Stephen King Book Club (Major Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Here's the deal. I am going through every bit of Stephen King and Stephen King-related reading material I own. I will be writing reviews for everything. I want the mods to understand something up-front. Unless every single one of my reviews is commented on, there WILL be double-posting. A LOT of it. If I wind up getting warnings and infractions for it, then every single review will need to have its own separate post on this board. The double-posts won't be done because I'm spamming. They will be done so as not to clutter up the board with Fone Bone reviews.

Again, if that actually needs to happen, the mods can warn me and close the thread. But I think a catch-all thread for my Stephen King reviews instead makes more sense.

Finally, since I will be jumping from book to book in every single review, I am posting every review inside spoiler tags. I suggest any posters do the same and put the name of the book they want to discuss outside of the tags, and the discussion itself inside tags. Not everybody will have read everything so we'll try to be courteous to them.

Here we go. We'll start with Carrie.

Carrie by Stephen King

I have decided to reread and review all of the Stephen King books, related books, related comics, and Kindle stories I own. I don't own everything, but I own a lot. We'll start with Carrie.

As these reviews go on, you might notice something interesting and unusual about me. I don't much care for Stephen King's earlier career. 'Salem's Lot is pretty good, and The Stand is great, but I find most of his output from the 1970's and 1980's overrated. In the 1980's it is especially so. I think his output then was mostly outright bad.

But Carrie is an interesting book. I don't think it's a GOOD book, but it's a thought-provoking one. I don't think King himself likes it. He feels distant from Carrie White and mistrustful of Sue Snell's motives. I'm going to be going after a LOT of his material pretty harshly coming up (particular his Richard Bachman output) but the fact that King finds the bullying and cruelty of this book distasteful suggests to me that as amoral of a book as Rage is, Stephen King himself is a good guy. I think of another similar creator of a bully, Joss Whedon, and his bogus regret over how easy it was to write Angel's cruel scene to Buffy after they made love for the first time on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The fact that this was hard for King instead impresses me. Knowing that Whedon came up with that brilliant nastiness off the top of his head, while King chucked the first draft of this in the garbage after a few pages makes me like and respect King. Even as an young writer, where I dislike much of his work.

I find King's mistrust of Sue interesting because the book DOES get inside her head, and her and Tommy's attempt at atonement to Carrie by having Tommy take her to the prom is something both characters feel sincerely about. I think it's interesting King himself questions that no matter WHAT Sue thinks, if she's full of it deep down. I also really love the outcome that Sue essentially becomes the new Carrie White in becoming the town pariah and widely hated. I think the survivors at this point blame Sue even more than they do Carrie. I'm not saying Sue deserves that. But I think at least one of the girls who threw the tampons in the shower did, and she's elected, mostly because she's still alive.

I really dug the scene with the principle and Chris' lawyer father. I don't see that scene praised a lot, but I think in the entire book, just because of that, he is Carrie's biggest and truest advocate. What's nice to me about it is that on both Miss Desjardin and AND Sue's end, a lot of their token kindness towards Carrie is due solely to their guilt over their cruel reactions to the shower incident. They are both secretly disgusted by her. Principle Grayle himself has none of that baggage, and threatens to sue Chris on Carrie's behalf solely because he's awesome. And it saddens me the guy felt the need to resign at the end. In reality, I think he was the one adult doing his job right.

Speaking of adults, this is Stephen King's first freaking book, and already Margaret White remains one of the most unspeakably evil and insane characters he has ever created. 50, 60 books later I think probably only Annie Wilkes is worse in that department. King has plenty of evil characters. And plenty of insane ones too. But for most, those that are both, usually their madness is somewhat measured, (for instance in the case of Brady Hartsfield in Mr. Mercedes) so they don't get caught. The fact that no social worker busted down the Whites' door ten years ago after her public violent outbursts is the real adult failing of the story.

Unlike Annie Wilkes, I do think Mrs. White has a single good point: Unlike Annie, she has an actual moral code. The fact that she both repeatedly fails it, and is completely misinterpreting what God could possibly want of her doesn't change that fact. It wouldn't occur to her to keep an incriminating "Family Memories" photo album of her crimes like Annie did in Misery, because Annie knows deep down her behavior is wrong, and Mrs. White believes she's actually on the side of Angels. And if you want to claim that makes her crazier than Annie, then maybe. What I will say is I also find her less vile for it.

King's casual and gross use of the n-word (something I will repeatedly be hammering him on in upcoming reviews) is present in his first novel, although only once. But it's a pretty gross use. As much as the language of IT disturbs me, it's different to hear that in Henry Bowers' voice, than in Sue Snell's. For obvious reasons. For Bowers it's a demonstration of his evil. For the narrator to suggest it's going through Sue's head makes it seem like a normal utterance.

There are also a few slurs against Vietnamese in the story too, but at least the boys using them are treated like idiots.

I like the book. Because Stephen King doesn't,. I like the fact that it makes him uncomfortable. Whenever King writes something deplorable, that I believe shows a profound lack of conscience on his end, I always think about the fact that Carrie White and Sue Snell scare him, and am comforted by that a little. ***1/2.
 

the greenman

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I had a talk with @Yojimbo about certain rules on the format of the site. Don't like it either. Anyways. One comment on Carrie, this obviously the one that put King on the map. I hadn't read this one yet, but loved the first iteration of the film. Seeing how I'm not female, I always have been curious about thoughts from a female perspective. Did King get it right? It's clearly an observation from an adult male.

As for his 80's output, take in mind a lot of those books were written from an addict. I mean I might read Carrie now. A short book, so won't take too much time.

Also in true King fashion; he usually copied something much like Tarantino. This one seemed to be inspired by a Matheson story turned TZ episode "Mute".

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Zorak Masaki

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How are you going to cover his short story collections (ie, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, etc)?
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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As for his 80's output, take in mind a lot of those books were written from an addict. I mean I might read Carrie now. A short book, so won't take too much time.
I am aware of this point. Only a completely broken addict would have written the child orgy in IT. That doesn't mean I have to excuse it.

How are you going to cover his short story collections (ie, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, etc)?
You'll see. I'll review the collections as a whole, and the individuals stories in them as well.
 

Zorak Masaki

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I'll join in, not by reviewing the book itself, but instead, the cover, and by that I mean the first edition cover, no reissues or movie tie-in covers:


Well, it certainly doesnt look like a Horror novel, aside from the tagline (you'll find that's a trend with most of his earlier covers), and that is not how I picture Carrie looking (she looks more like she's in her 20s at earliest). Good thing that Stephen King covers would improve over the years.
 

the greenman

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I'll join in, not by reviewing the book itself, but instead, the cover, and by that I mean the first edition cover, no reissues or movie tie-in covers:


Well, it certainly doesnt look like a Horror novel, aside from the tagline (you'll find that's a trend with most of his earlier covers), and that is not how I picture Carrie looking (she looks more like she's in her 20s at earliest). Good thing that Stephen King covers would improve over the years.
I still have an issue with that The Shining cover. The late Charles Grodin as Jack Torrence could've been interesting though.

As for Carrie, yes that definitely did is a woman in what I believe is the first printing. That is not this version though, right?
74bff9aad4655ef8899da99285156808.jpg


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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Until he wrote Lisey's Story (which I feel is quite a bit overrated) Stephen King said Salem's Lot was his favorite book that he'd written. It held this specific honor a HELL of a lot longer than it should have considering some of the great stuff King wrote between it and Lisey's Story, but rereading it in preparation of my thorough deconstruction for Stephen King Book Club made me realize two things. First, it's WAY better than I remembered it, and I always thought it was pretty great, especially after finishing The Dark Tower and rereading it for context for Pere Callahan. Secondly, it's not the first good book King has ever written. Both Carrie and The Long Walk were solid. But it's definitely the first great book he's ever written. For sure.

Callahan is of course the best character in the book, simply based on what came later. But the book makes me understand very clearly why King believed he was unfinished business. Callahan's role as the cautionary tale about the failure of faith does not suit his specific character all that well. This specific moral comeuppance is deserved by a morally worse and less interesting character. King deciding the ending for him wasn't right and turning him into a hero and unofficial Gunslinger later on is understandable.

I think the thing I love and respond to about Callahan is that based on what he says his beliefs are, he is VERY fundamentally conservative in his views of sin and God. But as he's reached these conclusions through an unusual level of studying and experience, instead of self-righteous morality, when he talks about things that matter to him, I find his language is a bit leftist. As a Democrat who considers himself a conservative, I relate to this idea entirely. His reason and logic about his staunch beliefs in Old Evil strike me as rational. Especially so, given the premise of the vampire novel he appears in.

I think the thing working against the heroes isn't Barlow. It's not even precisely fading daylight. It's time. I think if cell phones had existed in this point in time all of the heroes' problems would be solved. And Ben and Matt getting laid out when they did cost them a precious day of strategy. I believe that if they had been allowed that day they would have killed Barlow, and their Tet (as it were) would have all survived. Only Matt Burke seems to understand the bind Barlow is putting them in by having them waste time on wild goose chases.

While we are speaking of time dooming the heroes, Callahan actually thinks before refusing to throw down the cross that this was happening too fast, and that he needed some time to think the implications through. And if he had that time he obviously would have made the opposite choice. That's one of the reasons I believe Stephen King brought him back in The Dark Tower. So he finally had not just the time to reason out the implications, but the experience to not fall for the same trick twice, and become an actual hero instead. Again, Callahan's role as the dude bearing the mark of Cain wouldn't make me feel so unsatisfied if the cat himself were stupider or meaner. He's kind of cool and with-it which makes me resent it a little instead. I thank God King felt the same way. The Pere's reemergence in Wolves Of The Calla is one of the surest introductory scenes Stephen King has ever written, and suggests he knows exactly what he wants to do with that specific character from that point forward, and the reader needs to hold onto their hat for upcoming awesomeness. Which he DID deliver. In spades.

I respond to Ben Mears so well because he is a fine detective. And the case he is trying to solve (for Susan's benefit) is "Is Matt Burke an insane murderer?" And I love how King has him talking it all out and reasoning that even if he can't fully accept it himself, nothing Burke says can be ruled out, and in fact everything fits the story he's telling. His rule about the world "can't" tripping people up is a good rule in general, and not just for supernatural beliefs and problems. The world is plenty weird and a lot of problems could be prevented if people took the worst case scenario into account instead of saying "That can't happen."

The bus driver Charlie is the first major example King gives of a loathsome person who justifies his own loathsomeness in own his eyes with bogus rationality. The kid who bullies Mark is similarly full of himself and him wanting to "smoke Camels like his old man" makes him seem extra pathetic. But really I think the most unlikable character for me is Susan Norton's mother. When she vehemently tells Susan that they don't give people breathalyzers unless they are drunk, I am sorely disappointed Susan didn't say "That is the stupidest, easily-verified-to-be-bogus-thing I have ever heard. How dumb are you, anyways?" Because that was my exact reaction. What pisses me off the most about her saying it is how strongly she actually believes something that dumb. And people believing stupid things with ferocity is a modern pet peeve of mine, so Uncle Stevie sort got touchy with me about the subject in the 1970's.

