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Tag: stephen king

Sleeping Beauties by Owen King and Stephen King

Summary: In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, and the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain?

My thoughts: I’m so conflicted about this book. I was hooked, there is no denying that – seeing as I left all work aside for a week to finish reading this mountain of a book. It was thoroughly engaging. If you’ve watched IT Chapter 2, you must remember the very self aware running gag on McAvoy’s character, Bill, being called out for writing the worst endings. Many people criticise King for writing anticlimactic endings to his long stories. I don’t agree with most people, but somehow having watched the movie so recently, I’d braced myself for a disappointment at the end of this book. Which is perhaps why it didn’t hurt as much when the predicted disappointment hit. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

First, the goods, or the positives: The greatest triumph of SK’s writing for me has always been the uncannily real characters. He can effortlessly hop into the heads of hardened criminals, sociopaths, recovering alcoholics, bullies, angsty teenagers bursting at the seams, mothers, children, you name it. He can write the damnedest realistic characters and he has surely managed that in this book. Not only that, he makes you care for his characters, and choose sides between those you love. Throughout Sleeping Beauties, there are moments of triumph when the characters hit right home. Just right. 
The story is a mix of Under the Dome, The Stand, 11/22/63 and perhaps even Mr. Mercedes (specific references aside.) SK has proved before, more than once, that he can do small town mass hysteria and do it well. The authors have pulled it off here too, no surprises there. 
And I mean there’s the obvious, the more recent Stephen King charm you get: that brisk no-nonsense dialogue, casual meta references and nods to authors and movies and songs and his own characters, style – just a lot of cocky style. And all this makes it a thoroughly entertaining book, even at its worst moments. I don’t know how much of this is Owen King, but there’s too much Stephen King to miss. Things I was surprised by and like included the element of dark fantasy. I like the allusions and the tricks. I loved Evie and everything she stood for. And above all else, I love the fox’s perspective on the world; animal perspectives are always so difficult to write without sounding too human. 
Now to the negatives, the bads: Maybe the book came a little too late. I like the idea of a retelling of a fairy tale in this manner and on this scale, but it just seems strange to have this repeated overwrought discussion on the duality of gender, men and women, men against women, two genders and the very specific dual gender roles.. seems odd to centre the book entirely around this duality in today’s world. It was quite the elephant in the room. 
I think at the end of the day, it’s Clint Norcross, the main character (not sure if I should call him a protagonist) who disappointed me the most. When you create a character who has more shades of grey than of white, you better give me a good reason for that. I expected… more. Or I did not understand what I got.

And lastly, I think the scope of the book was too narrow and for no solid reason. In Under the Dome, there is still an explanation for the seemingly arbitrary choice of that particular small town for that particular story. What makes this town so special? Why is the rest of the world so oblivious to this random town in Appalachia where everything of import seems to be happening? Even Under the Dome had more of the external world playing its part. Here, you need to accept it without justification. Too big a story in too small a package. 
Final Thoughts: I’m glad I read it. My biggest takeaway is the character of Jeannette – that’s one woman I will not forget easily, one character I’ll keep coming back to. I would recommend it to you if you have the time for it. But there are far greater Stephen King novels to choose over this – when in doubt, when it comes to Stephen King, always go for the classics.

“Sometimes you get what you want, but mostly you get what you get.” 


This isn’t exactly a fairytale retelling (hint: kissing the sleeping beauties may not have the predicted reaction) to be part of the Retellings Challenge, but they’ve referenced Sleeping Beauty often enough for me to say it counts. 

