with so much detail, so much back story (I mean seriously, there’s more back story than there is actual story going on). I don’t know how much more I can take.

On Books and Beer

I was sitting there having a beer, doing what I do. I had a book. Actually, I had three books. The only problem is that none of them were the book I was actually supposed to be reading.

Weeks earlier, I had bought six books in preparation for a trip to Arizona for Spring Training. Since then I worked my way through five books — all of which were interesting, compelling, and worth the read. Then I got to the sixth book.

We were in Santa Cruz for a few days of ocean, sunsets, and relaxation. The Queen Midget and I. I had that sixth book and I was gonna get it done.  Imagine Me Gone.  I was trying, but I was struggling. Then on Friday, we did the thing. The one she likes to do. We walked through downtown Santa Cruz, where there are lots of shops. Antiques and clothing stores.  And shoe stores.  Oh my!

We walked through one and afterwards my wife asked me about something she saw in the store. I mentioned that it may look like I’m looking at things in those stores, but, no, I’m actually not. It’s pretty much close to torture for me, this thing.

But at one point we walked by a book store. “You wanna go in?” she asked.  “Sure,” I replied. I knew what would happen. 20 minutes later, I walked out with three books, after finding about 8,763 books I would have liked to buy. When I was ready to check out and found my wife, I showed her books.  “I see,” she said.  “What? You know what happens if I’m gonna go in a book store,” I replied.

Even though I had bought Imagine Me Gone with us on this little side trip to downtown Santa Cruz, I left it in the car because I decided to try to do the walking/shopping thing with her instead of what I normally do. Which is this. “Oh look, a bar. I’ll go have a beer while you walk around.” She’s patient with me and says “okay.”

I had my three books, but we had plenty more walking to do. I went with her. I avoided the bars and restaurants and walked the streets and went into the stores. Until I could no more.

“I’m gonna go over to 99 Bottles now and have a beer.” We were going to meet my nephew there for dinner in a little bit. I thought I could have a beer and then hold a table in case the place got crowded. “Okay,” she replied.

I settled in at the bar. 99 Bottles pretty much describes the place’s approach to beer. It has at least 99 different options in the carbonated alcoholic beverage category.  Probably about 20-30 on tap and the rest in bottles. I ordered something and looked at my bag of three books. I pulled one out and started reading. The Revenant, which Leonardo DiCaprio recently starred in a movie adaptation of.

I read the first chapter. It’s short. And then set the book to the side. I talked a little bit with a guy sitting to my left. And then another guy pulled out the stool to my right. He pulled out a tattered piece of paper with all sorts of numbers and many of them checked off. “Let’s see,” he said to the bartender, “I think I’ll start with 47.”

The paper represented 99 Bottles ultimate challenge — to drink every one of the beers they have to offer. Check the number off each time and achieve fame on the walls of the bar. There are some people who have completed that little challenge more than 50 times. One or two have done it 70 or 80 times. Think about that. Do the math.

Judging from his paper, the guy to my right was about two thirds of the way through it.

We’re sitting there. Me, with The Revenant in front of me. Guy to my left who talked about history and how much he loved it and said something I thought meant he was a history teacher, prompting me to think that I should talk to my un-motivated older son who likes history to see if maybe he had thought about being a history teacher.  But later guy on the left revealed that it was his dad who was a history teacher. Guy on the left was, in fact, a long distance truck driver.

And guy to my right, with his beer-drinking challenge, who suddenly asked me, “How’s the book?”

To which I replied with a chuckle, “I don’t know yet, I just started it. Only finished the first chapter, but I’ll let you know once I read more.” Wink, wink. I then told him what the book was about — a true story about a man in the early 1800s who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by the trappers he had been with and who then crawled out of the wilderness to revenge their treachery. And as I finished this summary, I said, “And the first chapter ends with him beginning to crawl.”

I knew what I had to do when we got back to our room after dinner with the nephew. Go back to Imagine Me Gone. I was committed to the book, having got about halfway through. I read a bit more that night, but it was hopeless.

This is all a long way to explain why I never got to the 6th book in my Spring Training series. The next day, I moved on to The Revenant, because it seemed to promise something far more interesting and compelling. That promise was fulfilled. It’s a stunning story of survival and revenge. I highly recommend it. I won’t say more about it. Just go read the book.

Now, I have to decide whether to go back to Imagine Me Gone.