King has gotten a lot of credit for how credible his small-town characters are. Let me go against the grain here a bit. Sometimes King can make unlearned-seeming characters from small towns seem surprisingly awesome. For this book, their portrayals are almost all negative outside of the actual group of heroes (Susan's father is the rare exception). There is an elitism present in King for these "credible small-town characters". He 's not asking the reader to relate to them. He's asking them to look down on them. I will not deny that a certain aspect of small-mindedness is present in small-town life. But for King at this stage of the game, it's Universal, which I don't like. And I certainly don't think it's anything he should be praised for.

Mark Petrie however is good example of precocious, capable, child character. King is one of those rare writer like Steven Spielberg who permits kid characters to be cool and smart. He doesn't worry about the kid being perceived by the reader as an obnoxious Mary Sue. Because readers and viewers of fiction have a real blind spot there. They believe all children in genre are obnoxious simply by their presence. How else to explain how widely hated the character of Henry Mills was on "Once Upon A Time" despite being the only character on that show I didn't want to routinely strangle on a weekly basis? Insightful kids scares audiences, and they don't know what to do with them. So they are lumped in with obnoxious kids like Wesley Crusher without people understanding why that isn't so. I think maybe perhaps the best thing Stranger Things did for popular culture is put it into society's head that fictional kids are ALLOWED to be awesome and the viewer is allowed to like them. The kids on that show aren't working against the adult heroes either, so there is no "Us versus them" mentality present for the adults and the kids. And that's how I think Mark Petrie's role in 'Salem's Lot works. And it works very well.

Of course Stephen King is NOT perfect in this regard. I very much detest the child characters in both "It" and "The Body". But he's written great kids in The Talisman, Under The Dome, The Institute, and elsewhere. I appreciate King so often tries to build up how cool kid heroes can be instead of trying to tear them down as is trendy. He's not always successful. But the fact that he believes that and tries to show it means everything.

I love that Susan respects Mark for the surety of his beliefs after he points out he saw it with his own eyes. That wins the argument for her in a way her "Yeah, butting" with Ben and Matt doesn't.

I haven't read this in awhile, and it's really cool that it totally holds up. A bunch of King's earlier stuff does not. *****.
 
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the greenman

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Another book I hadn't read yet. Seen the '70's tv miniseries though. Was creepy for its time. Didn't like remake. This kinda story seems to repeat for King, that being a town invasion of "evil"; Needful Things, It, and the teleplay story for Storm of the Century. Now did he "borrow"/steal this story too? Yes, look no further than Ray Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes.

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Fone Bone

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The Bachman Books (Rage / The Long Walk / Roadwork / The Running Man) by Stephen King (Writing As Richard Bachman)

Wow, where do I start? I think Richard Bachman is a pretty messed up writer. And I get that Stephen King used him as a pseudonym to publish dark, horrible books his own readers wouldn't tolerate. But Bachman's novels are very hit or miss.

Also King seems to take it as a personal affront that he was outed as Bachman. He planned to use Bachman for "the long haul" and felt a bit violated that he was outed. Uncle Stevie, I say this with as much love and respect as you are entitled to about this, but you were ASKING to get caught. If you ask me, the book Thinner is nothing but a written confession. He tends to put in little Easter Eggs in the Bachman novels that tie directly to his own work. Maybe if he weren't trying to rub his nose in Bachman's readers' faces about how dumb they were, he wouldn't have been caught. King is just pissed Bachman readers were cleverer than he thought they would be. I mentioned in my review of 'Salem's Lot, that there is an elitism present in King's writing about small-town America, and his ugly belief in the lack of intelligence of the average, working-class Joe. His Bachman problems boil down to the fact that he imprinted that idea on Bachman's readers simply because they read tawdry paperbacks. I don't feel bad for King at all, and frankly I find his outrage over this vaguely offensive.

Seriously. One of the characters in "Thinner" actually references Stephen King. This is how dumb King thinks Bachman's readers are. I'm not losing sleep over the guy being brought down to Earth there.

The four Novels comprised of the original Bachman Books are "Rage", "The Long Walk", "Roadwork", and "The Running Man". I will argue they are the only books from Bachman that read like a separate Author from King. To be fair, "Rage" is so bad it seems like NEITHER King nor Bachman wrote it, but I think "Thinner" is nothing but a Stephen King novel with a bummer Bachman ending randomly tacked on, and "The Regulators" and "Blaze", both published WELL after the ruse was uncovered, are 100% King (with no qualifiers necessary). I'm gonna review the first four books here. Fair Warning: Some of this crap is rough, and I will treat it as such. You've been warned. Book Overall: ***.

Rage

There are other things Stephen King has written that have angered me more. The child orgy in "It" is probably the worst thing he's ever written, and I think the short story "Dedication" is offensive on every possible level you could think of. But if I'm being fair, neither or those is as bad as "Rage", simply because the child orgy lasts only a few pages (although it admittedly ruins a 1000 page book, which is a HUGE sin) and "Dedication" is a mere short story. "Rage" is the longest, most sustained level of suck Stephen King has ever written. There is nothing about the book that has any merit, artistic or otherwise. About the worst thing I can say for it that I can't say for most of the rest of King's stuff: It's actually badly written. It's actually King's second novel (he wrote it before Carrie) but for some reason "The Long Walk" feels like it's written by a steady storyteller and strong voice. I read this and find very little difference in quality between it and the plays the Virginia Tech shooter wrote that the media put out there. It's to be plain, painful garbage. It's like as a youth King read "The Catcher In The Rye" but thought Holden Caulfield wasn't sociopathic, whiny, or selfish enough for his tastes. King also decided he should be murderous and violent. And I can picture an angry kid like King thinking calling people phonies is a pretty mild rebuke to society at large by J.D. Salinger. But the answer there isn't to create modern society's how-to manual for school shootings.

I cannot overstate how bad the writing is. We'll talk about the horrific morality and subtexts soon enough, but I mean the kids in the classroom go on about the world grinding you down as if they are stating deep psychological insights about society as a whole. It is painful and frankly laughable. King is an honest enough writer to admit his various failings over the years. But his Constant Readers probably dislike "Rage" so much because it if didn't exist, people would have a LOT less evidence for those specific slams against his writing.

The thing that pisses me off the most about "Rage" is that it was published at ALL. Obviously, when King tried to publish it under his own name there was a "No sale" from publishers, and only when he had the clout to grease the wheels and publish it under a pseudonym did it hit the paperback racks. Because it sucks. That isn't the thing that bothers me most though. Sucky books are published all the time, many WORSE than Rage. The problem for me is that King is not a sucky writer in general, and were I him, I'd be embarrassed by the book, and not want it out there to begin with. I try to be as honest in these reviews as King is with his fans, and while I have admittedly never written anything as horrific or contemptible as Rage in my youth, I certainly HAVE written things just as stupid and badly-written. The difference there is you'll never see them. I'm embarrassed of them. King let the book go out of print once he realized how many school shootings it was causing. If I were King, I never would have published it, especially after I had written a couple of solid books like Carrie and 'Salem's Lot. I'd bury it and hide it. Screw the clever trick of the pseudonym. I'd have SOME standards. Also, not to put too fine a point on this, but it's a little unfair to saddle Bachman with this right out of the gate.

Seriously, he was embarrassed of Blaze for decades, but not this? What is wrong with him?

One of the things I dislike about King's essay "Guns" is that when he talks about how dangerous the book is, he still refuses to go so far as to disown it, and believes it speaks a larger truth about the angry kid King was when he wrote it. If it does, it's an ugly truth, and probably something he shouldn't ever want to share with other people.

Okay, we've talked about the fact that the book is badly written. The elephant in the room is that many people believe the book is dangerous, and a major contributor to school shootings. My opinion: It is not just a how-to manual on how to pull off a successful school shooting. A different book on the subject matter could potentially have value for being authentic about that. No, what sets Rage apart from any other novel found in a school shooter's locker is that the students Charlie Decker takes hostage after killing their teacher start to admire and root for Charlie, and this character who has been downtrodden by his peers his entire life is suddenly loved and popular. Even if the book were well-written and not utter crap, it's dangerous for telling alienated kids that if they shoot up a classroom the other kids will think them heroes for it. The bad guy of the book is the clean-cut kid who is pretty much the only kid in the class who correctly identifies Charlie as a dangerous murderer. And every time Charlie repeats how much he admires Ted, I'm thinking this book might be the worst piece of trash I have ever read. There is nothing about Rage to recommend. It might not technically be the worst thing King's written (although it might be). But it's the longest he's written this badly the entire way through. 0.

The Long Walk

Were I King, I wouldn't have shuffled this off to Bachman. I'd want the credit for it.

It's a very unusual Stephen King book, even written under the Bachman name. Why? The book ends suddenly and mysteriously, and all of the Long Walkers seem to have different reasons for being there, and how they feel about being in such a slow-moving torturous death-game, that really, it's a rare King book mysterious enough to count as an allegory, and one to ask the reader to draw their own conclusions to boot (which I love). What does the Major represent? Is Stebbins actually as crazy as Garraty thinks he is, or is he the only sane Walker present (which is my thought)? What about poor, doomed Hank Olson? What are the larger messages and themes behind the fact that he lasts through the deadly Walk far longer than he should through sheer force of will? How can that will still be present when it seems he's lost his mind and soul in the meantime? How deep is the drive to survive for many people? Who or what is the Dark Figure Garraty sees at the end upon winning the Walk? Does he signify the fact that the Walk finally drove Garraty insane? Or is he Randall Flagg (a popular fan theory)? The book ends so suddenly and unceremoniously we simply don't know, and all that stuff is up for debate, which, I repeat, I love. Part of me want to hear King do a thorough deconstruction of what happened next in that Totalitarian World, and part of me knows it would never live up to the possibilities I can imagine myself. I like that about why the book frustrates me.

This is one of the few books "Bachman" wrote where I deeply empathize and care about the characters. I very much like The Running Man too. But I think the "hero" there Ben Richards is an utter bastard. I feel for Garraty and McVries.

But this is a quintessentially Bachman book for the reason that it's SO depressing it would never pass muster in the actual Stephen King canon. He thinks people would give him crap for the ending to "Pet Sematary"? Holy poop, this book is a nonstop downer with every chapter ending making things worse and worse. And the very premise demands that. Garrarty winning The Long Walk is actually no victory at all.

I think King's 70's output is pretty overrated. But The Long Walk deserves a second look, even if he himself wasn't proud enough of it to admit he wrote it. ****.

Roadwork

I don't like this book. King's opinion about it has gone back and forth over the years, but me? I think it sucks. Forget the fact that it's boring. Forget the fact that it's unnecessarily racist in places, replete with uncalled-for uses of the n-word, by supposedly normal and rational white characters. My biggest problem is I don't like the protagonist Bart Dawes. His hang-ups and choices are bad and stupid. And I am not rooting for somebody who goes up to this kid Vinnie who is excited about his new job, gets in his face and browbeats him into trying to get him to believe it's a dead-end job, and he's being turned into a gofer for punishment. What gives him to the right to do that? How is that ANY of his business? I don't like following characters that cynical. More importantly I don't like following characters that stupid. What does Dawes think he is going to gain there? What an ass. I hate that about him.

This book starts Stephen King's really alarming trend of having a middle-aged protagonist meet a very college-age woman, beg off her accusations of trying to get into her pants, and then have King make the two characters sleep together anyways. It strikes me as a bit of a wish-fulfillment on King's end, and it's gross. And since it's happened more than once, I feel comfortable calling him out on it.

