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A Book Review — Revival by Stephen King

Regular readers will know that I have no love for Stephen King’s recent efforts.  And by recent, I mean most of what he has written for the past 10-15 years.  To me, he has written far too many versions of the same story.  The same general cast of characters facing the same general threat of some unknown evil.  Frequently, that cast is divided into the good guys and the bad guys.  There’s an old guy and a kid.  The narrative voice always seems to be that of teenage boy who is wise beyond his years, but still thinks farts are cool.

There was a time when King wrote some incredible stories.  The Shining will go down as one of three books that actually scared me.  Pet Sematary is the second.  Ghost Story by Peter Straub is the third.  King has some other really good books, but hasn’t really written a good one for a long time.  I have sworn off him more times than I count, but I keep getting drawn in by reviewers that promise his latest effort is different, better King.  And I keep getting disappointed.  11/22/63 may just be the greatest disappointment I’ve had when reading.

A few months ago I re-discovered the library and have been checking books out like crazy.  Last week, I was walking through the current release section and I saw Revival by Stephen King.  It didn’t cost me anything so I decided to give it a try.

Is it a great story?  No.  I wouldn’t give it five stars, but …  It’s basically about a man who believes he has found the secret to learning what the afterlife is all about.  It’s a slowly developing idea that spans a lifetime.  But finally King has written a different story.  It’s not the same set of characters and the narrative isn’t in that obnoxious teenage boy voice.  Some of the story takes place in areas of Maine you may find familiar if you’re a regular reader of King, but that’s not a fatal flaw.  Unlike the last few King novels I have read, I didn’t want to throw this one against the wall when I was done.  I didn’t want to fly to Maine, find the man, and beg and plead with him to write a new story instead of continuing to trot out retreads.

So, if you like King but are like me and grew tired of what he was doing, give Revival a try.

I Am Not Alone

I’m pretty certain that I agree with every single word of this piece about Stephen King and Doctor Sleep.  Seriously, it’s as though Alexander Adams was in my head when he wrote this.  Oooh, wouldn’t that make a good, scary story.  Of course, if King were to get ahold of it, it would turn into a massive battle between the forces of good and evil, with a child with magical powers assisted by an old guy with magical powers, and ultimately, it would all come down to a spider in a subterranean lair.  As Adams says, King lost his way when he needed to identify magical and/or supernatural forces behind the evil that his characters face.  When it was simply evil, well, that’s what was scary.

* * * * *

In other news, as I just posted on Facebook, I have books and literary journals all over the place but nothing to read.  In comments, give me the top three or top five books you’ve ever read.  The books you would want on that fabled deserted island.  I need something compelling, real, intense and fantastic.

Movies v. Books

One of the reasons I’ve slowed down my blogging quite a bit is a sense that I’m no longer covering new ground.  Instead, I’m writing about the same set of topics over and over.  I’d like to try to figure out how to keep the topics fresh.  The words new.  Which explains why I’m going to be talking about Stephen King, yet again.

Late last month, Mr. King released yet another novel, Doctor Sleep, which is promised to be two things.  First, a sequel to The Shining.  Second, a return to true horror.  There has been a lot of promo regarding Doctor Sleep over the last few months.  Among those efforts, is this brief interview, which I found via Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  There’s a lot about King’s take on his stories and the original movie version of The Shining that is fascinating.  What I find the most remarkable is his perspective that his stories are warm and inviting, but that Kubrick’s version of The Shining wasn’t.  That it was cold.  Not just cold, but “very cold.”  I can’t disagree with some of his other criticisms of the movie — including of Nicholson’s performance.  Jack Nicholson portrays one character over and over.

In addition to this interview, I’ve been following a comment chain on Amazon’s page for Doctor Sleep.  It has to do with the relative merits of The Shining (the book), The Shining (the Kubrick version), and The Shining (the TV movie version).

