Reality Can Go Take A Flying Fuck At A Rolling Donut

(Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

I could almost skip doing a post on Nightmares & Dreamscapes and tell y’all to just go read the foreword and the notes at the back of the book. As with other short story collections, these are some of my favorite parts of the book, when King talks directly to the reader and reveals some of his mindset around these stories. And I’m quite sure that he’s better at explaining them than I’ll ever be.

But Nightmares & Dreamscapes is something of a favorite of mine, for nostalgia reasons if nothing else. It was gifted to me at the same time Wizard and Glass was gifted to me — for my 14th or 15th birthday, I believe — not one of the first King books I ever read, but definitely rather early in my King journey, yet far enough into it that someone shopping for birthday presents would recognize his books as something I would want, I guess. I remember getting those books and being excited to dive into them. And while I did love Wizard and Glass, it was also a book in the middle of a series that I hadn’t read before, which meant that it was missing something for me (the first three books). I had no such issues with Nightmares & Dreamscapes — there’s no wrong time to dive into a collection of short stories, after all — and I appreciated having so many different stories to explore in one book. I’ve always liked story collections in general for that reason, and of course, I like King’s in particular. So because it’s an old favorite, I won’t simply refer you to King’s notes and move on. Instead, I’ll go through and talk about some of my favorite stories in the volume.

Dolan’s Cadillac — I think I didn’t like this one as much on first read, but with each subsequent reading, it’s gotten a bit creepier to me. It’s an interesting style for King — it’s not so unusual for him to write in first person, but we don’t even learn the protagonist’s name in this story — we do get a last name toward the end, Dolan guesses that it’s “Robinson” and while the character doesn’t confirm or deny this in so many words, the strong implication is that this guess is correct. We do get a first name for the dead wife whose voice is driving the main character, though — Elizabeth — and so it seems as if this is really mostly Elizabeth’s story of revenge. The actual protagonist is just a tool of hers.

The End of The Whole Mess — I feel like, especially when considering the Big Problems of the world, a definite worry is “what if the cure is worse than the disease?” and this story explores that. The disease is essentially people being mean, on both small and large scales — a problem that has gone exactly nowhere since this story was written — and the cure ends up being Alzheimer’s disease. I feel like you see a lot of different Kings in this one. There is what appears to be an essentially kind and peace-loving man who truly seems to hate that impulse for meanness that leads to everything from bullies to world wars. This tracks with all kinds of King works, and I feel safe saying that it reveals something about the man himself. For all he spends his time writing about horrors, this is a man who definitely does not consider himself to be mean, who abhors it in others, and who would really like us all to just get along. There’s the pessimist, who can’t actually see a way to world peace without a severe loss of cognitive abilities. That may seem like a leap, but you see that in some of his work — a sense of “I would like this to be better, but it won’t happen, or if it does, it will get worse in other ways.” I think his writing more often reveals him to be essentially an optimist, but this is a valid facet of his mindset. The optimist also makes an appearance here, though — the plants are all gone, but we saved the greenhouse, and maybe something will grow again here someday. It’s not particularly optimistic for the human race, but it’s overall optimistic that something good will come, eventually.

Suffer The Little Children — See, this is why I want to refer you to the notes. King calls this one a “ghastly sick-joke with no redeeming social merit whatever,” then says that he likes that in a story. I tend to agree on both counts, and I can’t put it any better.

Dedication — I’m a little unsure if this story holds up, but I have always enjoyed it anyway. One line in particular that I’ve always liked is when Martha describes her son’s book and Peter Jeffries’s books as having a feel to them that’s the same — something you catch around the corners. Which is a great way of describing books and authors that aren’t alike, exactly, but have a sort of intangible something that relates them in your mind — maybe the author’s worldview or vision seeping onto the page, somehow, in a way that grabs you even if one book is a western and the other is sci-fi. Or maybe they just both have a way of putting things that tickles a particular spot in your brain. I don’t know if that’s the same for every reader — my mind might catch that feeling about two authors that you wouldn’t necessarily relate to. But it’s always been an interesting thought to me. I feel like you see it a lot with television, too — two series that don’t share a common universe, characters, or creators, but nevertheless remind you of each other. Sometimes, that’s probably just a consequence of the same writers in different writers’ rooms, but sometimes it’s not.