The Dead Zone by Stephen King


‘My daughter,’ Bannerman agreed softly. ‘I think she passed within forty feet of that …
that animal. You know what that makes me feel like?’
‘I can guess,’ Johnny said.
‘No, I don’t think you can. It makes me feel like I almost stepped into an empty elevator
shaft. Like I passed up the mushrooms at dinner and someone else died of toadstool
poisoning. And it makes me feel dirty. It makes me feel filthy. I guess maybe it also
explains why I finally called you. I’d do anything right now to nail this guy. Anything at
all.’
A little while ago, I was telling someone how Stephen King writes more than *just horror.* You know, one of my usual rants. In the foreground of that conversation, I am all the more happy I chose to read The Dead Zone. Published in 1979, it is one of his older books and has that experimental style. I don’t know how I missed it for so long.
The Dead Zone is about a man named Johnny Smith, who once gets in a life-altering car accident. Johnny is a man who is shown to have possessed a strong sense of intuition since his childhood. But is after he wakes up from a nearly five-year-long coma, that his intuition has blown into a full-fledged clairvoyance. Johnny has sustained unusual brain injuries that may be the cause of his psychic ability. He can sense the past, the future and worm out people’s secrets. But there are some things that he can never reach – and these he says lie in a damaged part of his brain which he calls ‘the dead zone.’ With the help of his ageing father, Herb and his doctor, Sam Weizak, the book follows Johnny as he attempts to lead a normal life in spite of his new extra-normality. Life, however, has other plans for him.
Meet Greg Stillson. An aggressive obnoxious salesman-turned-businessman who nurtures an ambition to one day run for President. Avoiding straight answers, making ludicrous promises, loud gestures – these are some of Stillson’s specialties. His rallies are led by gangs of bikers for an audience of mindless fanatics. His is a nearly farcical exterior that helps hide the beast underneath. Greg Stillson is a dangerous man masquerading as a joker. The true extent of his breed of terror is revealed to Johnny Smith when he shakes hands with Stillson, and gets a dreadful vision. The Dead Zone is very much about the politics of its time – yet it couldn’t be any more relevant in today’s world. In fact, look what Stephen King tweeted earlier this year, “Populist demagogues like He Who Must Not Be Named aren’t a new thing; see THE DEAD ZONE, published 37 years ago.”
King does not let you take the driver’s seat in this story. You cannot guess what will happen, I don’t think you are supposed to. The Dead Zone is as unpredictable and meandering as real life. It is at once a murder mystery, a horror story, a family saga, a political thriller, a psychological drama and a blossoming love story. It is all of these and none of these. Its characters are its lifeline, not its plot. At its core, it is simply the story of a man dealing with what life throws his way and trying to make the best out of it. A good man who has been dealt a bad hand. It is a story of redemption and forgiveness, it is a story that makes you love its simplicity, until it goes and shocks the hell out of you. 
“The same chipped angels year after year, and the same tinsel star on top; the tough surviving platoon of what had once been an entire battalion of glass balls. And when you looked at the ornaments you remembered that there had once been a mother in the place to direct the tree-trimming operation, always ready and willing to piss you off by saying ‘a little higher’ or ‘a little lower’ or ‘I think you’ve got too much tinsel on that left side, dear.’ 

You looked at the ornaments and remembered that just the two of you had been around to put them up this year, just the two of you because your mother went crazy and then she died, but the fragile Christmas tree ornaments were still here, still hanging around to decorate another tree taken from the small back woodlot. 

Sure, that’s right, God’s a real prince. God’s a real sport. He’s such a sport that he fixed up a funny comic-opera world where a bunch of glass Christmas tree globes could outlive you. Neat world, and a really first-class God in charge of it.”

I mentioned an experimental style before… The book has a strange narrative flow. An unreliable narrator we don’t know we have until the story begins to sound like an unfinished puzzle. We have letters and newspaper clippings and a chunk of story shoved into a mind-blowing epilogue. Surprises, surprises, so many of them. His writing breaks all the norms and so well, it makes you wonder why there are any rules at all. Recently I saw an interview with Stephen King where he said something to the effect that he doesn’t want people to read his books for their language, or their message or whatever. What he wants is to just reach out and grab his reader. He did, here. He always has.

(Let this be part of R.I.P XI which pulled me back to horror after a far-too-long hiatus.)

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

This review is part of the R.I.P X  Challenge. Visit The Estella Society to learn more.

Bill Hodges was once a detective, one of the finest of the city. Now retired, he is a fat lonely TV-addict going over his mistakes and contemplating suicide. That is, until, Bill receives a goading letter from the perpetrator in his greatest unsolved mystery – the Mercedes Killer. Brady Hartsfield, also known as Mr Mercedes, was responsible for spree killing eight innocent people when he drove into a queue outside a job fair in a massive stolen Mercedes. Today, he is not happy that his glory days are over. Taken by another urge to kill, Brady plans to taunt the ex-cop into killing himself. But what the letter really does is jump start a dead investigation. This time, Brady may not get away so easily.

“Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”

Mr Mercedes is a very basic mystery. The killer’s perspective is introduced early into the book, the crime is long over, the clues are in place, it is up to Bill to figure out what we know. Mr Mercedes will guarantee you a swift exciting afternoon. And I love this grown up Stephen King who has so many master works under his belt, he can  go back to the basic. And nail it. I am reminded of something King said about Rowling’s pseudonym, “What a pleasure, what a blessed relief, to write in anonymity, just for the joy of it.” 