I think the biggest complaint a person can level at this book is that it feels like nothing's happened by the end of it. It is definitely the first book that King as written either as himself or Bachman where there are ZERO horror elements present. But that doesn't make it okay to make the premise boring, and make it feel like it was all for nothing. And that's how I felt after reading this. **.

The Running Man

If somebody hadn't caught King after "Thinner" after a shoddy photo placement and trademark filing, they would have caught him after "It". After all, there is a fictitious town in Maine in "The Running Man" called Derry. You can say, "Well if he still had the beard, he'd simply use a different town name for It." The thing is, I don't think he would. Either King wanted to caught, or he thought Bachman's readership was super dumb.

It's a pretty great book, so King thinking so little of Bachman's readers is unnecessary. I think the book indulges in a bit too much racism (including uses of the n-word) but unlike Roadwork, it's shown as morally questionable. Now I think it's morally questionable for a white writer to use that word at ALL. But at least he's not treating it with the casualness he did in Roadwork and other early books.

It's also the first book King has written that could be potentially viewed as science fiction. Now The Long Walk was a future dystopia too, but the tech and people there were very much recognizable. King suggesting different technology and political situations around the globe turn this bit of speculative fiction into actual sci-fi. Better this than The Tommyknockers at any rate.

Solid. Probably my second favorite Bachman novel after The Regulators (which we'll get to in awhile). ****1/2.
 

the greenman

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Okay, for this one it was a library borrow many moons ago. Funny part is I bought it for Running Man, but never got around to it. I didn't read Rage, but read some of Roadwork which bored me. Didn't finish it. Then I did read The Long Walk. Entertaining for me. There were scenes that reminded me of some of the Stand (which I never read, just remember the miniseries). In this age of Hunger Games, I have been wondering why no one who has the rights to this, hasn't made a film of it yet.

Edit: btw, yeah did think that was Flagg.

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Fone Bone

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The Shining by Stephen King

I don't usually do this for my reviews. I felt I needed to do a little research for some context about what I just read. I read the Wikipedia pages on both this book and the film, and King's reactions to both, because I was bit dumbfounded by some of the themes expressed. In the battle of King vs. Kubrick, I side all the way with King (The Shining always struck me as a super boring film). But that doesn't make the book itself great. And that's what bums me out. There is no clear-cut winner in that feud. I outright dislike the film, but I think a lot of the ambiguity King strives for in the novel is an utter failure. King protested the casting of Jack Nicholson because the audience would know he would go crazy. For me, it's clear Jack is already crazy by the first page.

Literally the first sentence in the book is "Jack Torrance thought: 'Officious little prick.'" Literally the first thought put forth in the book is Jack feeling hatred towards another person, and an irrational hatred at that. I agree with King completely that Kubrick screwed up the morality of the book being a ghost story with his antireligion nonsense (what the hell is Kubrick directing a horror film for anyways then?) and Wendy Torrance and Shelley Duvall got SUCH a raw deal (If Kubrick were alive today, he would have easily been taken down by the MeToo movement. Only his actual death has prevented his legacy from being that of a total Hollywood pariah.) And his making Dick Hallorann the noble black sacrifice for the white heroes irks me too. I agree with King those are the reasons the movie sucks.

But I can't fault Kubrick's interpretation of Jack Torrance. Not just because I'm a person who believes people are responsible for their own actions, and the idea of the being at the end no longer being Jack, but having killed him, and worn his face unsatisfies me for that reason. But because page after page, I believe Jack Torrance is an utter, irredeemable bastard. And it pains me to hear King describe Jack's thoughts as autobiographical. I understand how it's sort of a blood-letting and confessional about how horrible his thoughts towards his family could get in those days, and an admission he often had violent thoughts towards them (he's been less clear on whether he ever acted on them). I understand that aspect of the character. But the truth is Jack is a total ahole who believes he's the only nice guy in the world, while doing deliberately cruel and destructive things and being resentful other people are rightly pissed at him.

The scene that best exemplifies this for me is the scene where Jack recalls student George Hatfield claiming Jack set the debate timer forward. And Jack insists to the kid he did not. No way. He would never do that. And his memory years later confirms that. He never did. Although IF he had, it was only to save poor stuttering George some embarrassment on the debate stage. If he HAD, he did it as a mercy and as a favor. And there's no way he set it any faster than a minute. He's sure of it.

I know sociopaths like this. We all do. And their self-pitying justifications for their poor behavior are the most disgusting things about them. I find Jack's moving goalposts about the timer in his memory are a far clearer indicator that the guy is a turd than him chasing down his family with a Roque mallet after the hotel has its supernatural hooks in him.

Another "I can believe Uncle Stevie used this jerk as a character surrogate and expects us to sympathize with him" moment was him calling Ullmann out of nowhere to needle him about the hotel's seedy history, simply because he's a mean-spirited vindictive jerk, even sober. And when his last friend Al calls him to read him the riot act for this, and tells him he better not be writing a book about the hotel, Jack has the nerve to be resentful of him for it. And he plans to betray him and break his word about writing the book because Jack Torrance has absolutely no scruples or actual sense of right or wrong, whether he's possessed by the hotel or not. I will admit he does love and care about his family. So do many of history's greatest monsters. It doesn't change the fact that Jack was ALWAYS a monster, and King's portrayal is far less nuanced than he claims. Speaking as an outside observer, if Uncle Stevie thinks Jack spoke for him at that stage of his life, he probably wasn't a very good guy. King has evolved over the years, both morally and politically. But it kills me how possessive he is towards the turd of a character of Jack Torrance, and he's disowned Rose Madder, even knowing how many battered women's lives that novel saved. It pisses me off righteously, to be honest.

Have we talked about the actual book yet? We've talked about the movie's failings, and the failings of the character of Jack Torrance,. How is the book? I'm giving it three and a half stars in my final grade. For most things I review, that would be considered respectable. For what many people think is the greatest horror novel of all time, it's quite damning actually.

Let's look a little closer at the themes explored. For some reason I had read King's most popular novels first (It, The Talisman, The Shining, Misery, and The Stand) and The Shining starts a very odd trend that is uniquely Stephen King. It's a narrative trick I don't see other writers use. King doesn't use it anymore either. I think it makes the book seem a bit unprofessional. But this is the first book King wrote that was VERY into repetition, and has some short punchy phrases written in italics, surrounded by parentheses, jolt into a character's thoughts mid-sentence and repeated throughout. It, the book, in particular used this device so often it became laughable and is one of the reasons I think it's one of King's worst books. But The Shining is the first novel he used that self-indulgent narrative flourish. Spoiler alert: It doesn't actually make the book better. It doesn't even make it scarier. It makes it feel weird, which is not a great feeling for me reading King's stuff at this stage of his career.

One of the reasons reading 'Salem's Lot years later was was neat was me learning King didn't use that cliche in that book at ALL. It was fun after being a casual reader as a youth, to go through his entire output as a Constant Reader and realize the dude has actually done some cool stuff in his early work. The Repetition thing is something that became a crutch, and not so coincidentally, seemed to disappear once King stopped drinking and using drugs. I guess you had to be a bit out of your mind to think that was remotely effective to begin with.

The Shining is also a first in another respect for King, and this first is something I feel confident complimenting him about. For the first time in his books, he's cutting back and forth between scenes just as things are getting good, and ratcheting up the tension. King wound up a rather exciting author when it came to action set-pieces. The Shining is his first go at it, and it's pretty damn great. Wendy's ordeal at the end in particular is freaking raw and brutal. I think King has every right to hate a movie that took the most pulse-poundingly exciting thing he had ever written up to that point, and turned it into a slow and plodding "art film". The main reason The Shining is a decent book and the film is not is that the pacing in The Shining book makes me enjoy it. The pacing in The Shining movie however makes me endure it. Guess which I prefer more?

Here is something about the book I've never seen complimented, but it struck me as majorly unusual (for a horror story in particular). With the exception of Jack Torrance himself, I don't feel like the characters make stupid decisions. Which is like unheard in a horror story. Even Stephen King likes throwing dummies in the meat grinder for a LOT of his books. But all of the complications for why Wendy and Danny don't want to leave the Hotel when they can are understandable, realistic, and organic to both their characters and the story. Frankly this is not a compliment I can extend to most genre. To be able to extend it to a horror project is outright weird and wonderful to me. Also interesting that it occurs in King's third official damn book! It's interesting he nailed this specific thing in one of his earlier novels, while he was still a somewhat shaky writer. It's really admirable.

I've mentioned King's use of the n-word before, and this is the book where things got out of control for him. I think King believes he's entitled to use that word as freely and frequently as he does in his works because he is An Ally to black people. He's always voted for Democrats, and was a dirty long-haired hippie in his youth. It's similar to how both Ralph Bakshi and Quentin Tarantino painfully use that word, except Bakshi and Tarantino claim they only use it because they love and appreciate black culture so much (and while I might be inclined to believe Tarantino about that, Bakshi's actual love of black culture has never been evident in a single project he's ever done). King is a knighted White Ally however, which he believes affords him the "privilege" to use it in ways both demeaning AND affectionate. His book On Writing defended his use of it with the suggestion that that's how people talk, and he's trying to be realistic. And that excuse reminds me for the umpteenth time why I hate writing that tries to be "realistic" and uses that as an excuse for why it sucks. In reality, I believe Stephen King uses the n-word so much as this stage of the career because deep down, he believe black readers should love him for it. For speaking their language and understanding the prevalence of that word in modern society. I mentioned in previous reviews that King's output in this early stage of his career is problematic at best. THAT is one of the biggest reasons why. No question.

This is also a very unusual horror novel in that the only person who really dies is Jack himself. Bodies tend to drop like flies in horror books and movies (especially Stephen King books and movies) and The Shining is unusual that the only living person who dies in the climax is the actual villain. It is very on-brand that in the sequel Doctor Sleep literally NONE of the good guys die.

Also, controversial opinion, Doctor Sleep is a better book than The Shining. Although that film's adaption is somehow even worse than The Shining's film (even if King actually liked it).

King is mad that Stanley Kubrick drew different conclusions from the story than he did about the haunts. But frankly, as far as Jack Torrance being a sympathetic "nice guy" goes, I personally drew much different conclusions there than King himself did. MUCH different. I think Kubrick was actually onto something there (if about nothing else) ***1/2.
 

Zorak Masaki

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The cover art of the Shining


First of all, Greenman was right, Jack does look like Charles Grodin on that cover. My issue though is with Danny, he looks like he's possesed or evil, and that's a problem with most later covers of this book that focus on Danny, they make him look like he's the antagonist, making him look disturbed and evil, which probably does shock people when they actually read it, but shows that King likely doesnt have control over the cover art for the most part.
 

the greenman

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the point of no return
Well, this book I read. Although, again many moons ago. I will say this is one of my faves. I had an alcoholic dad, though not nearly as bad. Though I feel I have seen Kubrick's film (which like a lot of comicbook films) are mostly in name only.

Having said that, Kubrick wanted to dip his toe in the genre. Polanski did it, so why not Kubrick? Personally, it is a horror film as well as experimental and Nicholson is knocking on all 8. A shame what they did to Shelley Duvall. I will always say this:

The Shining changed Jacks mallet into an axe. Then in Misery Annie's axe was changed into a mallet.