The Moving Finger — I tend to disagree with the popular opinion that King is bad at ending books (which is usually where you learn why things happen). Sure, he’s got some bad endings, and bad explanations for things, but he’s written a ton of stuff — not always getting it right is to be expected. I think he does get it right more often than not, and when he doesn’t, it’s usually still close enough for me — I’m more a journey than a destination person, I care a lot more about what happens and what the characters do with that than why it happened in the first place. All of that to say, this is a story that doesn’t even bother giving a why. And I’m fine with that. When I walk into the bathroom to find the toilet overflowing, I barely care why that is happening — I just care about stopping it. The only reason I might care why is that knowing why might help me stop it. A random finger coming up out of a drain in the bathroom? I promise you that I wouldn’t care at all why that was happening — all I would care about would be stopping it. This story works well for me on that level.

You Know They Got A Hell of A Band/Rainy Season — Putting these two together because they’re essentially variations on the same theme. Again referring to King’s notes, he calls this out himself and also their similarity to “Children of the Corn”. I am not complaining, though — I happen to love Peculiar Little Town stories. I love King’s creepy little towns, I loved the ones from Twilight Zone, I love Ray Bradbury’s. The only real issue I have with King’s Peculiar Little Towns is that we always seem to arrive there via a married couple who are tense with each other during a road trip of some sort. That part’s a bit too similar, unless marital strain on a roadtrip is some sort of portal-opening force. But then, road trips are very Kingian — and come to that, so are squabbling couples. In any case, each Peculiar Little Town has its own Peculiarities, and that’s what really matters. If I have to pick, I like Rock and Roll Heaven in this collection best, but both of these stories make me happy.

Sorry, Right Number — I can see this story happen in my head, thanks to its teleplay format, and I’d very much like to see it on actual TV. It must be out there somewhere, right? I’ll have to look for it. (Slight edit — I did look for it, and since it’s about 22 minutes long and a much smaller commitment than watching a movie, I watched it. It was… pretty faithful to the original script, at least, although they did excise the new husband, probably for run time. I feel like the actors could have been better, and the production values are obviously old, but otherwise, it was fine. I think I liked reading it better, though.)

The Ten O’Clock People — So, I’m a smoker and have been since I was 15. I’m not proud of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready or willing to give it up, either. I guess maybe that’s why I feel some solidarity with Brandon Pearson and the rest of the Ten O’Clock tribe. It would be nice if the habit were somehow useful, like because it let you see who has been taken over by batpeople or lizardpeople or whatever. Also, I noted that King’s commentary says that he wrote this in the summer of 1992. Which means that when Brandon sees that the Vice President is a batperson… he’s talking about Dan Quayle. Which I found hilarious. I mean, I guess he doesn’t have to be talking about Dan Quayle, it could be a fictional VP, but since King seems to usually write in present-day and use real references for wheres and whens that are on (or that resemble) our level of the tower, and since Bat-VP is starting out by defending himself/the administration from the accusation that they hate working mothers and poor people, that really makes me think it’s Dan Quayle. Which made me laugh so hard.

Crouch End — Were you looking for a less-racist Lovecraft? Here you go!

The House on Maple Street — My biggest complaint about this re-read of this story is that I read it on the Kindle, and the Kindle version doesn’t have the excellent picture that this story is based on included. If you look up the story in the paperback version (and I assume the hardback version as well) it should be there. I feel like the writing style here reminds me of a certain kind of story about English siblings having adventures — think the kids from the Narnia books or the brother and sisters from A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s comfortable, the kids are easy to root for, the house blasting off with the stepdad inside should be horrifying, but he’s so awful, you’re happy to see it. And no particular reason for this inexplicable thing happening — it just does, and that’s good enough.

The Doctor’s Case — I’m not much of a fan of Sherlock Holmes, to be completely honest, but I do like this version of a Sherlock Holmes story where Watson solves a case. Because I don’t really care for the original, I don’t know if this is similar to the writing style found in those, if the characterization is way off, or what. But I like the characterization of Watson as a smart guy who’s not cynical enough to see just how bad people can be — that appeals to me.