The fascination here is that everybody sees different things in his stories and the movie versions and insist that their sense is correct.  In the linked piece above, there’s also an excerpt from Laura Miller, who claims that King’s The Shining was about alcoholism and domestic violence.  This is a thought echoed in some of the comments on Amazon.  I never, ever, ever considered that The Shining was a morality tale about alcoholism and domestic violence. What I thought it was about was a haunted house that had the power to slowly drive its occupants crazy.  If it was about alcoholism and domestic violence, why did the boy, who didn’t drink or abuse anybody, see and experience some of the worst the house had to offer.  Isn’t the story actually about the boy having “the shining.”  See, this is what was so great about King’s earlier works.  The books were about evil.  Pure and simple, evil.  You didn’t have no know anything more than that.  Where he started to go downhill, I believe, is with It.  A story I absolutely loved until the very end, when it was revealed that there was a source for the evil.  A giant spider.  I mean really.  You can have a spider guarding a path to Mordor in LOTR, but a spider pulling the strings in Derry just made a mockery of everything King had done until that point.

Unnamed, unknown, unfathomable evil is what drives horror.  As soon as you put a name to it, a face to it, it’s no longer so horrible.  And that’s what King mastered in his early stories.

But back to my main point here.  Why must everybody agree to the “point” of a story?  Why must my interpretation be the only one?  Why can’t it be this instead … The Shining, the novel version, is a masterpiece of written horror.  Told in a way that isn’t necessarily translatable to a visual medium in which the story must be told, beginning to end, in 90-120 minutes. And The Shining, the Kubrick version, is a masterpiece of cinematic horror.  Those two possibilities are not contradictory.

I’ve read the Lord of the Rings many times over the years.  Until the movies were made, I always read them as somewhat of a fairy tale.  While there was clearly evil in Middle Earth, there was a certain lightness to the story, a fairytale quality, that suggested a place that wasn’t necessarily dark and foreboding.  At least in the lands outside Mordor.  Maybe I missed something, but that was always my sense of the books.  When the movies came out, I was originally disturbed by the darkness and pervasive evil that existed in it.  It didn’t match with my reading of the books.  But, guess what?  That’s OK.  It has actually given me a different perspective on the stories.  That’s a good thing.

I went to see the first Twilight movie with my son and his girlfriend.  They hated the movie because it wasn’t close enough to the book.  I thought the movie was ten times better than the book because I thought the visual presentation of the story and its characters brought something to it that the author had failed to do.  I guess what I’m saying is that art, be it a painting, a movie, or a book, is personal.  Everybody sees something different and that’s the beauty of it.

What I find particularly odd about King’s comments is his suggestion that his stories are warm and Kubrick’s The Shining was not.  Anybody who has loved Stephen King’s books knows that, over the years, most movies made of his stories are sad and pitiful.  And, there’s a reason for that.  His characters are cardboard and cardboard isn’t good enough for a movie.  As a result, the best movie versions of his stories are those that take some liberties.

And, finally, here’s where I go over old territory.  From the interview linked to above:  “I’m not phoning it in.  If I do that, I’m going to quit.”

Maybe it’s me, but as most of you know, I’m somewhat done with the man and his stories.  Which explains why I’m still reading them.  Mr. King, you are phoning it in.  There’s no doubt about it.  After all the promises made about Doctor Sleep, I once again dipped into my wallet and bought it.  I’m reading Misha Burnett’s second novel and I was also working on The Snow Child.  I decided to jump ahead and read Doctor Sleep.  I’m less than 20% of the way through and I’m ready to jump ship.  Mr. King, there is only cardboard in this story.  That might be OK, but for the fact that it’s the same piece of cardboard you’ve been trotting out for years now.  It’s crumpled around the edges and if you tried to make a box out of, the bottom would fall out, it’s so weak.  I’d rather read Misha’s story then yours and he can’t even find a publisher or readers of his book.

I’m not the type who will stick with the same authors forever.  I read a few Grisham and stopped.  I read a few Koontz and stopped.  The third Khaled Hosseini novel seemed to be a bit of a retread to me and I was disappointed.  So, maybe it’s me.  I don’t think so, though.  Stop phoning it in.  Go back to this simple idea — evil is evil and doesn’t need a name or a face.