He may not be anonymous, rather the opposite, but perhaps it is the comfort of knowing he will be read and criticized either way, same old, that gives his writing an honesty. Every line in the book tells you he is enjoying himself. Maybe his books just don’t fall prey to editing as frequently now that he is so established. So the book is full of classic Stephen King tricks. Name-dropping taken to a whole new level. He hurls jabs and praises at every crime show you have ever seen, from Dexter and The Wire to NCIS and Bones; I cannot imagine how many legal department people must run around to get Stephen King permissions. At one point, someone mentions the scary ass clown living in the sewer from that TV movie – that’s right, one of King’s myriad pop culture references is to himself.

Stereotypes abound the novel. The serial killer is an ice-cream man, because “everybody loves the ice-cream man.” The fat ex-cop sits on his La-Z-Boy every day, and every day puts a gun in his mouth wanting to off himself. As he gets his life back together, he loses weight, and as he becomes slimmer and more attractive, he starts to believe more in himself. I don’t think Stephen King has a problem with fat people. He simply knows how the world thinks, and this sort of stuff resonates, if reluctantly, even with our “ever-ready to prickle in offended indignation” sensibilities. Peter Straub once said that he has a ‘connoisseur’s appreciation of fear.’ Well, Stephen King similarly understands stereotypes, he appreciates their existence so to say, and manipulates them delightfully.

[Edit: adding important afterthoughts] Stephen King usually writes about alcoholics, murderers and crazy fans. The woman who owns the Mercedes the killer used is one of the best characters in this book. This harmless ‘good citizen’ has to deal with her unwitting involvement in a crime of such great proportions. She is an example of the lengths normal people could go to convince themselves that “such things don’t happen to them,” that the thing they hit on the road that rainy night was just a dog, nothing else, of course. One of the coolest things in this book is the cop describing how desperately people all want to cling on to the comfort of normalcy.

Another thing that King hits the nail on the head with here is humour – dark sly humour. He makes you chuckle with one-liner-musings, sure, but also with these misplaced comedic situations, like someone accidentally poisoning the wrong victim. Jokes that make you wish you hadn’t laughed.

“Hodges has read there are wells in Iceland so deep you can drop a stone down them and never hear the splash. He thinks some human souls are like that. Things like bum fighting are only halfway down such wells.”

A trillion pop culture references, dramatised clichés and forced resolutions make up this story – but what an enjoyable ride it is! Some may call it lazy, cocky even. But some sixty books and a dozen awards into his career, this man has earned his cocky. I realize this review may across as a defence, but it is more than that. I have consistently found it impossible not to fall in love with everything Stephen King writes, and here is why. Even in his smuggest writing, you see a simple yet rare dedication to the craft. Some of his books work and some just don’t – this rests somewhere on a fence. But you can see he loves to write and that, to me, makes even his basic cosy mystery far different from a formulaic success on a best seller list.

In a word, Mr Mercedes is cool. I cannot wait to see what its sequel has to offer.

A Good Marriage (from Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King – Wrapping up King’s March

A Good Marriage is the final story in this amazing short story collection, Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. It’s a 100 page novella and makes a greatly disturbing read. If I think about it, this story has less gore as compared to Big Driver, hardly any violent graphic detail unlike 1922 and it has much fewer glimpses into crazy minds than Fair Extension. Honestly, it ought to be the least upsetting story of the entire collection; if only it weren’t so true to life. 
I saved the last story of the collection for a classic Stephen King-ey experience. Reading it alone in the middle of the night (it was around 2 a.m. by the time I finished), with a reading light and shuddering every so often, resisting the impulse to just abandon the book and go to sleep instead. That’s how Stephen King should be read, isn’t it? Without the eerie atmosphere, the building tension, The Shining wouldn’t quite have been The Shining. 
A Good Marriage is very different from the other stories in Full Dark, No Stars. It isn’t about a lunatic murderer, or a raging victim driven to murder, it is the story of a murderer’s wife. What would a woman do if she were to find out one day, out of nowhere, that her husband of some twenty seven years was a notorious serial killer? If she were to realize the man she loved, the man who surely loved her back, the father of her two children had lived a secret life as a murderer? How far would Darcy go to save her marriage?
It’s not a unique setting, you have to admit. In fact, based as it is on a true story, it’s not meant to be one of its kind. It almost reminded me of Alice Munro’s Dimension in the way it focuses on the one who is the closest to an offender, the one who suffers the most after the victims, the one who gets the least sympathy: the murderer’s family. That it is convincingly, worryingly realistic is what makes A Good Marriage the best and the worst story at once. King has done here what he does best. In his words, he’s put “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” to provoke a reaction. He’s played out this situation in invigorating, unnerving, undistorted, tear-jerking detail. 
King has toyed with the realization that someone you love, someone you thought you knew completely, can turn out to be a altogether different creature. King has described vividly how it dawns upon Darcy that you can never really know a person, not even one you’ve built your life with. Once the truth hits home, it takes only one caressing touch, from her husband for Darcy to be terrified of him. Seeing him for what he really is, his once-endearing toothy smile and soundless laugh make her nauseous. And she loves him.
It’s a good story, and what makes it good, is how difficult it is to put yourself in Darcy’s shoes. To wonder how you’d react in that situation; a situation that when not looked at personally makes so much sense. A Good Marriage is a nice story about marriage and oddly, it’s a happy story, in that it leaves you with a grudging sense of relief and the realization that there’s a little hope for humanity, after all.
It turns out A Good Marriage is being made into a movie. Or is it already out? I don’t think I’ll watch it, but I’m curious to see how it’s received. I suppose it will fair well like all his movies do, I only hope it’s for the right reasons.
The Afterword is brilliant. Only Stephen King can do justice to describing what he does in his stories. And it really got me thinking. 
“I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record
what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire
circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they
acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our
fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even.
But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in
trying to do the right thing… and that when we fail to do that, or willfully
turn away from the challenge, hell follows.”