Umney’s Last Case — I don’t feel like this style of mystery is especially interesting to me usually. But having the author of a 1930-something gumshoe suddenly drop in from the 1990s and take over is a pretty good premise. We’ve explored ideas like this before — “The Word Processor of The Gods” is one where the author writes things into and out of existence, and in both The Dark Half and Secret Window, Secret Garden, the author brings a character to life in some way. This is similar, but different in that the author walks into the story, adjusts things to his liking, and kicks the main character out and into his own shitty 90s life. It’s fun, and you can’t help but root for Umney to get back to his own place and time, fictional though it is, by the end.

There are, of course, more stories in this collection, but I’m already at 2000 words, and I think that’s enough. These are the ones I like best — not a short list — but I’d recommend pretty much all of the other ones too. The only ones I really don’t care for are the baseball essay and poem, and that’s probably just because I care so little about baseball that it doesn’t really matter to me who’s writing about them. I would recommend them to someone who wasn’t bored stiff by any mention of baseball, though.

In The End, It’s The Bitches of The World Who Abide… And As For The Dust Bunnies: Frig Ya!

(Dolores Claiborne)

I’ve read both Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne before, so I knew they were linked. This is the first time I’ve ever read the two books back to back like this, though, so it’s interesting to see how clearly they’re linked. One eclipse connected two completely unconnected lives. It doesn’t make any difference to either story, not really… but it does, in a way. The two stories tackle very similar subject matter, and it’s a way of highlighting to the characters that they’re not alone. It highlights that to us Constant Readers as well — it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about poor families on rural islands or well-to-do attorney’s families, sexual assault and domestic violence are problems that end in tragedy when they aren’t addressed any other way. That’s still as true as it was when King wrote these books. And as it was before he wrote these books. And it shows no signs of going away. So, you know, maybe we need to be bitches about it.

I feel fairly sure I said in my last post that Gerald’s Game was good, but Dolores Claiborne was better. I stand by that. I’m not entirely sure why it’s better, but it is. It may just be that I like Dolores better than I like Jessie? I don’t dislike Jessie at all. But I’m sad to close the book on Dolores Claiborne because I keep wanting to hear Dolores talk, and I didn’t feel that way about Jessie.

Speaking of which, all Dolores does in this book is talk. Did I say that Gerald’s Game was mostly an internal monologue? Dolores Claiborne isn’t internal, but it is a monologue. Literally, the entire thing up until a few “articles” (a la Carrie) at the end is Dolores giving her statement to the police. All events are in the past, all dialog is her telling it as she remembers it. She addresses and answers the policemen and stenographer in the room with her, but we never read their questions or responses — just hers. There aren’t even chapters or section breaks. It’s just Dolores Claiborne talking, for hundreds of pages. And I still wanted more!

Because it’s just her talking, maybe we’re supposed to question whether she’s a reliable narrator. I think she is, though. We could decide that she killed Vera, but if she did, why would she start off by confessing to a murder she’d gotten away with? There’s no statute of limitations on murder — confessing to killing her husband and insisting she didn’t kill Vera could just as easily have gotten her charged with two murders. I think in real life, it probably would have. It makes more sense to me to take it at face value. She killed her husband, she didn’t kill Vera. Besides, I’m basing my opinion on my knowledge of King’s work as well, and his characters may lie to each other, but they don’t typically lie to us. And because of the way this story is structured, Dolores is really talking to us.

I don’t blame her, personally. I’d want to kill a husband who molested my daughter too. I can’t really say what I’d do in that situation — I’ve never been in it and hope to never be in it — but I don’t think there’s anything so wrong with being a bitch about that. Even a murderous bitch. What are you supposed to do as a mother if not protect your children, at all costs? Like Dolores said, “There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.” I feel that. And when I compare Dolores to Sally Mahout (Jessie’s mother from Gerald’s Game) — well, Sally didn’t kill anyone, but I sure think Dolores comes out better in that comparison anyway. Maybe that’s one reason they saw each other — Jessie needed to see a mother who would protect her child, even if she didn’t know that’s what she was seeing. I believe Dolores would have protected her, too, if she’d been around to do so. Somebody should have.