Really, Mr. King, Please Stop

Actually, it’s me.  I’m the one with the problem.  I keep getting sucked in.  The many avenues of publishing that have opened up lately have also greatly expanded his efforts.  Every time I go looking around on Amazon and his name comes up it seems he has something new.  Seriously, he has two novels coming out in the next four months.  I thought he had retired a few years back.

And I got suckered in a few days ago.  With a short story for just .99.  A Face in the Crowd, according to Amazon co-written with Stewart O’Nan and Craig Wasson.  Who?  Well, ,turns out O’Nan is a novelist in his own write and based on what I see on Amazon, I may check out a book or two of his.  Wasson?  Still not sure.  One website says he was the author of 11/22/63.  Hold on a sec, wasn’t that Stephen King’s last novel.  The copyright page for the story lists it as held by King and O’Nan, but doesn’t list Wasson.  Something’s fishy here.

But, back to the story and my review of it.  Stephen King for .99.  A short story wrapped around baseball.  I can get into this.  Problem is — the story was crap and almost 1/2 of the download consists of teasers for the books King has co-written with Peter Straub.

And there you have it — that’s my review.  The story was crap.  I just spent as much time on it as he and his two “co-writers” did.  I’d love to know why it took three people to write it.

Please, if you care about me, remind me on a weekly basis — no more King.  No more King.  NO MORE KING!

Mr. King, I’m Done With You

Yes, I’m reading 11/22/63, purchased in paperback with my hard-earned cash.  Based on the reviews, I thought this book was different.  That maybe, just maybe, you had finally broken out of the endless repetitiveness that has been your schtick lately.  I swore after reading Under the Dome that I was done with you.  Talk about a story that is identical to so many others of you.  Yes, change the premise a bit, the setting a little, and you have a new book.  But the reality is the characters are the same, the good versus evil is the same, the story is basically what you have written over and over and over.

But those reviews of 11/22/63 suggested something new.  Something better.

Well, apparently not.  You’ve taken us right back to Derry which, along with Castle Rock, represents everything that is evil in the world.  Just how many stories is it that you have written that bring us back to Derry?  Well, thanks to Google, which took me to Goodreads, I can answer that question:

– The Running Man (1982)
– Pet Sematary (1983)
– “Uncle Otto’s Truck” (1983)
– “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” (1984)
– It (1986)
– The Tommyknockers (1987)
– “The Night Flier” (1988)
– Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)
– Needful Things (1991)
– Insomnia (1994)
– “Autopsy Room Four” (1997)
– Bag of Bones (1998)
– “The Road Virus Heads North” (1999)
– Dreamcatcher (2001)
– The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)
– Lisey’s Story (2006)
– “Mute” (2007)
– “Fair Extension” (2010)
– 11/22/63 (2011)

Do you see a problem here, Mr. King?  No, probably not.  How can it be a problem if you’re continuing to rake in millions of dollars?  How can it be a problem when you continue to top the bestseller list and have at least some critics singing your praises?

I read The Shining when I was in high school.  Alone at home one Saturday evening.  It was my first book of yours and I was terrified.  Pet Sematary was equally frightening.  I loved The Stand the Dead Zone.  It was a classic.  I looked forward to each chapter of the Dark Tower series until you ruined it with your incredibly self-absorbed, self-centered ending that was really nothing more than taking the easy way out.

I think that’s where my love of your storytelling began to erode.  You completely f$%$#@’d up a great story with the ending to Dark Tower.  The first book in the series — an absolute classic.  The ending destroyed it all.

And, now, when it comes to your novels, you can do nothing more than write stories that are twice as long as they need to be and are really nothing more than repeats of prior stories or mining the deep, dark corners of places you’ve already been.

I would so love to see you take us somewhere new.  Sadly, I don’t think you’re capable of it anymore.

P.S.  Thanks to a friend I read the novel Replay a few months ago.  Some of the similarities between that story and 11/22/63 are remarkable.  You sure you can claim 11/22/63 as your own?

P.P.S.  Please, please do not let me read another novel of yours.

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