As much as I love having the ‘visceral’ reactions that King intends to invoke in his readers, I am happy to be out of the dark and in the light, glad, of course, that he brought me out here (even if with a cheeky wink), impressed that the collection ends on a fairly optimistic note. I loved this collection, and I know overuse that word but I do mean it in its fullest sense here: I loved it. It’s a must read. But I don’t think I’ll be revisiting Stephen King anytime soon.
My copy of Full Dark, No Stars has an extra ‘bonus’ story at the end. I don’t want to read it. Nor do I want to read Different Seasons, which I’d picked up for King’s March as well. I’m going to return those two to the library and take a temporary hiatus from Stephen King, and perhaps all things horror. I know that contradicts what I wrote in my previous post about reading everything he’s ever written, but hey, I have a whole lifetime for that.) 
King’s March has been quite an experience. I loved reading people’s reviews of books I’ve already read, their opinions and recommendations of books I hope to read somewhere down the line and how almost everyone complained about that thing that always irritates the hell out of me: He doesn’t just write horror! Sharing bookish love is what blogging’s all about anyway. But now I’m all geared up for the Once Upon a Time Challenge – for a bit of fantasy after this. I think magic and a little gooey happy fun would do me some good right about now.
Tell me this, fellow Stephen King fans, are you ever just a bit too overwhelmed by the dark? Or did you just roll your eyes and call me a chicken? I wouldn’t be offended if you did!

Big Driver & Fair Extension (from Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King + a few links

First of all, I think Full Dark, No Stars is right up there with the bests of Stephen King. Not for the first time, he’s proved that ghosts don’t have to be translucent white spirits that lurk in and around abandoned houses. These are stories about the terrible frightening ghosts in our minds. 

I read and reviewed 1922, the first novella, last week. I had to wait an entire week before I could read another King. I don’t see myself reading the last two stories quite just yet, either. Not till I’m done digesting these.


Big Driver: This is the second story in Full Dark, No Stars, a roughly 130-page novella. When Tess Jean, a mystery writer, is raped and dumped on the side of a road stuffed in a pipe, she plots revenge against the giant of a man who’s destroyed her life. Big Driver is the owner of Red Hawk Trucking and Tess, haunted by his comically nightmarish image, sets out to kill him.

This story is creepy, and as booksaremything had commented on my review of 1922, very difficult to read. The end seems convoluted and a bit ludicrous, but that apart, to me, the story makes sense. What happens to her drives the cozy mystery writer crazy. Nightmares, insecurity, voices in her head – the whole thing. Contemplating murder has been her profession, she knows revenge is not the answer, a whole part of her knows she should go to the authorities instead; but that’s the old Tess. The new Tess dismisses the idea of police, wondering “What’s in it for me?” Disclosing her attack is out of the question. She imagines people’s reactions to her rape.


One thing she did know was that she would get the sort of nationwide coverage every writer would like when she publishes a book and no writer wants when she had been raped, robbed and left for dead. She could visualize someone raising a hand during Question Time and asking, “Did you in any way encourage him?”
That was ridiculous, and even in her current state Tess knew it… but also knew that if this came out, someone would raise his or her hand to ask, “Are you going to write about this?”

And what would she say? What could she say?
Nothing, Tess thought. I would run off the stage with my hands over my ears. 

The back cover of the book asks you “What tips someone over the edge to commit a crime?” Big Driver answers the question in blatant uncompromising detail. And unlike the evil narrator of 1922, Tess doesn’t ask you to understand her, she doesn’t beg for sympathy, she knows you would hold her guilty, but she simply doesn’t care about you.