I recall being annoyed on previous readings that the relationship between Dolores and Selena was so broken. Shouldn’t they have been close? Shouldn’t Selena have appreciated what her mother did for her? Now, though, the state of their relationship just strikes me as realistic. I think that’s probably what does happen much of the time, even without the murder. Abuse breaks families, and not just in one way or one direction. It shatters all kinds of relationships. It’s sad, and I still don’t like it, but I’m not mad at King for writing it, because it seems real. I’m mad at Joe St. George, and I’m mad at all the real-life abusers that he stands in for. This book makes me extremely mad at abusers, and abuse apologists. It makes me want to be that kind of bitch who won’t stand for that. Anywhere. It makes me want more bitches like that in the world.

There’s not much supernatural in this book. There’s the psychic connection between Dolores and Jessie Burlingame, but that’s not much more than a hiccup in the reality of the world. And there are Vera Donovan’s hallucinations. Are those real? Well… maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. I used to care for patients with dementia. It’s not that unusual for them to fixate on something random, to feel afraid for no apparent reason, or to try to get up and walk when they really can’t (which is super dangerous!) But we’re given the knowledge — not in so many words, but the implication is so strong that it may as well be — that Vera is a murderer herself, at least of her husband, so maybe the crushing guilt causes extra-strong fear and paranoia and that takes the form of hallucinations.

Or, because we’re in a King reality, maybe there are malevolent wires and dust bunnies that no one but Vera Donovan (and maybe, just a little, Dolores Claiborne) can see.

Dolores Claiborne is a movie as well as a book, and I’ve actually seen this one, though not in a very long time. My strongest memory of it is “Kathy Bates, wow”. She is just as good a Dolores Claiborne as she was an Annie Wilkes — or better — and I’d recommend watching it just for her. I don’t think the movie was a good as the book, but of course, a movie can’t just be a woman monologuing in a police station — not even Kathy Bates — so they had to make changes. I don’t remember it being a terrible adaptation. I just like the book better, no surprise there.

Some Nightmares Are Never Completely Ended

(Gerald’s Game)

Safe. Sane. Consensual.

Seriously, the moral of this story is: if you want to get kinky, make sure that you follow these rules. This whole book may not have happened if the characters in the story had had a safe word and if Gerald had respected his wife’s wishes and boundaries. And if they’d made sure Jessie had an in-case-of-emergency way out. Of course, then we’d have nothing to read.

Stephen King is not known for good sex scenes. He’s really not — even the ones between loving, happy partners come off as embarrassing, awkward, and a little — or a lot — gross. They’re not hot. That actually works in his favor in this book, though. Since all of the sexual scenes depicted in this book are really assaultive, it makes perfect sense that they read as awkward and gross.

Gerald’s Game gets kind of a bad rap, I think because it starts off with a pretty upsetting bondage scene, then describes an incident of child molestation in painful detail. Then throws in a corpse-eating dog and a space cowboy, for the heck of it. I get it, but I actually think it’s a pretty good story. It’s also the first of what you can think of as a domestic violence trilogy — Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder — and it’s directly connected to Dolores Claiborne. As in, connected by a psychic link. Dolores Claiborne is, as I recall, a better book — not to mention a movie starring the excellent Kathy Bates — so it’s no wonder that it’s remembered more vividly and fondly than Gerald’s Game. But I don’t think that makes Gerald’s Game bad.

I do kind of wonder if King knows that bondage kinks can play out in a healthy, mutually pleasurable way. He should know, but the way he writes about it makes me wonder. But if he’s just trying to make the point that in this case, things aren’t playing out that way, well that’s fair enough. Because this was clearly not healthy or mutually pleasurable even before things progressed to the level of attempted rape.