Anyway, i enjoyed the book. I understood that King was making a different kind of Ghost story. The subtext of alcoholism is pretty straight forward Alcohol = spirits same difference. The genius of Kubrick with all the twisty happenings with the room# changed and the designs of the hotel Danny had to explore made a fun film. I like how they made Halloran a hero going so far to use one of my fave R&b artists song "Call Me".

I loved the remake a little more cause it kept to the script. Though the actor Danny has his complaints from fans, Rebecca Demornay was great. A blonde like the book featured. Steven Weber was okay, but he tried too hard to go crazy believe it or. The 90's CG animation for the yard animals (forgot the name for them).


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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Night Shift by Stephen King

Truth time. I believe Stephen King's first short story collection is his worst. The vast majority of the stories are not just horror stories (later collections are a treat for the varieties of genre) but dumb, obvious, stupid horror stories. I might be wrong, but I believe more movies (and counting Chapelthwaite, a TV show) were made out of the stories in this book than in any other other collection. And almost all of those movies were terrible because the stories based on them were. Uncle Stevie bemoans in Danse Macabre what a disappointment the film version of Graveyard Shift was. Stevie, Stevie, Stevie... Look at the crap they had to work with.

I think the most notable thing about this collection to me is that John D. MacDonald does a pretty cool brief Introduction at the beginning of the book, and King himself follows that awesomeness with a brutally long, unintentionally-painful and drawn-out Forward pontificating over essentially nothing for over 20 pages. Spoiler alert for a future review: I am going to be giving "Danse Macabre" a VERY negative review. King has improved his nonfiction writing immeasurably over the years in the meantime, but I find King's demeanor during "Danse Macabre" and this Forward conceited and snotty. King had the tendency to make grand pronouncements on behalf all writers that he has no business or right to make. And while he'll always admit self-deprecatingly how little his literary critics think of him, he's always using bigger-than-needed words to show off to overcompensate for that. The characters in King's books sound like actual people. King, the essayist, as himself, comes across as a condescending college professor talking down to all of us. It's ironic what good advice his later non-fiction writing memoir "On Writing" gives on cutting down unnecessary words and saying what you mean. King's earlier essays were all so much show-offy b.s..

There are a few good stories in the collection. Ironically the best ones are the rare non-horror stories. At this stage of his life, King's short horror fiction was premise-based instead of character or story-based. As such a lot of it is so damn stupid and doesn't make a lick of real-world sense. Regardless of what you think of Stephen King, he would never write a story as dumb as "Trucks" in 2022. Much less think it was so neat he just HAD to direct the film adaptation himself. Did I mention there are a LOT of bad film adaptations attached to these stories? In fairness, these are some awful stories. Collection Overall: *1/2.

Jerusalem's Lot

It's sort of an interesting idea to do a prequel to 'Salem's Lot set in the 1800's and using compiled diaries and letters to tell the story. In practice it makes the story a bit of a let-down. King tries to write in a hand other than his own (I would argue for one of the first times in his career) and he tries to make Charles Boone's missives feel credible to the old-world. As such the writing style is a bit dry and boring, and a lot of the horror of the story is suggestive instead of explicit, because old-world people were less explicit back then when speaking and writing things down. As such you feel like Boone is holding back some crucial information. Indeed Nosferatus are mentioned, as are the undead, but the story never has a character use the word "vampire".

That all being equal, while this fails as a horror story, it works as a splendid unsolved mystery. In fact, the reader has more context to what is going on that Boone or Calvin do, so as the characters are confounded bit by bit by what's happening (and can't really explain it themselves) we feel sort of like smartypants, which is a nice feeling in an "unsolved" mystery. At least I think it is. ***.

Graveyard Shift

Movie critics often wonder why there are so many bad films based on Stephen King stories. It's because a vast majority of King's short fiction at this stage of his career was outright awful, and most of those damn bad stories somehow got made into a movie.

This one is bad. King obviously was unable to terrify or horrify when he wrote this. He went straight for the gross-out. *.

Night Surf

Meanwhile, on another level of the Dark Tower...

King based "The Stand" on a combination of this story (which I have read) and a poem he wrote called "The Dark Man" (which I have not yet). That poem was about the character in Steve King's fiction that would eventually become Randall Flagg, Flagg, Walter O'Dim, and Martin Broadcloak in later, mostly Dark Tower-related books. This story deals with the idea of a deadly plague called Captain Trips. This clearly takes place on a different level of The Dark Tower than the America of "The Stand" (either version) or the Captain Trips Topeka Kansas Wasteland seen in "The Dark Tower IV: Wizard And Glass". For one thing, the timelines are different from those three Universes (which also goes for the original miniseries of "The Stand", written by King, and the recent Paramount+ miniseries too). For another, Captain Trips came from a different part of the world (Southeast Asia rather a lab in Vermont) and was actually a variant of a disease call the Hong Kong Flu. The parallels to Covid there terrify me in hindsight. In both "The Stand" and "Wizard And Glass", Captain Trips was the disease's primary nickname although the Center For Disease Control referred to it simply as the Superflu. The proper name for it in Night Surf is A6 (Hong Kong Flu was A2). The Narrator of the story (surfer dimwit Bernie) believes A6 was naturally occurring, while the Superflu was a bioweapon created in a government lab that was accidentally released. But the biggest difference is that while A6 is also a death sentence, it also spreads and kills far slower than the Captain Trips from The Stand. In less than a month 99% of that world's population was dead. Pockets of life still exist half a year later here, people who believe they are partially immunized from previously having caught A2. But of course, it doesn't actually work that way. Bernie hasn't caught it by the end of the story yet, but he knows which way the wind is blowing.

The events in the story are very short actually, I can't picture them having lasted longer than a couple of hours. In those 2 hours as a first person narrator, I grew to greatly dislike Bernie. He's a jerk (and a murderer) and certainly not the kind of person Mother Abigail would come calling for. He also is so worthless I don't see Randall Flagg calling him to Las Vegas either. He assumes he's doomed, and he's such a crappy person I easily believe him.

I can see why the premise intrigued King enough to trying something bigger with it. ***1/2.

I Am The Doorway

The story's ending is horrific but also sort of funny in a morbid way. It's also a reminder that in his early career, when King wrote a short story, they almost always had downer (and / or shock) endings. And maybe that's serviceable when reading a story between yanks published in the pages of a strokebook. But in a short story collection, one right after the other? It can bum a dude out.

Still, it's hardly the worst story in the book. **1/2.

The Mangler

The story is the definition of a page-turner and the downer ending lets you down for that precise reason. If the story were worse, I'd be less mad. But the story is well-paced, with a great premise, and heroes I want to root for. Them losing for a reason that boils down to nothing more than a sick coincidence grates because of that.

The story deserved a more satisfying ending. ***.

The Boogeyman

I won't say I hate this story. But if I don't, my opinion is barely one step above that. It sucks.

I suppose I should mention my disgust of King's casual use of the n-word again here, but what really pisses me off is there is no reason Dr. Harper could be (or should have been) the actual Boogeyman. For a LOT of King's early short fiction, he believes The Jolt is enough for a compelling story. I couldn't disagree more. If a story makes no sense, and operates under no recognizable sort of logic, not even within its own self-contained narrative, it's not scary. It's simply manipulative, badly-written nonsense, done because the writer wasn't competent enough to either end a story properly, or work an honest scare out of you. In his early years, when it came to his short fiction, this was sadly often true of King. I don't like to say it, but it's true. 1/2.

Gray Matter

Strike 1. If not quite a downer ending, an ambiguous, unsatisfying one. Strike 2. No story logic to it whatsoever, a problem I JUST complained about above. There is no third strike. I like how King writes the characters. Sue me. The story is shaky as hell, but the characters are entertaining. **1/2.

Battleground

The movie Small Soldiers totally ripped this story off. It's amazing it wasn't sued.

This story also makes no sense, but it's a comedy, so perhaps that's okay.

Back in 1972 when it was published in a magazine, and 1978 when it was published in this collection, I'm betting this was a real crowd-pleaser. In hindsight, I merely find it quaint. Don't get me wrong. The guy complaining that the bazooka wasn't even mentioned on the outside of the box is very funny, as is the "Surrender" / "Nuts" bit. And the ending and the reveal of the scale-model tactical nuke is perfect. In a collection mostly marred by crappy endings, that matters to me.

But it's STILL just quaint.

John D. MacDonald says in the Foreword that two things King is gifted in are writing humor and about the occult. MacDonald claims it's difficult for fiction writers to write either. I don't know about the Occult (although I assume it probably is, mostly because you need a passing familiarity with the subject), but writing humor in fiction is super easy. The reason MacDonald believes it's hard and believes King is unusually gifted for it is because in the 1970's most serious writers stayed away from it. Not because it was hard, but because they presumed their readers wouldn't like it. It wasn't a lack of talent which is why humor was in short supply in fiction when MacDonald wrote that Foreword. It's that only a few writers (King included) had the guts to try and write it once in awhile.

I mentioned the story is quaint. Not just by modern humor standards, but Stephen King himself can currently write stuff a hundred times funnier in his sleep. This probably knocked his reader socks off in 1978, but "Drunken Fireworks" is not just hilarious, but the way King writes the funny things happening in it seems effortless, because King doesn't worry about what serious critics will think. Similarly "L.T.'s Theory Of Pets" is special because it's a very funny, touching story with a dark tragic ending that's a bit of a gut-punch. And it works because Stephen King is one of the few people who understand instinctively that horror can be funny. David Lynch gets it, and to a lesser extent so do Sam Raimi and Wes Craven (although I will argue the funnier Evil Dead films aren't actually scary, and neither is Scream). Even projects that do both like The Twilight Zone or The X-Files, are very careful to keep those two genres separate in their comedy episodes. King is gifted because he understands life isn't all one thing or another. The is horror, joy, and amusement to be found all around, and they can all occur in the same story. "Battleground" is notable (and probably loved back in the day) for being Stephen King's first really funny story. But the dude gets better and funnier as he goes along. ***1/2.

Trucks

Stephen King is sometimes a BAD writer. I can't rightly say this is his worst story, but it's a perfect example of how and why he sometimes sucks. I'll try to be brief, but truthfully that might be complicated just because Stephen King doesn't have a lick of sense regarding this story. He thought it was neat enough to turn into a movie. Not just any movie. His directorial debut (which I haven't seen and don't ever plan to see), which was SO bad, he swore never to direct anything again. I could have told him this story would have made a crappy movie. It's possible if he had chosen a different subject matter and had a better screenplay, he might still be directing films today. Talk about horror.

The one part in the story I liked (which I'll discuss now because I don't want to take too much time complimenting this piece of crap) is the girl asking the unnamed Narrator how he can pretend he doesn't hear Snodgrass' dying screams of agony outside. And the Narrator tells her she doesn't hear anything either, because her boyfriend would wake up and want to do something about it, and what did she think would happen then. Then she says she hears nothing, nothing at all. A rare bit of good writing in an otherwise dreadful affair.