She was too tired to consider what might or might not be her moral responsibility. She’d work on that part later, if God meant to grant her a later… it seemed He might. But not on this deserted road where any set of approaching lights might have her rapist behind it. 
Hers. He was hers now.

Big Driver, which I read in one horrific sitting, made me feel ashamed of the world we live in.


Fair Extension: Fair Extension is a short story, the third in this collection. When Streeter is puking on the side of the road, the cancer now making his life more miserable than ever, he spots a pudgy man sitting on the other side, with a sign that reads ‘Fair Extension’. Elvid turns out to be a strange man who offers people all kinds of extensions, hair, height and in Streeter’s case, life extension. Elvid sells Streeter fifteen more years. But there’s always a catch and it goes something like:


You have to do the dirty to someone else, if the dirty is to be lifted from you. 

Streeter confesses to Elvid that he hates his best friend for life, Tom Goodhugh and has no qualms transferring the ‘dirty’ to him. Streeter expects Tom to get cancer, and is quite okay with it, but it turns out that he’s destroyed his life in quite other ways. With every new extra day that Streeter lives, something goes terribly wrong in his friends once perfect life, much to Streeter’s delight.

This story is ridiculous to the point of funny, it is written the sort of dry dark humour that is characteristic of SK, anyway. It’s about greed and ruthlessness of the kind that only a Stephen King story can pull off. What I love the most is that Fair Extension is set in Derry, Maine. Remember Derry? The last time I visited it was with Jake Epping.

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Now to the links I promised:

Last week Anne Rice posted a link to OpenCulture’s Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers, which you should have a look at, even if you have already read the fabulous On Writing. And if you haven’t read it, just what are you waiting for?

In related stuff, I found a list made by SK of 96 Books For Aspiring Writers to Read. I’ve read: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Hannibal by Thomas Harris, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Harry Potter by J K Rowling Parts 1, 2, and 3. Six: which must be pathetic by Stephen King standards. How many have you read?

Flavorwire posted this amazing thing yesterday: Artists Pay Tribute to the Work of Stephen King in Exhibition ‘King for a Day’. God, I would have loved to be there. The artwork is gorgeous and interesting, some based on the movies, and worth checking out.
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So far, even though I haven’t got around to reading a lot, King’s March hosted by Wendy and Rory has been awesome, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts by fellow SK maniacs. I do hope to finish Full Dark, No Stars and at least a couple of stories from Different Seasons in this last week of the month, can’t say that I actually can. What have you been reading?

1922 (from Full Dark No Stars) by Stephen King

(I love this book already, and my new Stephen King bookmark, which I’m going to take with me everywhere I go. This review is for King’s March.)

The back cover of the book asks us a question, hinting towards the nature of the whole collection of stories: What tips someone over the edge to commit a crime? For a Nebraska farmer, the turning point comes when his wife threatens to sell off the family homestead.

That is 1922: An old man’s confession to murdering his wife with the help of his fourteen year old son, and then dumping her body in their own well. Don’t worry, these aren’t spoilers. It’s never so straightforward with Stephen King. 1922 is about what comes after the crime. As King succinctly puts it: 

“I discovered something that night that most people never have to learn: murder is sin, murder is damnation (surely of one’s own mind and spirit, even if the atheists are right and there is no afterlife), but murder is also work.”

The worst is never over, he goes on to say, the dead are never truly gone. Once Farmer Wilfred James convinced his son Henry “Hank” into becoming a willing participant in Arlette’s murder, he changed the boy’s life. The plan that sounded simple enough ended up more difficult than the pair could have imagined. A black spot in their lives that neither was able to fully wash off in the following years. As James narrates, eight years later, what happened in 1922, you see the extent of evil in people. Underneath all his guilt for what he did to himself and his son, past the fear of his wife’s vengeful ghost, you still see that he blames his wife for what happened, that he believes his crime was justified, under the circumstances. He feels no real repentance. And the freakiest thing is, he knows it – he knows himself.

1922 shows you how thin the line between fantasy and reality is. It won’t take long for your worst nightmare to come to life, for you to bring it to life and once that’s done, it will take an eternity to put it back to sleep, if ever. On that ill fated night, Wilfred James raised something, the demon inside him perhaps, that tore at him and then ate away Hank’s little boy innocence. “The Conniving Man” James calls him in his confession; the stranger inside every man. Even the pale little boy had evil lurking in him, which his father unleashed: clearly, when it took just a slap from Mama to make him want to help Poppa finish her off. 