I also sort of wonder about the “voices” in Jessie’s head. King could just be trying to describe Jessie’s internal monologue. It’s an apt enough description of that — I don’t think it’s usual to name the different voices (though what do I know about how anyone else thinks? Maybe it is?) but I do think it’s relatively normal to hear our own conflicting thoughts in various tones that we could think of as conflicting voices. But there also used to be a thing about split personality disorder — I think it’s called dissociative identity disorder or DID now — where the alter personalities had distinct voices and names of their own, and that it was most often caused by sexual abuse in childhood — that’s where the personality splintering started. That more or less tracks with Jessie’s experience, except that her “alters” only talk to her, and don’t take over her body or do things that she doesn’t allow them to do. I don’t know that this is still considered a correct interpretation of this kind of disorder, either, but it would have been out in the ether during the time when King wrote this book, so I sort of wonder if he was trying to give her an internal monologue or a mild case of multiple personality disorder?

Anyhow, this is especially interesting to me as a story because it’s so single-focused. King books often have large casts of characters, but for the most part, in this one, it’s just Jessie, the voices in her head, and her memories. And, you know, the space cowboy. But he doesn’t really talk. I wasn’t sorry to see Gerald go early on — if I were Jessie, I feel like I would have been done with this guy and his sex game as soon as he came home with the cuffs and told her they would be OK even though they were men’s cuffs because she was big-boned. Who says something like that when they want to get laid? But once Gerald dies, we have very little in the way of characters who aren’t just memories or sketches.

As for the space cowboy — I mean, your mileage may vary. It could have been a scary enough story without him, or with him turning out to actually be pure imagination. He did add some urgency to Jessie’s escape, but not much — she would have had to hurry up anyway before she became too weak to even try. But it’s King. Why not have a real space cowboy? I don’t believe he hurts the story in any way. I think it’s creepier this way.

This book also really shows that King has come a long way in writing women. I think he’ll continue to do better after this, as well. But contrast Jessie Burlingame with Susan from ‘Salem’s Lot, and you’ll see what I mean.

Gerald’s Game was made into a movie — surprise, surprise, I haven’t seen it. I’ll probably get to it eventually, but I’m not super excited based on what I’ve heard about it. I think it might be one of those books that’s tough to translate to the screen.

As I mentioned, the book is also linked to other books in the King canon — directly to Dolores Claiborne, and, I think, at least spiritually to Rose Madder. I like all three of these, so I’m excited to be started down that path.

Everyone Loves Something For Nothing… Even If It Costs Everything

(Needful Things)

Needful Things was written well in the past. So clearly, it’s not about now, nor even about the recent past. And yet… who do we know who came to a new town and spent his time there riling up the prejudices, grudges, odd conspiracies and paranoias, and hatred of anyone that he could? Who encouraged violence and Second Amendment Solutions — guns? Hmm… I wonder.

You know, all kinds of comparisons were made between Trump and Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone before and during his presidency. And I re-read the book just to see — those were fair comparisons! They weren’t just broad similarities like you might assume — there were some shockingly prescient likenesses there. And on first glance, Leland Gaunt couldn’t be more different from either Greg Stillson or our real-life analog of him.

But maybe he’s more similar than we think. And, perhaps more to the point, maybe the people of Castle Rock are more like real people than we might like, too.

I mean, Leland Gaunt is not the full extent of the problem here, is he? Sure, he gets people worked up. He’s doing it on purpose. Also, he’s very clearly an evil being who’s not really human. But he’s also not bringing anything new. When people can’t be worked up by him, or when they’re likely to see through him, he stays away, doesn’t he? It’s not just Alan Pangborn, though he’s the obvious resistor — Gaunt also names Sheila Brigham as a “tough sell” — someone who won’t fall for his tricks. Gaunt works by appealing to addictions, obsessions, biases, and paranoias that are already there. If the town was full of people who didn’t have those, he wouldn’t get that far. The problem is not Gaunt alone, it’s also the people of Castle Rock and what those people already have in their hearts and minds.

And just to make things more complex and confusing, Gaunt also works by appealing to real, legitimate pain and desperation that people feel. Polly Chalmers is not a bad person. She’s not showing harboring secret hatreds or addictions. She’s in legitimate pain that nothing has been able to touch — of course, she’d respond to the one person who seems to be able to make a difference. There are others, as well. Norris Ridgewick isn’t a hateful guy. Gaunt appealed to him using his grief over the death of his father. He’s touching real pain points — not because he actually wants to help, but because he knows he can use them. And it’s kind of hard to blame a person in pain for reaching for a thing that looks and feels like a solution. Even if it’s really not, and even if it hurts someone else. After a while, you just want relief, at any cost.