Like most of the worst stories in this lackluster collection, "Trucks" suffers because there is no logic to the story, not even logic that makes sense within the narrative itself. The sentient Trucks honk Morse Code to instruct their human slaves to refill them. I am well aware more people in the 1970's could understand Morse Code than they could today. But the percentage was STILL tiny. The kid in the diner just HAPPENS to know it? For real? What about every other place the cars are bleating their horns to be gassed? And how or why is the happening? King believed hows and whys don't matter in horror at this stage of his career. His writing has improved and his career is better for it because at some point he realized that isn't true. And while he believes that this dumb, unbelievable idea is good enough for him to bust a medium and try directing for the first and only time, Detta Walker and the child orgy in "It" are sadly in this juvenile, nonsensical writer's future. And it pisses me off how much crap like this I'm gonna have to get through for Stephen King Book Club. I just wanna cut straight to "Wolves Of The Calla", "Doctor Sleep", "11/22/63", "Sleeping Beauties", and "Under The Dome." Who wouldn't? *.

Sometimes They Come Back

A few years ago when I first read "Night Shift" I was really excited to read this story because I really dug the TV movie based on it starring Tim Matheson. As a rule, I dislike most TV movies. Miniseries can be good, but most network TV movies back in the 1990's weren't my thing. "Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back" was cool.

It's weird. It's an example of a movie better than the book. The ending to the movie is reasonably satisfying and happy. The ending here is ambiguous and feels a bit unfinished. Jim's wife doesn't die in the movie like she does in the prose so it's much less of a bummer too. It's a rare example to me of a filmed adaptation of something being better than the written page.

I say at this with a major caveat: I could totally be wrong. I taped the movie when it aired and might have watched it a second or third time, but only around the time it aired. I haven't seen it in decades. It might actually be worse than I remembered. But I do remember that one of the things I liked about it is that it had a happy ending. So I'm thinking my opinion there is still correct 30 years later. ***.

Strawberry Spring

I'm not going to say this is a good story, but it sure as hell is an INTERESTING one. And while the surprise ending IS technically a surprise, even if you didn't guess the Narrator was serial killer all along, rereading the story, you realize there's something off about him and his entire story.

He's not exactly an unreliable narrator. But he strikes me as very weird anyways. During this whole horrific series of events, he seems very focused on the beautiful, unusual weather, and speaks of the past when this was occurring in lovely, wistful, and warm terms. Regardless of how rare strawberry spring IS, the idea that a person could look back on those specific events with fondness says there is something off about the dude the entire time. What's especially interesting to me is the fact that he clearly wrote this memoir (if that's what it is) after he discovered the truth, so as a confessional, it's nostalgic nature seems especially warped for that reason.

I hear somebody has tried to make a film / short film / Dollar Baby out of this more than once. That strikes me as outright insane. It is not something that could ever be interpreted the same way on the screen as it is on the page. Indeed, looking up those plot descriptions of the adaptations on Wikipedia tells me those films were forced to turn the Narrator into a deliberate villain and a bad guy aware of his actions. Which is pretty much the opposite of the entire unusual premise. This specific story could only work in prose. That's my opinion.

Stephen King has done a ton of interesting psychological profiles of evil and disturbed people. I would argue this is his first good one. His asinine writing regarding Charlie Decker in "Rage" seems even more infantile than it actually is in comparison. I find the notion of the guy not wanting to open the trunk of his car more interesting than a kid talking about "Getting it on." Man, "Rage" sucked. I'm never letting that go. ***1/2.

The Ledge

Like "The Mangler" and "Sometimes They Come Back" this one is a real page-turner. You don't so much read this story as devour it. Also like those two stories it has a downbeat ending. But I found this downbeat ending eminently satisfying instead of frustrating. How great is that?

My favorite bit is Cressler insisting gentlemen makes wagers and vulgarians make bets. Angel, The TV Show, once had a similar awesome bit about the nature of classiness regarding the differences between lying and fibbing, and I love this for the exact same reason.

Great story. ****.

The Lawnmower Man

I have never seen the movie The Lawnmower Man, but Stephen King insisted his name be taken off the credits of that. I've read the synopsis and thought it sounded kinda cool. Before I read Night Shift I assumed King's pride there meant the movie was inferior to the story.

The story is a blight upon the Earth. King insisting taking his name off a bland movie to defend this particular indefensible story's honor is outright insane. Maybe not as dumb as the time John Kricfalusi sued Trey Parker and Matt Stone because he believed their South Park character Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo was a rip-off of his character Nutty The Friendly Dump... But... ballpark. It's not quite at that precise level of a stupid lawsuit. But when it comes to this (and foot massages) I know ballpark when I see it.

I probably should mention there is absolutely no logic to this story either. Which is one of the biggest reasons I hate it. Aside from being appalling it is super dumb. 0.

Quitters Inc.

It's good and bad. Stephen King has this whole entirely unhealthy distrust of psychiatry and self-help, and his stories like to take potshots at it whenever they can. In his later career he's sort of become an agnostic on the subject and left well enough alone, but it's clear that this story exists because King hates both self-help programs and the people who told him to quit smoking.

It's a good hook for a story. It's the kind of high-concept you'd see on a TV thriller anthology like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Or more like Night Gallery. In fact when there was a movie anthology made of some of King's short stories ("Cats' Eye") this particular story WAS adapted. The woman with a missing finger at the end reminds me of a similar story on one of those shows too.

I am a writer. I use writing to work through my psychological crap. I think King does the same thing without being aware there is a healthy psychological effect for doing so. Not everyone is a quack out to get you, Uncle Stevie. Some people are actually helped. And I think the fact that the sinister organization is treated as a net positive in Morrison's life says that on some level King is willing to concede that point. But not before railing against how evil they are and how much they suck.

I think the thing that gets me most is the weight gain penalty. It strikes me as totally unnecessary, and outright cruel. Quitter Inc. isn't just trying to get Morrison to quit smoking. They are saying they now totally run his life from this point forward. The weigh-ins are nothing more than a scare tactic to remind him regularly who is boss. They certainly have nothing to do with quitting smoking.

The Quitters Inc guy says something weird in that supposedly a romantic can wage a war on a battlefield and fail, and be awarded a medal, while a pragmatist who succeeds will be told to Go to Hell. King came up with a whole bunch of similar fortune-cookie sayings in his decades-long writing output. I don't much like this one because it sounds verifiably false. Most of the similar bon mots said by philosophical characters have a ring of truth to them.

It's a pretty readable story. And a very unpleasant one too. ***1/2.

I Know What You Need

I think this is a great story. Probably the best one in the book.

Outside of "Carrie", Stephen King's early writing often was troubling because he didn't seem to empathize well with women. In the 90's I think King came to a realization about himself about that and sort of overcompensated by writing a lot of books with hugely feminist messages, mostly dealing with men violently mistreating women, and women overcoming adversity from that. I think "Gerald's Game", "Dolores Claiborne", "Insomnia", and "Rose Madder" are of varying degrees of quality. But I think King felt a certain level of liberal guilt when he wrote them.

It's very odd to me that a story he wrote in 1976 for Cosmopolitan is so compelling on that specific subject. I think because he shows more empathy for the female experience than he did in the novels I mentioned. Those books dealt with abuse, molestation, and rape, and the men were easily defined bad guys. I like that King took a guy with a mental domination superpower, something superhero comics and sci-fi franchises think is a total gas when it comes to seducing people, and called it rape. In 1976. To Cosmopolitan readers, who probably had never read another single thing he had written before that. I very much respected Buffy The Vampire Slayer's episode "Dead Things" for calling love potions and mind domination rape while every other franchise before it thought it was a neat gimmick. I didn't much care for Marti Noxon's tenure as showrunner, but that was one of the best messages she ever sent. I was completely unaware Stephen King reached the exact same conclusion about that trope in 1976.

What's interesting to me, and why I think the story works so well, is that women don't have to deal with a guy who can read their minds to sympathize with and understand what Elizabeth is going through. Plenty of young women have to deal with men in their lives who are manipulative liars who only say what they want to hear, but privately betray their love and trust when they aren't present. Women who read the story will recognize Ed as a similarly controlling ahole in their lives. Every woman has dealt with a man like that, and King using the scenario he does, and the strong language against it he does (rape) is a very insightful moment from a man about women lacking insights about women at this stage of his career. As a man, I cannot speak to the absolute truth of the feminists themes (nor should I try to). But they came across to me, and sent a very clear message about right and wrong, in a scenario that most people wouldn't even consider malicious. What if one's person idea of wish fulfillment is actually the most horrible superpower in the world? Jessica Jones explored a similar idea (but worse) with Kilgrave, but I like this more not just because it was first, but because the scenario is more believable and realistic. No woman anywhere has ever had to deal with a person like Kilgrave. I'm betting a TON of them have run across an Ed Hamner or two in their lifetimes. *****.

Children Of The Corn

I detest this story.

Ironically, it's the last three pages, where the mystery of the Children and the Corn is sort of not answered, but at least addressed, which is the only part of the story that is interesting. What's the problem with the rest of the story?

Burt Robeson.

Burt Robeson was one of the most detestable characters Stephen King had written up to this point, and his poor wife suffered entirely for his malice and stupidity. Talk about people acting dumb during horror stories. There wouldn't even BE a horror story if Burt had listened to his wife and left when she sensed they were in danger. And this was NOT a sudden intuition. She had been feeling that way for hours and he was NOT operating under any sort of immediate clock. No, but he still dawdled and dismissed her to punish her for some imagined slights against his ego. Him stealing the cars keys as she screams in terror tells me the bad guy of the story isn't the creepy children or the corn monster they serve. It's Burt himself. You'd think seeing him get what was coming to him at the end would be pleasurable, but I witnessed a man being a misogynistic pig to her wife throughout the entire story and got her violently and horribly killed due to his own pettiness and stupidity.

I mentioned in the review for the previous story that King might have written his 1990's feminist output as a form of liberal guilt. But misogyny of this type is rampant in King stories of this era. I choose to think King is also offering a bit of an apology there for how badly he treated women characters once upon a time. And this story is one of the worst examples of that brand of toxicity. 0.

The Last Rung On The Ladder

This is Stephen King's first tear-jerker, a genre he has always been startlingly good at. I've cried when reading books before, but out of all the books I have read that made me cry, most of them were Stephen King books. The guy knows how to break your heart and get the waterworks going.

"Night Shift" was published before The Stand but King was obviously already hard at work on this. This is still his first published story featuring the fictitious town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska. It's not just Mother Abigail's homestead in "The Stand", it's recurred in quite a few other King stories since then. *****.

The Man Who Loved Flowers

King returns to the idea of an unwitting, insane serial killer, but because the end is explicitly horrific, it doesn't make the same impact with me as Strawberry Spring does. In fact the entire story feels like a lesser retread of that. In the same damn book. **.

One For The Road

We all wanted a sequel to "'Salem's Lot". Even Stephen King wanted a sequel to "'Salem's Lot". His (and our) compromise was to reintroduce the character of Father Donald Callahan decades later to make the last three "The Dark Tower" books awesome beyond all reasoning.

But we were pretty much in the dark about goings-on in the 'Lot till then, with the exception of this neat coda. I think it's kind of cool and spooky, and an interesting update without revealing and solving the mystery and problem presented outright. And where would be the fun in that? ****1/2.