But the truth came back to haunt the both of them. It hit Hank in the form of guilt, regret, overwhelming fear and perhaps confusion over his own actions and he dealt with it by blaming his father, rightly so. His escape with his girlfriend, from his father’s farm, led to the bitter end that had already been written for him on that night in 1922. And the truth haunted Wilfred in a more literal sense: his dead wife’s broken corpse accompanied him throughout his life, along with the army of rats nesting in her rotting body. Driven crazy by the ghosts of his past, now holed up in a hotel in Nebraska, Wilfred James writes a confession to his sins, documenting the whole truth as he sees it. 

“This is a ghost story, but the ghost was there even before the woman it belonged to died.
‘All right, Poppa. We’ll… we’ll send her to Heaven.’ Henry’s face brightened at the thought. How hideous that seems to be now, especially when I think of how he finished up.
‘It will be quick,’ I said. Man and boy I’ve slit nine-score hogs’ throats, and I thought it would be. But I was wrong.”
Like in every small town story he’s written, King describes the setting in detail. The small town people and their small town talk and small town minds. A murder committed just because the farmer didn’t want to move to the city. And then you realize it’s not because of the setting. Take a twisted ego and put it anywhere and the story would play out in the same way. 1922 makes you sick and there is no redeeming glow of hope at the end. It is not a romanticized version of a killing. You end wishing you hadn’t read the story and knowing you couldn’t not have. There’s little good in this novella but it’s the ruthless honesty that we all need to take once in a while, chew on and swallow. The disintegration of Wilfred’s mind, his gradual loss of sanity and his self inflicted justice form a lesson in morality like no other. 

Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

Honestly, I don’t know how to write a review for this book. I could just say last night was the most awesome reading experience of my life. The last time I stayed up the whole night reading horror was when I read The Shining, which was my (mind-blowing) introduction to Stephen King and all things horror. The thing is, no one is probably going to read this anyway, because all my Stephen King reviews ending up sounding almost exactly the same. But this book was different and in a way, I think King scrapped all his usual tricks. 
Summary: The Overlook wasn’t done with him. That could be the theme of Danny’s life up to the events of this book. Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate
to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he
settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job
at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final
comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” 
Meanwhile, on highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. The True Knot, who look harmless, are in fact quasi-immortals, who torture and kill children with ‘the shining’ to feed on their ‘steam’. When Dan meets the little Abra Stone, through her gift, the brightest shining ever seen, he finds a student, much in the way Dick Halloran had found him. The danger she faces from the True reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.
Of course, that is not all. But it never is, with Stephen King, is it?
My thoughts: Despite being the biggest King fan you’d find, I don’t think I ever used the word ‘unique’ to describe any of his books; but Doctor Sleep was – wholly unique in its concepts, themes, even characters, and so so unique in the way it scared the hell out of me. Stephen King’s books have always been more than just “boo! i scared you!” for me, and I’ve hardly ever had to go searching for meaning. Even The Shining was not just about those scary special effects and Doctor Sleep is quite the same in that respect. It would be disappointing to people who read horror for the gore, the adrenaline rush and nothing more; who distinguish good horror from bad simply as scarier from not-so-scary. Well, you can’t impress everybody; except that, after reading 11.22.63, Misery, Under the Dome, Joyland, it should be plenty clear that King can be amazingly genre-defying.
Doctor Sleep is a much more grown-up book. Whereas The Shining could be interpreted as a straightforward haunting, Doctor Sleep is anything but. For one, in The Shining, Jack Torrance is manipulated by the presences in The Overlook, Danny is scared by them. In Doctor Sleep, our characters have already been through so much; they’re a lot more resilient, not quite as vulnerable. Basically, they don’t lose control, they fight back. So while the focus in most Stephen King books is the psychological breakdown of the characters, the demons in them and the ‘getting inside their heads and screwing things up’, which affects the reader too; Doctor Sleep is more about concepts – scary, freaky concepts of life and death, the after and the in between, souls, ‘ghosties’ and most importantly, the shining. The idea of the True Knot, our undead villains, their strange tongue, is incredibly imaginative. That Danny uses his ability to help people die is both disturbing and nice. The big and little ideas strewn over the book, of protecting family, of locking ghosts away inside your mind, the death flies that swarm on people who are about to die and using the ‘wheel’ to swap minds are well crafted. And if you ever wondered just what the shining was, other than a convenient goosebump-inducing plot device, this book will make things much clearer. 
Abra Stone is a wonderful character; with much more personality than the little Danny of The Shining. I like her family too and the way it adds a human element to a book that is otherwise full of characters with special abilities or outright monsters. And I like grown-up Dan a lot more than little Danny, too. While he closely mirrors his father’s life, more than you’d want a protagonist to, there is a key difference between him and Jack. While Jack Torrance was the victim of The Overlook (and himself), while I felt less hatred and more pity towards him, while we can say he tried desperately to stop himself (he did one redeeming thing at the end), he was never the hero Dan turns into. Dan Torrance is a good guy, when all I can say for Jack was that he tried to be good. But I like that Dan can admit he loved his father, with all his goods and bads (and there were many bads) and I like how easily Dan takes on the role of uncle/teacher/protector for Abra. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he looks like Jax Teller. (Which reminds me, all the pop culture references are so entertaining! There were allusions to Harry Potter, The Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Hamlet, Moby Dick, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, The Beatles, hell, even Twilight.)
Basically, Doctor Sleep isn’t just one story like The Shining was. It isn’t an ‘epic’, either, as the Goodreads summary calls it, because it might just be a bit simple to be one. It is definitely a combination of many stories; of the recovering alcoholic, the little girl with more abilities than a little girl should have to handle, a doctor who helps people die (assisted by a cat with the eerie ability to predict people’s death.) On their own, these can seem to be borrowed from many of King’s own books; but that doesn’t mean they don’t fit perfectly together and create something intriguing, complex. And finally, the book is the true ending to what started all those years ago in The Shining. Having read Doctor Sleep, I can’t imagine how I found The Shining complete.