This brings me back to watching the Trump candidacy and presidency. (If you’re going to get irritated with my politics, stop reading. Because I’m going to keep going.) Who did Trump appeal to? The people with prejudices, sure. The conspiracists, definitely. The people who already liked and wanted violence. The xenophobes, the racists, the anti-Semites, the sexists — yep, yep, yep, yep. We already had all of those, of course. He just gave them a figurehead, made it more acceptable to walk around chanting “Jews will not replace us” or shoot people in the streets or storm the Capitol building. He was bad — he is a bad guy. But he was always only part of the problem. He may have given those people permission to do what they already wanted to do, but they were already there and already wanted to do it. That was — and is — a bigger problem. Because they’re going to be with us long after he’s completely gone.

And he also appealed to a few people with legitimate pain points that weren’t being addressed by other means. And now that he’s out of power, looking at how those who opposed him are still not addressing those pain points, despite promising to — well, I can still blame them because I’m only human and the situation that we’re all living in is real. But I can also understand them because they’re only human and the situations that they’re living with are real too. It’s complicated.

So maybe Leland Gaunt is like Trump, or like Greg Stillson, at least in some ways. He’s a monster, sure, in a literal sense — he may look human, but there’s no doubt that he actually is not. But as per usual, it’s the human monsters in King’s work that are truly frightening — all the people who can be twisted and turned against each other, just by appealing to their addictions, obsessions, biases, and pain points. Because that’s very real. We’re all living it. When Gaunt starts going off about the importance of his customers protecting their property, I’m reminded of all of the people who equate undocumented immigrants with home invaders, as if coming here without the right paperwork was a property crime. As if, even if it were a property crime, that property were somehow more important than the lives of people escaping who-knows-what by coming here. It’s very upsetting. Because you can get rid of a Gaunt or any one monster. You can also get rid of a real-life demagogue. But what do you do with a huge chunk of the populace like this? You have to live with them, work around them, or something. I don’t have a good answer. I don’t think anyone does.

I know that Needful Things is also a movie. I remember reading the book around the time the movie came out. I was about 13 and so struck with the book then that I didn’t want to see the movie — I was afraid it would mess up my experience with the story. I still feel like the story is pretty striking. Maybe more so now that I’m older and understand more. But I would like to see the movie one of these days. I’ll put it on the list.

Of course, Needful Things is a Castle Rock story — maybe the most famous Castle Rock story. So many of the characters here will definitely be ones that we remember from previous appearances. We know Ace Merrill, and his deceased uncle, Pop. Danforth “Buster” Keeton has been named before. There are references to past Castle Rock snafus, most notably Cujo. And Leland Gaunt may actually be Flagg — or if not, he’s a thing like Flagg. I suspect they may at least be known to each other. And Alan Pangborn is “the White” here and has to “Stand and be true” which is enough to serve as a Dark Tower reference for me. The connections between Needful Things and the rest of King’s canon are some of the thickest and widest yet here.

I Kill With My Heart, Motherfucker

(The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III)4

The first three Dark Tower books have always been the ones I find most difficult to get through. Of the three, this is the easiest one. I like the beginning of the book where they’re getting Jake from New York into Mid-World. And Blaine the Mono shows up near the end, and I like everything having to do with Blaine the Mono. It’s the stuff in the middle where I lose the plot a bit. I’m less fond of the whole scene with Aunt Talitha and the others. And when Jake gets kidnapped by Gasher, I really get sort of bored.

I think it may just be a little bit too much for one story. It doesn’t seem to me that they’re covering all that much ground, but they do encounter a whole bunch of people in this world that’s supposed to be dying. I think if it were just the scene with Aunt Talitha and her people it would be OK, and if it were just the Pubes and Grays and Jake being temporarily kidnapped, I’d be OK. But there’s both, and I just want them to get on with it to the train they’ve been teasing for a while now.