The Woman In The Room

The death of Stephen King's mother haunted him, and he often used his writing at this stage of his career to work it out. The other notable project of him exorcising these specific demons during this timeframe was "Roadwork", published under he pseudonym Richard Bachman, probably because he knew HIS fans wouldn't like it. As such, for years this story in Night Shift was his best tribute to her under his own name that he was allowed to take credit for. I think it is a perfectly lovely story myself. Or as lovely as a story about an assisted suicide CAN be. ****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand: The Complete And Uncut Edition by Stephen King
I must have read this book at least half a dozen times (as a conservative estimate) and possibly quite a few times more than that, and yet I have never reviewed it. It's time. This will probably be my longest book review of all time, because I'm going to say everything I've ever wanted to say about it in the decades I have read and reread it.

Many Stephen King fans (the Constant Readers) believe The Stand is King's best work hands down. King himself does not and the fact that everyone else does sort of irks him a little. I would be too if most of my fans believed my best work occurred so early in my career and that none of the more than fifty books I'd written past it lived up to it.

I am closer to King's way of thinking, although there is no question in my mind it is a very special book, and I see why people are drawn to it. But like all early Stephen King books, it is also a deeply FLAWED book. Not just in hindsight. There have always been a few things about it that bugged me. I mentioned this was going to be a long review. I'm not kidding about that.

Regardless of whether or not it's King's best book, I will offer a perspective that think too few people have given it credit for. I think it is by far King's scariest book. Nobody ever thinks that because it winds up so optimistic about the nature of the indominable human spirit about midway through (despite an ambiguous ending about its future). But the plague has scared the crap out of me since I first read it. It creates a level of real-world fear in me Stephen King's boogeymen are never able to. Pennywise doesn't scare me as much because he's totally fictional. Captain Trips is plausible. It's far scarier and deadlier than Randall Flagg The Dark Man could ever hope to be. I believe that the eighth chapter of the book is the scariest thing King has ever written.

This is the first time I've reread the book since the Covid pandemic hit, and I should probably say a few things about that. I have not caught Covid. I don't expect I will EVER catch Covid, unless it mutates into something FAR more contagious than what Omicron is (and so far it has not). Because of my fear of plagues The Stand drilled into me as a youth, I take ridiculous precautions protecting myself from Covid nobody else I know even THINKS to take. Let me sort of tell you how badly this book scared me. Before Covid hit, during the rest of my life after I read the book, whenever I heard a stranger cough in public my first thought was of Captain Trips. Every time. That's how deeply this book scarred and unnerved me. Now, of course every time that happens I think of Covid instead, but I am so damn careful in the rare times I choose to go out into public, and in ways that nobody else would bother with. I never take off my mask in public. I never touch my face or readjust my mask without having first used hand sanitizer. If I have a runny nose due to heat under the mask I don't readjust it to wipe my nose. I let it run rather than risking germs entering my body. I take a long soapy showers when I get home from any outings. I then disinfect the shower, any areas I have walked over or touched upon reentering my apartment, as well as carefully disinfecting the outside packages of food and other items I bring into my apartment. And people might tell me this is overkill for Covid, and they're probably right. But that's how badly and deeply Captain Trips scared me. It scarred me on a primal level, permanently. And it's the ONLY thing Stephen King ever wrote that ever did that. Of course my methods wouldn't actually protect me from Captain Trips itself. But my fear of plagues and viruses is down completely to The Stand. Randall Flagg is a puppy dog in scariness by comparison.

The Stand has been criticized in hindsight for a few things, and I think those things are legitimate. But I also have some added complaints of my own. We'll see if you think I'm nuts for them.

The racial themes in the book are beyond problematic. People have complained about Mother Abigail feeding into the Magical Negro stereotype but she doesn't register to me as nearly as offensive as the fact that Larry Underwood's mother says that when he sings he sounds like an n-word with no negative value judgments used against it. The militant black army men taking over a TV studio and executing white soldiers live on the air (while the leader wears nothing but a loincloth, no less) might be when all is said and done the most racist thing Stephen King has ever written. And while the African natives at the end beautifully tie into Russell Faraday's promise to "help" them by promising to teach them to be civilized, they do that by being portrayed in the ugliest manner possible.

And Mother Abigail. Mother Abigail. What to say about Mother Abigail? Stephen King famously created the most blatant example EVER of the Magical Negro in John Coffey from The Green Mile. Spike Lee invented the saying because of both Coffey and Bagger Vance. And let me just say if you put John Coffey and Mother Abigail side by side, I'd look at them entirely differently, leading me to say that Abby Freemantle is NOT part of the Magical Negro trope after all. Why?

I like and sympathize with John Coffey. His subtext is ugly and gross, but strictly as a person, he is virtuous and kind. I personally dislike Abigail Freemantle on every level you can think of. Aside from the fact that I think she's a self-righteous, judgmental prig (and we'll talk about THAT in a moment) she's not a Magical Negro because I think for God's Chosen One in the fight against Ultimate Evil, she's pretty damn useless. There wouldn't be much of a book if she wasn't, but I recognize John Coffey's power and help to the other characters in the way I don't for Mother Abigail.

When Abigail feels she's offended God by getting too big for his britches (which is actually a self-fault I agree with her about) she goes off on her own to "wander the wilderness" and leaves the Boulder Free Zone utterly in the lurch to fend for itself against Flagg's influences on its own. She KNOWS there is something wrong with both Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross but doesn't believe it's "God's business", and declines to investigate further, which makes her useless. I get the distinct impression that Abigail actually believes the bombing was God's punishment on the Committee for working more on building their society and helping people, than battling Flagg, which is a repulsive way to see that, and something you'd hear Pat Robertson say after a mass shooting on The 700 Club. And regardless of the fact that King wants the reader to see it that way too, I don't. The Big Bang Theory did a great bit of Amy basically pointing out to Sheldon that Raiders Of The Lost Ark is flawed because Indiana Jones had absolutely no impact on the events of the film, and the bad guys would have lost and died even if Indy wasn't present. Same thing goes for Trashcan Man's bomb going off in Las Vegas. The fact that the literal Hand Of The God Deus Ex Machina could easily have occurred if Stu, Larry, Ralph, and Glen had given Mother Abigail the middle finger instead of taking her advice to go to Vegas to "Make their Stand" is why Mother Abigail is NOT a Magical Negro. We'll talk a little more about that lame ending in a bit.

I also want to point out that for such a supposedly Godly and virtuous woman, I find Abigail a completely judgmental and mean-hearted person. I understand WHY King made her a Republican in the 1970's and the 1990 edition. The woman lived through the end part of Reconstruction, when the Republicans were The Good Guys. But man, Uncle Stevie, her saying that she believed Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Communist or saying that the only thing dumber than something she hated was a New York Democrat really hits the reader differently in 2022. You can argue that wasn't the party of Donald Trump in 1990. I'd argue her expressing admiration for Ronald Reagan, despite his and Bush I's Administrations having been responsible for Captain Trips is repulsive enough on its own. And she always believes her beliefs are the correct ones and the "younger folks and their new ways" are outside of what God wants. Me? I never once saw God talk to Abigail Freemantle in this story. And despite the fact that she definitely has a role to play due to being in the Dreams and developing a following of "Good guys", she speaks for God about random little crap that God wouldn't bother concerning Himself with. And she is SO damn sure of herself. That's the thing I hate the most about her.

I also hate how she thinks of Harold as "That Fat Boy". Regardless of what one thinks of Harold, that type of thinking and judgmental language is not how I believe a virtuous or good person should think or talk. It's actually quite telling and a hint that Abigail's prejudices are deep and irrational.

King is also a lot more interested in the character's bodily functions and toilet habits than I am. I think he does it to sort of humanize her and make the reader understand she's not an actual deity, but if you ask me, that's a super weird way to do it.

I mentioned the Hand Of God ending. King had to create the bomb twist to kill off so many of the main characters to jumpstart the ending. King did the bomb because he was suffering from writer's block and couldn't think of an ending. That is the mark of a young writer. Which King was at the time. Not the mark of a GREAT writer. Which King clearly wasn't yet. The ultimately Good Vs. Evil subtext of the story falls apart when examined too closely. And that's always been true.

That being said, a LOT of the themes explored are freaking interesting. Frannie is given the role of the doubting Thomas at the end when She curses Mother Abigail for her insane (and yes, ultimately pointless) idea to send the other committee members West to confront Flagg. Larry has a similar rage-filled crisis of conscience when Stu, Ralph, and Glen, try to convince him to leave Stu behind and journey on after he falls in a ditch and breaks his leg. I especially love the part where Glen Bateman laughs and mocks Randall Flagg, and when Lloyd Henreid shoot him Glen tells him it's all right because Lloyd doesn't know any better. As well as the characters chanting "I will fear No Evil" at the end, Leo Rockway's version of The Shine, Trashcan Man's messianic trek through the desert, all of the moments with God's Tom, outside of the damn Hand Of God itself, even if the book whiffed the Biblical Revelations big-picture allegories, it got a lot of the MINOR beats not just right, but actually perfect. When Glen Bateman calls Randall Flagg Legion, that gives you chills, whether the ending otherwise underwhelms you or not.

Okay, I've discussed my MAJOR problems with the book. Next I should talk about the things I love. But I don't feel I can really do that as an itemized list for this specific book. There are SO many things I liked that I think it would probably instead be easier for me to go over the major characters, their arcs, and how I think they went. I already said my piece about Mother Abigail, but I think there are MANY interesting things to talk about when discussing the other characters' arcs.

So I will:

Stu Redman: One of King's most memorable everyman heroes, he's also one of the few characters in the book whose arc I'm loathe to criticize. I think the last 70 pages to get back to Boulder are longer than they should be, but that's on King, not Stu himself. I like that although he's not a reader, he DID read and love Watership Down. He is right that it was a damn good book. And while I am somewhat ultimately ambivalent on the Stu / Frannie 'ship, his friendship with Glen Bateman is amazing, as are their sociology debates, which are both humorous and fascinating.

Frannie Goldsmith: I have mixed feelings about Francine. Her ultimate childishness plays well against Harold Lauder and her (justified) distaste of him, but because it's present, on some level I think Stu is too old and mature for her. I think the biggest thing going against Frannie in my mind is her diary. I agree Harold had no right to look at it. But she was writing it to be a chronicle of life and survival after the plague. She was clearly hoping for another person to read it in the future. She was keeping a LOT of nasty and personal things about Harold saved for posterity. I think Harold is turd myself, and that King probably empathizes with him more than he should (the recent Paramount+ miniseries portraying Harold as a disturbed school-shooter type that Frannie was afraid of the entire time is probably a more accurate real-world portrayal of someone like Harold, and someone like Frannie's reaction to him). But Harold was having second thoughts in a few places during the book. I think him deciding to build a life for himself in Boulder and being an asset to the community is actually more likely than it isn't if Francine hadn't written these cruel judgments against him behind his back.

That all being said, Frannie is responsible for my favorite part of the book: The recorded notes of the first meeting of the Boulder Free Zone Ad Hoc Committee. That chapter as the characters explore the ins and outs of rebuilding society and sending spies out West is the best thing King had ever written at that point, and remains one of the best things he's ever written. The sentence Frannie writes after Nick Andros suggests Tom Cullen for the third spy is simply "Uproar from the committee," which says everything, and shows King at his most confident as a writer so far. It's also mad funny.