I am so glad I could finish this book just in time to close the R.I.P. Challenge. Happy Halloween! Now let me leave you with this little quote: “Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it started.”

Joyland by Stephen King

Summary: Saying Joyland by Stephen King is a mix of a horror story and a crime novel wouldn’t be quite right: it’s the kind of book that you couldn’t squeeze into one genre. It is about twenty-one year old, mopey, just-broken-up-with-his-first-love Devin Jones who does a summer job at an amusement park, Joyland (where they sell fun.) On his first day, two mysterious things happen. One: Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller and an apparent psychic, predicts that Devin would meet two important children during his work at Joyland, one of them with the Sight. Two: Devin hears of the ghost that haunts the park’s only dark ride, Horror House. A little sleuthing leads him to the tragic murder of Linda Gray, by a man who slit her throat and dumped her in the darkest part of the amusement ride; the murderer was never caught. Intrigued by the stories, slightly suicidal after his break-up, Devin finds himself turning his summer stint at Joyland into a full time job. And that is when he meets Annie Ross and her ten-year-old, Mike, who knows he is going to die, just the way he somehow knows so many other things.
My thoughts: This book was so sweet. It reminded me of how 11.22.63 made me feel at the end and if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. It was deeply moving. Joyland was another one of those reads that show that Stephen King writes more than ‘scary stories’. This was not another book of gory monsters written for those with the emotional range of a teaspoon (know who said that? give yourself a pat on the back!) Nor just another whodunit where the story ends fair and happy when the smart detective figures out who the killer is.

The book was written in a nostalgic tone, as Devin, now old described the most memorable times of his youth. It was almost ruefully funny at times and sad and scary, at others. I adored Mike, the little crippled boy so full of hope. In a way, he might have reminded me of Danny Torrance (so many other Goodreads reviewers say the same thing) for his ability, but somehow he left a much greater impression on me. I liked the people of Joyland, all strange, hilarious and thoroughly lovable; from Fortuna to the owner, the cute old man Bradley Easterbrook. Not to mention, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook; the young promises and friendships were wonderfully dealt with. Throughout, I could visualize Joyland and its carny lingo, its employees taking turns at ‘wearing the fur’ and being Happy Howie, the German shepherd mascot, the spooky lore and the large Ferris wheel, Carolina Spin, which made you feel like you were flying. The mystery itself was noirish and played out roughly: the ‘answer’ which ought to satisfy you, just left me drained.

Mostly, Joyland by Stephen King was a gritty, brutally honest coming-of-age novel. Read it as a book about growing up and tackling life as it comes, and you might love it.

I read this because I finally found it, yay. But also maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge. I’m just biding time now till my copy of Dr. Sleep arrives.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I never actually believed I’d finish reading Under the Dome in the time decided for the read-a-long, but it seemed like a good idea to try. I’ve discovered, though, that I don’t really like read-a-longs. Recording my opinions about the book every few hundred pages in a little blue diary, I realized that they fluctuated a lot. They went something like: 

1. this book is so exciting, what a great start. 
2. okay, things are going way slow, too much dialogue, don’t you think?
3. BAM, that was awesome and so unexpected. 
4. this may not be as cool as The Stand or IT. 
5. No, no, it’s better…! 
The last one, had I kept on keeping notes, would have said: Now, that was a great book.