But, let me remind you, I actually started this series the first time with Wizard and Glass, which begins as the ka-tet is getting close to the end of their run with Blaine. Of course, I figured out pretty quickly that I came in at the middle of a series, and I don’t recommend anyone reading by starting with Wizard and Glass before going back to the beginning. But since that’s what I did — and since it was a little while before I managed to read all three of the books that came before and come back around to Wizard and Glass — I think that WaG is kind of cemented in my brain as sort of a starting point, and by the time Gasher comes along in The Waste Lands, I’m itching to get to that starting point, or something resembling it, which would be the end of this book where Blaine first shows up. That’s a fault of my own mind and my accidental start of the series in the middle, not a real flaw in the books.

I’m sort of fascinated by the mental divide that both Roland and Jake are experiencing at the beginning of the book. Of course, that’s precisely what should happen, given that Jake really is supposed to be dead — twice — at this point, but isn’t. But I think in a different kind of story, Roland preventing Jake’s New York death would just cancel out his existence in Roland’s world at the beginning — it would solve a paradox rather than creating one. I like that in this story, this is where you get the paradox. Of course, it still doesn’t adequately explain what Jake was doing in Roland’s world post-death in the first place, but I’m willing to handwave that, I guess. This is a world where random doors just appear when people are needed from other worlds, and where it’s easier than it should be to cross between worlds anyway because of the whole moving on thing. I’m willing to just believe that death is another type of door that occasionally shunts people into Roland’s world instead of wherever they ought to be going after dying in their own world, and that this occasionally just happens because things aren’t right. They sort of allude to it, too, with the discovery of the Nazi plane and David Quick and whatnot.

Jake’s actual entrance into Roland’s world is quite something. Everyone has something important to do — and at least one ka-tet member’s role here will have far-reaching consequences. I’m of course referring to Susannah’s encounter with the demon — it seems like it’s over, but it’s not. Not really.

And of course, this is the book where we meet Oy. I’m not a huge fan of animal stories usually, either on their own or as a major part of human stories. But Oy isn’t an ordinary animal, of course. And he speaks! Well, sort of. I like Oy. I like that he’s really a full part of the ka-tet, not just along for the ride. And I know that he becomes more important later, but it seems to me that he’s pretty important now — I don’t know that Jake would have been rescued without Oy.

The bit of the kidnapping storyline I’m most interested in is the reveal of Flagg (under another name, but still Flagg.) If you haven’t already, this is where you start to put together how he’s a menacing character not just in a variety of stories, but in a variety of universes. And you start to really see more connections between this and other King works.

Blaine, meanwhile — honestly, Blaine is just fun. A homicidal train that wants to play riddle games? What’s not to like? I almost don’t care why he’s there or how he got to be like he is. It’s a fun concept that is played for all the hilarity and terror that it’s worth, and the combination is just so good.

In large part, this book feels like it accomplishes 3 major things — getting Jake into the world, adding Oy to the ka-tet, and getting the group onto Blaine, which will speed their ultimate journey along. It does that (and then some). I’ll be glad to get to Wizard and Glass — I know that’s a book that’s heavy with backstory, but I also feel like the main story starts moving more quickly after that.

Fear is An Emotion Which Encloses and Precludes Change

(Four Past Midnight, “The Library Policeman”)

It’s just my observation, but when I see Four Past Midnight come up in Stephen King groups or subreddits or whatever, it’s not very well liked. Usually, people will say that there are one or two stories they can’t stand, and that the others are OK. And the funny thing is that the “can’t stand” stories are all different. There’s no universal panning going on of one story — just that each person has one (or more) of the hours past midnight that they truly cannot stand. I rather like the book, myself, but that seems to me to be basically on the strength of only half the stories. Let’s get into it.

The Langoliers — I feel like “The Langoliers” averages out to a fine story. Which means that I really like parts of it, I really dislike parts of it, and the rest is just… fine. And if you add up all that love, hate, and ok, fine, it averages out to… fine. I don’t think it deserves either a lot of hate or a lot of love.