Randall Flagg: I have a lot more context for Flagg from The Dark Tower, Eyes Of The Dragon, and even the Gwenndy's Button Box Trilogy. But although Gwenndy's Richard Farris, (who is either a reformed future version of Flagg, or a good Alternate Universe version of him) is interesting, and The Man In Black is a great nemesis for Roland Deschain, and the Flagg from Eyes Of The Dragon is one of the scariest and most memorable villains King ever did, the truth is nothing beats Randall Flagg's portrayal in this book. What interesting to me (and I believe the reason King brought him back in different incarnations) is that despite how scary and evil he is, I still feel some measure of sympathy for him, because by the end, he realizes he's losing, that things are NOT in his control, and is frightened by that. The fact that Flagg is not the perfect criminal mastermind David Xanatos is which is why I like him. It's also why I can believe he was beaten (even if it's actually the Hand Of God that pulled the switch on the nuke). The character is also surprisingly funny. His freeing of Lloyd Henreid isn't just cruel and horrifying it makes me laugh, as does him straddling the dying guy he extracted the Randal Flagg paperwork from to begin with.

Larry Underwood: Larry is an interesting character in that he is essentially put in the role of sacrificial lamb at the end, and if you ask me, the sacrifice was not necessary for the story OR the heroes. But it was necessary for Larry's arc to grow into the person he wanted to become and to shed the "same old Larry" he was desperate to stop being. Larry is also the character in the story King most often uses his at the time new (and annoying) literary trick he came up with in The Shining. There are a lot of repeated phrases and imagery associated with Larry such as "Same Old Larry", "You ain't no nice guy," or "You're a user, Larry. There's something in you that is missing." It is to King's credit he doesn't overuse this technique elsewhere, but Larry's mindset is the part of the book I most recognize from the shakiest of King's other books from this era.

My favorite Larry moment is something Nadine really appreciated and was chagrinned by in hindsight. Him getting Joe to hold up the car while he worked under it. It was also my actual favorite Nadine moment when she was lamenting that she expected Joe to drop it the entire time and Larry bet on Joe and won. She realizes the guitar connection was even bigger and deeper than she thought. And I love that idea. I also love the bits with Larry talking about Inspector Larry and his admiration for Harold. His unfiltered praise for Harold's cleverness and usefulness in fact makes Frannie feel bad and guilty for mistreating Harold. The fact that her negative impressions of Harold were right and Larry's admiration was wrong makes that idea even more interesting.

The Lincoln Tunnel deep dark crawl was one of the most memorable moments back in the day, but it doesn't make as much impact in 2022, simply because unlike The Oatley Tunnel in The Talisman, I now know the spooks aren't actually present.

Nick Andros: One of my favorite characters back when I first read the book, my opinion has cooled a little, but truthfully, I still admire him a LOT. The thing I love most about Nick is that he's one of the Free Zone's big idea men. As such I think he's responsible for some of the good guy's biggest wins. He unilaterally decides to keep Harold Lauder off the committee. He is the one guy there who never trusted him. His decision to make Tom Cullen one of the spies was genius, because Tom was the only one who survived and completed the mission. One of the weaknesses of rereading the book, was everyone asking Stu at the end of the rumors of the explosion in Vegas were true. Because if other people beside Stu and Tom already knew it, it made their roles as witnesses to warn everyone else unnecessary. But I love his ideas of hypnotic suggestion to help Tom remember his mission. When Tom laments at the end that Nick was his Main Man at the end, I believed him.

It is also notable that at the end as he's returning to Tom in visions, he is one of Stephen King's few examples of a benevolent ghost or spirit. King usually has dark thoughts about dead people interacting with the living beyond the grave, but I always liked the idea of Nick The Friendly Ghost.

That being said, I'd be a LOT more comfortable with believing in Nick's righteousness if he hadn't slept with Julie Lawry. That was a bad look for him. It sort of tainted my impression of him back in the day, but it especially looks bad now. Partly because since he did that, him slapping and rejecting her made me extend sympathy to her she didn't deserve.

One of the things I always liked about Nick happened after his death. During that awful first Town Hall meeting after the bombing, and Stu realized the committee has both lost its mandate and that the Free Zone citizens are actually kind of bloodthirsty, I like that one of the lazier members of the Zone suggests nominating and refilling the committee on the spot and somebody else nominates the Lazy dude himself. And Stu is thinking what a lazy waste the dude is, and that to put him in the irreplaceable stead of Nick Andros was a sick joke, bordering on obscene. That said something very good about Nick to me.

Harold Lauder: I think the Paramount+ series has a much better handle on the character than King did in either the book or the original ABC miniseries. At this stage of his career King extended far too much sympathy to teenage, leering incel creeps like Harold and Charlie Decker from "Rage". I think King saw too much of himself as a teenage outcast in them to understand that the rest of us find these types of people scary and off-putting for a reason. I don't think Stephen King in 2022 is a bad person. But I fully believe he probably was one in an earlier part of his life.

What disappoints me most about King's portrayal of Harold is that we never see things from Harold's perspective until he decides to go to the Dark Side. Every Harold scene before that is from either Frannie or Stu's perspective. I would have liked King to have explored Harold more fully while he was actually trying (and failing) to be a good person. The fact that even King doesn't find that a tale worth telling make me not think too much of the character.

The stuff with the nickname Hawk and Harold realizing people liked him, and he could be an asset to the community was interesting. Both he and Nadine ask the other to back out of the plan at various points, but never at the same time, much to the heroes' ultimate sorrow. Stu finding Harold's dying declaration signed as "Hawk" pathetic wasn't just in character for Stuart Redman. It was how I saw it too. To Harold's credit even HE knew as he was writing it "I was misled," was not damn good enough.

Glen Bateman: Glen is the coolest character in the book. You've noticed it's been a couple of weeks between Stephen King Book Club entries. I always find getting through the plague a slog because it scares me so much, but once Glen shows up, and he and Stu start shooting the breeze about sociology I start devouring the book. It took me a week and a half to get through Captain Trips and about three or four days to get through the last 700 pages once Stu comes upon Glen and Kojack. King lamented that the heroes reforming society is what tripped him up and caused him writer's block with no idea how to end the book, but if you ask me, they were actually the most interesting part of the book. He explores problems I never would have considered, mostly because Glen points out alarming things, (like that they had the power to install themselves as dictators in the Free Zone if they had the mind to, and nobody would have objected). And I don't know if the studies he cited about full trains and planes rarely crashing are something King made up, or if he read it somewhere and put it in the story because it was simply too amazing not to, but I thought it was a fascinating as hell idea. Mostly because I can believe King didn't make it up. I wouldn't be shocked if he did. But if he didn't, I could believe that too.

Glen's love for Kojak is also endearing, and as I already pointed out, his meeting of Randall Flagg and death scene is one of the most memorable parts of the book.

Trashcan Man: It's been pointed out elsewhere by others that Trashy has a nearly identical but opposing arc to Larry Underwood. They are both characters that are sort of drawn in a specific direction, but could go the other way based on circumstances, so you aren't quite sure where they are initially headed. I think that's true for Larry, and he could have gone West if Lucy hadn't shown up, and Nadine had pulled a similar deal with him that she did Harold. But for Trashy, even though part of him is reluctant to sell his soul, the truth is, as far as Flagg's marks go, he was easy pickings. And the reason I don't think he could have gone the other way is that like Nadine, Mother Abigail repelled and frightened him. I may dislike that character after being in her head. But someone disliking her sitting on the porch playing the banjo and bragging about making her own biscuit is Ralph Wiggum unpossible. If that's what she actually was deep down, I'd like her too. But the fact that Trash is scared of her for THAT says there was actually never a hope for him to make the right choice.

But out of all the characters Trash has easily the hardest backstory. His entire trip with the Kid is horrifying. And yet, I have to confess I found King's description of Trash saying the two things that saved his life "I like your car," and "Nice driving, champ," are another example of King's confidence and surety as a writer. It's also a funny as hell notion, if nothing else about the Kid is.

I also like that King steps back as the Narrator, and when Trash believes Flagg saved his life from the Kid, King points out that the idea that perhaps Flagg sent the Kid his way just for that purpose never crossed Trashcan Man's mind.

Flagg misjudging Trash's usefulness is also interesting because Flagg DOES like him. In fact he insists at first that after Trash goes nuts that his death be quick, painless, and merciful.

I find it interesting as to what snapped Trash in the first place. Let me just say I also found it inevitable. The people of Vegas believe they have their weird sort of love and solidarity with each other. Trash noticed it immediately, and its seeming reality is such that it confuses the hell out of Dayna Jurgens. Only Tom Cullen has the correct context that it isn't actually real, and that the people are monsters deep down. Las Vegas is a city filled with bullies, who picked Flagg because he was the biggest and baddest bully on the playground. The kinds of people who tormented Trash in the first place. It was only a matter of time before one of them started making fun of him and his weird obsessions. Yes, they felt bad about it afterwards. Because they had believed the lie that they were a strong, loving society. In reality, if they were, they never would have been saying the exact same things Trash heard during his abusive childhood. Did Trash overreact? Yes. Of course. He's nuts. Which is why it was always going to happen at some point.

Dayna also noticed another interesting thing about Vegas: People worked a LOT harder there than they did in Boulder. Partly that was probably fear of Flagg, but Glen also earlier speculated that Flagg would get most of the techies and people who wanted the trains to run on time. He was right.

Nadine Cross: Nadine is kind of a cipher at first until her twisted backstory is revealed, and she seduces Harold. I think where King is unsuccessful is trying to get the reader to believe she believes killing is the one unforgivable sin. She tells "Joe" that him coming to her after all this time is too late and "doesn't play", but what REALLY doesn't play is acting like you have lethal force convictions while you are the expected and wanted future bride of The Walking Dude. It doesn't play, Nadine.

Leo also pointed out that Nadine wanted to blame Larry for rejecting her and driving her to Harold, but that the truth was she purposefully went to Larry after he was already in love with Lucy, and she knew he would do that. She purposefully waited too late so she could later on blame Larry for her own crappy choices. I thought it was interesting that Leo noticed and recognized this.

Nadine doesn't redeem herself by tricking Flagg into killing her and their unborn child, but she certainly managed to escape what fresh Hell their lives would have been if The Hand Of God didn't exist. It's not a redemption, or even an atonement (both things sought by the Trashcan Man), but maybe it's a bit of repentance.

Lloyd Henreid: I love Lloyd. I love Lloyd because he's stupid. And he's able to rise above his station because Flagg gave him the tools for it. It's why he's Flagg's last, best acolyte and the one guy who is sticking with him no matter what. It's not just that he owes Flagg for saving him from starvation. Frankly, if he were thinking more clearly about it, he would have realized Flagg could have saved him days or even a week earlier, before the situation became so desperate. Like Trash not realizing Flagg might have SENT the Kid himself, it's possible Lloyd's starvation and desperation were entirely orchestrated by Flagg solely to insure his loyalty. But the actual reason he's staying with him even when things go South is because he's actually A Somebody under Flagg. Leaving him to go to South America with the other defectors would turn him into A Nobody. Flagg BELIEVED in him and made him a better person. Whether he was evil or not.

There is so much about Lloyd's arc that amazes me, and not just him bursting into tears after killing Glen in a rage. But the fact that he's haunted by the rabbit and what happened to it, and his believing he would never have gotten into anything but small-time s-word if not for Poke really sort of let you know this mass murderer isn't really bad, he's just dumb and gullible. The scene with his lawyer having to practically spell out his defense that Poke did everything was hilarious, ended by Lloyd finally cottoning on and yelling "That's just how that s-word went down!" I love that.