Truth is, I read another book in the in between. Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson. It’s a short, quick, easy read. She’s a self-published author I discovered through the WordPress blogosphere and my own self-publishing efforts. I love her stories and Differently Normal is no exception. She writes modern day fairy tales of two people finding companionship and love when they weren’t looking for it and weren’t expecting it. And frequently, rather than living happily ever after, Tammy is willing to give the reader an unhappy, bitterly sad ending and I give her great credit for that.

But now … it’s time to decide whether to go back to that other book. Or give up.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

In my last post, I revealed that I had ordered six books from Amazon in preparation for my trip to Spring Training.  In that post, I shared Into the North Wind, a memoir about a woman seeking to complete a 1,000 mile mountain bike race across Alaska.  In winter.  It was a good book.

I also promised that I would share with you the other books in that purchase, so it’s time for The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis.

When I started writing fiction, one of the things I wanted to try one day was what I referred to as a post-apocalyptic story.  Not like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series.  Instead, I had this idea of a man and a boy crossing the landscape of a devastated world trying to survive. Then I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and realized my story had been done and there was no way I could improve on it.

I still have ideas for something post-apoclyptic.  In the meantime, I’m intrigued by the ideas other authors have.

The Wolf Road is about Elka, a young woman set adrift in a world devastated by what appears (strongly) to have been a nuclear conflagration between those damn Russians and the powers of the West.  The conflagration occurs years before her birth and she is set adrift by a storm that leaves her homeless and her grandmother dead.  Her parents having left her behind years earlier to seek their fortune up North.  Rumors of gold and riches took them there.

In the end, Elka is raised by a man she calls Trapper.  Who ends having a deep, dark secret that sends her on the run when she is about seventeen or eighteen years old.  Surviving on the talents Trapper taught her to live in the wilderness.

There’s a lot more here.  Layers upon layers.

And a whole lot of human brutality.

I wonder if all of these stories get it right.  So many post-apocalyptic stories seem to assume that the result of “the end of the world” is brutality, degradation, depravity — the worst human nature has to offer.  It’s all there in The Wolf Road, just as it is in many other novels like this. What if, instead, at the end of the world, humans realized that all of the violence and hate and need to diminish and dehumanize others was what led to the end of the world and that love and tolerance and community was a better option.

Just a thought.  Back to The Wolf Road.

It’s an interesting twist on the genre.  If you like this genre, I recommend it.  If you have delicate sensibilities, I don’t recommend it.

That’s all I’ve got.

 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A friend recommended this book to me a couple of weeks ago.  She hesitated to do so because the content was … well, a little bit tough.  I immediately went to Amazon and ordered the book.  I crave intense subject matter in my books and movies.  She told me she cried during reading the book.  I told her I needed to feel that emotion reading a book again.  It’s been too long.  I looked forward to reading A Little Life.

From the book cover:

A Little Life follows four college classmates — broke, adrift, and buoyed with their friendship and ambition — as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma.  A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

The book came.  I dove in.  It’s a big one at over 800 pages.  This is no small commitment, one made the harder by the fact that the first 120 pages are a complete mess.  At least that’s how I felt.  Absent my friend’s recommendation and the promise of intensity and human horror, I may have given up.  But it was close.  And somewhere between page 120 and page 150, the story started to click.  The narrative got a little cleaner, a little more straight forward, and it pulled me along.  It is one of those books that I needed to finish, that I couldn’t stop thinking about in the moments and hours when I wasn’t reading it.

This is not a story for the faint of heart.  As I wrote that last sentence, I thought of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  The stories are completely different.  But they also are similar in the unstinting honesty in which they deal with absolutely brutal events.  The Road, with its simple, spare depiction of the fundamental horror of trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic word.  A Little Life, with an epic portrayal, that feels almost never-ending, of the horrors humans can inflict on others and the scars that sear themselves into the souls of the victims.

I cried at one point in the story.  Not when my friend did towards the end.  But early on, in a moment of unbridled happiness for Jude.

If you’re looking for something to read and do not have issues with searing, brutal depictions of what people do in abusive relationships (and I don’t want to share more because, well, you know, you have to discover the details by reading the book), I recommend A Little Life.  It’s a pretty stunning work.  I have this feeling Jude and the story of him and his friends will stay with me a long time and that I’ll come back and read this book every now and then.

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