Goodreads has this summary:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill,
Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the
world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky
in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes
down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from
their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier
is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds
himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia
Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three
brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at
nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is
keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the
Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
I just realized that anything I say about this book is going to sound like every other Stephen King book review on the blog. I could paste paragraphs directly out of my review of 11.22.63 and Cujo and be done with this. Really, all the things I loved about Under the Dome were basically the same: the characters, King’s uncanny ability to show just how people would react in any situation, the mystery and the build up to the craziest climax, the emotions involved and how the final scenes touched me and scared me at the same time. The truly bad guys were extremely horrible and the book was violent, with mass hysteria, rape, drugs, murder and the whole propane smuggling thing. The good guys were, as it turns out, capable of things that weren’t quite good, either. The Dome brought out the worst in everybody. The secrets and lies did tend to be predictable, but I found the familiarity of the situation troubling, which I suppose is how it was intended to make me feel. It was disturbing how I could relate to the characters at their worst. The idea of the Dome and what follows in the little town is ridiculous and amazing at the same time: which, again, are two words that would fit any Stephen King story.
The thing is, though, this is a book for people who are already fans. If you aren’t, you’ll be bored, you’ll want to give up on Page 300, because the plot just isn’t moving fast enough. If you haven’t read The Stand or IT, you wouldn’t realize how the size of the book becomes worth it, in the end. If you’re looking for hardcore science fiction, this is not it. This isn’t the genre the writer’s famous for, so if it’s your first shot, try reading Salem’s Lot or The Shining (which was my first Stephen King novel!) Misery, I suppose, would also keep a first-timer completely engaged throughout, which I can’t guarantee in case of Under the Dome. But if you are a fan and have time on your hands, this is certainly a pretty great read.
I’m glad I finished the book while the new CBS miniseries based on it is still, in fact, new. 

Just a couple of Stephen King books

I discovered Stephen King only over two years ago (it’s sad,
I know), fell in love with horror fiction and read a whole lot of his books in
a very short time. Then I took a two-year-long hiatus from Stephen King (I
talked about him a lot but only read a couple of books here and there) which
ended last week. During the past week I read and re-read some books by King.
These are my mini-reviews of two of them! (more later)
1. Cell by Stephen King
“Mobile phones deliver the apocalypse to millions of
unsuspecting humans by wiping their brains of any humanity, leaving only
aggressive and destructive impulses behind. Those without cell phones, like
illustrator Clayton Riddell and his small band of “normies,” must
fight for survival, and their journey to find Clayton’s estranged wife and
young son rockets the book toward resolution.” 
(from here.)
I don’t usually like books about apocalypses, irrespective
of the genre (I’m reading The War of the Worlds right now.) They can be
predictable, and often, just pointless. But it’s a Stephen King book, so it
would be wrong if I didn’t like it. I wouldn’t call it one of his better books,
but I was surprised by something which you don’t see very often in King’s works
– a very fast pace. A lot of brutal action starts within the first ten pages of
the book. The story gains a momentum that it doesn’t lose until the very abrupt
and effective ending. Needless to say, the characters are as great as the
story. Survivor’s accounts, as I said before, can be repetitive and there’s not
much room for originality. I read somewhere that the book is supposedly Stephen
King’s homage to zombie fiction; I haven’t read enough books about zombies to
be able to tell. But whatever they are, the idea of telepathic enemies is a
good one, and makes this survivor’s tale distinctive. The book has a lot of
energy and is a quick, involving read. Once I was done reading it, I
found myself revisiting the themes of the book in my mind. The book proves once again, that it is crazy to dismiss King as a genre writer. I would recommend it, though, to only those people who are already familiar with Stephen King: if you’ve never read any of his books, don’t start with this one.
2. Gerald’s Game by Stephen King
“The story is about a woman who accidentally kills her
husband while she is handcuffed to the bed as part of a bondage game,
and, following the subsequent realisation that she is trapped with little hope
of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.” 
(from here.)

The shocking number of bad reviews this book has, made me realize that I might just be physically incapable of hating a Stephen King novel. This was a very powerful story, according to me, in spite of the fact that there is little or no plot. In stark contrast to Cell, Gerald’s Game has a slow pace to it that makes one page seem like one hundred. This works wonderfully well to show the terror that builds in the woman, trapped on the bed, for whom every passing second lasts a lifetime. King places you right inside the mind of someone who is scared out of their wits and is gradually going crazy. Put yourselves wholly in the narrator’s shoes and it is psychological horror to the core. I can’t think of anything more frightening. I do think the book is a bit overstretched; it could have been shorter or easier to get through, but it is a gripping story nonetheless. A must read for any thriller, horror fan (who does not read these genres solely for the fast pace.)