One of the most endearing things about Lloyd to me is how often he exclaims "Oh gosh!" and "Oh gee!" He does do a lot of hard cursing too, but a lot of his expletives are endearingly childish.

My other favorite Lloyd moment was when Flagg shoves him up against the wall in a rage for not telling him about the spy, Lloyd actually yells that he tried to tell him, but he cut him off. Just like he cut him off from the Red List. I think it's the one truly brave thing Lloyd does in the saga and I think it's kind of awesome.

Tom Cullen: I think Tom Cullen has more of the characteristics of the Magical Negro than Mother Abigail does. The thing is, he's white, so he's not. He's still a genre cliche though.

I love his friendship with Nick, but his scene as "God's Tom" as he was being hypnotized and prepared for his mission just broke my damn heart. It says something about how broken Flagg's society is that Nick was right that the idea that the Free Zone would drive out Tom so he wouldn't take a woman and make idiot children is remotely believable. Not only is it outside of what God-fearing/loving people would do, it doesn't make a lick of sense. And I mentioned my opinion on Nick has cooled a little years later, and that's because that story isn't just cruel, it strikes me as unnecessary. And there is a cruelty present in Nick for even thinking it up. When Tom says "Idiot children. Like Tom," I sincerely hope that Nick never got a good night's sleep for the rest of his life, as short as that wound up being. It breaks my heart.

And Stu and Ralph are equally terrified by his descriptions of both Randall Flagg and what's happening with Mother Abigail. Tom seems to have The Shine as well, and I think his info is a lot more solid and useful than Leo Rockway's.

Dayna Jurgens: I love that she's shocked by how reasonable and convincing Flagg is. Why, he's HER age! I also love that she still ultimately refuses to fall for it anyways and kills herself before giving up Tom Cullen. Her confusion over why Jenny was over on this side also is a great meditation on the fact that King is exploring the actual banality of evil. Many people who are on evil's side aren't actually evil themselves, and would be on the right side if they were smarter or less broken. I also found her fearless for telling Lloyd how lousy he was in bed.

Judge Farris: My favorite bit of Farris' is when Larry worries about sending him, Farris says he'll be clever. Flagg's "You screeeeewed up, Ricky Bobby!" says that even if he died, he wound up that anyways. And I love him mentioning ka before Roland Deschain was a thing in the public's consciousness.

Ricky Bobby's death is not just scary, it's funny. King can do both at once, a rare gift he shares with David Lynch.

I have never read the first edition of the story, and frankly I cannot imagine how the story could have functioned properly without the beginning and ending from the Uncut version. The Circle Opens is not just crucial context for what happens in the first chapter, the end of Flagg concluding that life was a wheel that always came around in the same place at the end, was not just something that tied the saga better to The Dark Tower, but it was a hell of a lot more satisfying than ending the book on Stu asking Frannie if she thought people could ever change and her saying "I don't know." Forced cuts or not, I would have fought for those two things, even if it meant cutting something else.

Other King connections: I mentioned Judge Farris mentions the notion of "ka", although this was before The Gunslinger was published, so it makes its connection to The Dark Tower unclear, especially as a concept believed by somebody on Farris' level of the Tower. Did King actually make up the word himself or there some sort of mythology from an ancient culture he snagged it from? Also should point out that although The Dead Zone is the first Castle Rock story King ever wrote, Castle Rock is mentioned for the first time in this book. The town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska can also be seen (or is mentioned) in the novels and stories It, 1922, The Last Rung Of The Ladder, Cell, and Children Of The Corn. Randall Flagg turns out to be an alias for Roland Deschain's nemesis The Man In Black/Walter O'Dim/Martin Broadcloak. Flagg's influence as an R.F. alias can also be felt in the books Hearts In Atlantis and the Gwenndy's Button Box trilogy, although I believe the Gwendy books must use an Alternate Universe version of the character because he's benevolent. A version of Captain Trips was seen in the earlier short story Night Surf, and an Alternate Universe version of that plague overtaking a similar America can be seen in The Dark Tower: Wizard And Glass. Flagg was the major antagonist of Eyes Of The Dragon and was initially created in a poem King wrote called The Dark Man.

On a very unpleasant note, I have to greatly criticize King's "Preface In Two Parts". The second part in particular shows me why I absolutely could not stand King's Forwards, Afterwards, and non-fiction books and essays at this stage of his career. Younger King was a snob who used big words to get back at his critics and "prove" he had literary chops, and he makes big sweeping generalizations about writers and writing that are b.s.. Yes, he is a writer. But he's not entitled to speak for ALL of us. It' weird he always thought he was back then. His "bad" version of Hansel and Gretel is supposed to be bad, but it also strikes me as painful, and as if Uncle Stevie is trying to be hip with the kiddies with his naughty language. King writes good, great, and bad fiction at this stage of his career. But when speaking as himself back then he was an absolute boogersnot. I have no idea how his Constant Readers put up with it. It was truly obnoxious.

Is The Stand King's best work, as claimed by many of his fans? No, but it's a major turning point, and I would argue his first REALLY Great book. Now, 'Salem's Lot was Pretty Great. The Stand is REALLY Great. And I think it's the first one of his books I'd call that.

Did I mention I figured this would be my longest book review ever? Yes. Was I right? Phew! By a large margin. But I felt with having been entertained (and terrified) by this book for decades, it was finally time to go over every inch of it. It was long overdue, actually. *****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand: Captain Trips (Marvel Comics)

The Stand: Captain Trips (1 of 5)

I'm rereading and reviewing the Marvel Comic Book adaptation.

It mostly works. First of all, it's faithful. For instance it cuts out some unnecessary bad stuff in Larry's scene like Larry's mother using the n-word casually, and pretty much delivers the other major beats of that scene between them just fine.

Larry Underwood's introduction worked better in the narrator descriptions instead of the artwork.

The stuff with Campion at Code Blue and with Stu Redman in Arnette Texas at the outset of the plague worked very well.

The stuff with Frannie and Jesse simply failed. The art isn't up to really showing the subtleties of Fran's funky, mischievous personality. It's funny but both the writer and the artist talk in the supplemental material how important it was for them to have the reader fall in love with Frannie right off the bat. They were aware of what they needed to do, and if you ask me, they didn't do it. For the record, that sort of thing wouldn't tend to play well in a comic book. But neither would a LOT of conversations from that novel. This was a big early test of that that they failed. ***1/2.

The Stand: Captain Trips (2 of 5)

Frannie's scenes with her father play a little better this issue because we get a little context for The Giggles.

There is no tension in Stu demanding to see someone on one page and Denniger instantly showing up on the next page. I know by necessity the story needed to be abbreviated, but there is no dread present without us having to "stew" with Stu while he sits alone and scared.

Similarly,. it will seem counterproductive to the epic story to flesh out Larry's scene with the "You ain't no nice guy" oral hygienist. But on the other hand, it's a defining moment for Larry in the book, and something he always goes back to in his mind about his regrets. You wouldn't know its significance by the truncated two page scene here.

Nick Andros' intro is solid, man. Good work there.

They did Chapter 8, the scariest chapter King ever wrote in two pages. On some level it feels even more horrifying in comic book format actually seeing the people affected and infected. In your mind's eye it's still a LITTLE theoretical in the novel. On the illustrated page it's straight-up horrific.

Really, this adaptation is SO faithful it's hard to stay mad at it. I can only compare its somewhat shaky conveyance of King's themes and ideas to the comic format. Everything else feels right. ****.

The Stand: Captain Trips (3 of 5)

Suffice it to say that the stuff with Lloyd and Poke feels a WEE bit truncated, but at least Lloyd says "Oh gee!" when Poke Pokerizes a guy.

Frannie's stuff with her mother was better here than in the book because writers in this day and age know it is wrong to show Peter Goldsmith smacking Carla and insisting she had that coming for years. King did sort of a feminist apology tour about how abusive men can be to women in a LOT of his fiction in the 1990's. Just wanted to put out that he was really in no place to throw stones about it because of crap like that.

Stu's stuff is good. A relief. Last issue was a dud there, but tension is going up for real now.

I'll tell you out of context Starkey sounds absolutely crazy. And maybe he actually IS, and the novel is doing us a disservice by giving his crazy thought processes context to begin with.

Solid, solid issue. ****.

The Stand: Captain Trips (4 of 5)

Great Randall Flagg intro.

Surprisingly the stuff with Frannie about her pie lands decently in comic form. Not perfectly. But decently.

Larry's stuff about how self-involved he was upon his mother getting sick is very consistent with the novel.

I think Lloyd meeting with his sharpie lawyer plays better in the book. Aside from the s-bomb in the book making the last line funnier, the comic does Lloyd's facial expressions wrong. It looks like he's in on some sick joke. In the book I believe Lloyd said, "Mister, that's just how that s-word went down!" because he almost believed it when he said it. His cynical laughter in the comic sort of ruins the earnestness, conviction, and desperation I felt from him in the novel at that point.

Fascinating to read about real-world plagues in the supplementary article.

Poo's gettin' real. ****.

The Stand: Captain Trips (5 of 5)

Flagg's backstory was always fascinating, even before King tied it to The Dark Tower. He's like if cancer were an actual person.

I like that he's a reader. Of everything. I wish that had been explored a little more. But it's a fascinating aspect of an otherwise irredeemable character.

This is the part of the book that shows the downfall of civilization, and I while I don't think current circumstances (with an overabundance of Smartphones and cameras) could make a cover-up of this magnitude feasible, the truth is Fox News screamed "Fake News!" about Covid and people took them seriously. I think our situation is better and worse than The Stand. The better part is that there would be no way to hide the truth from normal people. The bad news is an alternate Fox News narrative would be given equal weight of the truth for simply existing. King envisioned society destroying itself when the government tries to deny the truth. In OUR world, truth doesn't actually matter. They don't need all those soldiers to gun down protesters or blow up TV stations because around 45% percent of the public will believe the lie without the government having to go that far. In reality, in the most cynical and darkest thing King had ever portrayed (and this was the dude who wrote Rage) he simply wasn't cynical enough.

The comic leaves out the black militiamen taking over the TV studio and executing white soldiers on the air (with the leader in a loincloth) because it's not as disgusting as Stephen King is.

I think it's interesting that Ray Flowers SEEMS to have been an Immune person before the soldiers shot him. It gives him a feeling of solidarity from me, and connects him to the rest of the survivors. Interesting character who was gender-switched in the miniseries and I believe played by Kathy Bates (but it's been awhile and I could be wrong).

The best issue so far. Focusing on the stuff about Flagg in the book with this level of detail was the right move. *****.
 

the greenman

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the point of no return
Have to apologize @Fone Bone. Been busy, and honestly some of the literature of King's I hadn't read. So not much to comment on. One little tidbit. There was a horror anthology tv series in the early '80's hosted by James Coburn called Darkroom. I remember one episode in particular that I had seen as a kid about toy army men who came alive. I picked up Night Shift in the library and came upon this story Battleground (and by this time Small Soldiers had come and gone). However, when they reaired this series on Sci Fi channel I sought to see if they credited King. They did not. I found out it wasn't him. It was called "Siege of 31 August". Hmmm.

Sent from my LM-Q730 using Tapatalk
 

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