Captain Brian Engle sort of reminds of Captain Rayford Steele, hero of the Left Behind series. If you haven’t read that, it’s a rather bad and aBiblical evangelical series that’s an account of how the rapture and period of tribulation will go down, based on what the authors think the book of Revelation says. They are not good books. I guess the connection in my mind comes from each respective fictional captain starting their stories in more or less the same place — on a plane where a large number of passengers have just disappeared. Rayford is also in a rocky marriage owing to his and his wife’s differences on the subject of religion, while Brian is divorced owing to his and his wife’s differences on the subject of children, which is not the same thing, but feels sort of similar, especially since both pilots lose those wives early in the story — Captain Engle loses his in a fire before he boards the plane, while Rayford’s wife is taken in the rapture. Both Rayford and Brian also spend a lot of the time in their series being in charge of things, being seen by the other characters as a leader even in situations where they aren’t precisely in charge, and are sort of idealized despite not really being all that great. That is, I think, where the similarities end. For one thing, Left Behind is bad, and while I don’t exactly think “The Langoliers” is King’s best work or anything, it’s obviously written by someone with talent. For another, “The Langoliers” has nothing at all to do with religion, as far as I can tell — where religion is mentioned at all, it’s mostly one character’s Jewish religion. I don’t think a rapture is even considered when our Langoliers characters wake up and find that their plane has become nearly empty, which would actually be a little odd if there were more characters — you’d think someone would be a Christian rapture believer — but since our cast of characters is pretty small, I think it’s OK that no one thinks to go there. For the record, Four Past Midnight was published at least 5 years before the first Left Behind book, so Captain Engle definitely came first. I have an idea that the authors of Left Behind wouldn’t admit to reading Stephen King books anyway, and I’m not accusing anyone of copying, but I sort of wonder if one of them did read this story and remember it, at least subconsciously. Because the plane captains were just similar enough to trip that connection for me. But it could just be a coincidence.

Anyway, I dislike some of the Albert/Bethany interactions for being kind of creepily written. My note where Albert is described as having a “lapful of warm girl” is “Ew. Really? That’s gross.” And there’s more like that. In this story, King has taken his bad habit of creating magical black characters and his bad habit of creating magical disabled characters and combined them both with his somewhat more successful habit of creating magical child characters, resulting in Dinah, a little black blind girl who “sees” through the eyes of others and has spookily correct intuitions. A lot of things having to do with her are kind of yuck, though it’s hard not to like her. Then she gets killed off, which I guess was supposed to have a great effect on the others, but I think we could have actually been OK without it.

Other parts are pretty good. I like Craig Toomey as a misguided villain character who get some redemption in death. And I don’t have a particular problem with the Langoliers themselves — the idea of the past just being a dead place, as opposed to something you can actually interact with and change, makes sense to me, so the idea of Langoliers as organisms of some sort who come along and clean up the dead stuff by eating it makes sense to me. I somewhat wonder if the time rip the plane goes through has any relation to the thinnies that exist and that characters go through in other worlds.

Secret Window, Secret Garden — OK, this is my “I can’t stand it” story. It took me forever to read. It’s really made up of a lot of the same stuff as The Dark Half, which I liked a lot, so it took me awhile to figure out why this one was so hard. Again, there’s some good stuff in there — Mort’s musings about writing feeling like stealing rings true for me, for example. At least one of the reasons I don’t like Mort is also one of the problems I have with Captain Brian in the last story — both men seem to hate their ex-wives, and also seem to have hated them while those wives were still current and not exes.

Interestingly, I feel like the story of how Mort caught his wife cheating bears a very strong similarity to how Andy Dufresne (of “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption” caught his wife cheating. Making me wonder why King was so preoccupied with a husband with a gun in his hand catching a wife and her lover in a motel room.

Maybe I’m also bothered by the recurring theme that a man who sleeps with another man’s wife is a thief (she’s not property) that a woman who “steals your love” is a thief (that’s not a thing — cheating is bad, but millions of people move on and find new loves, if you lose your capacity to love that’s on you) and so on. I don’t condone cheating on a spouse, but I also don’t think that Mort is really as damaged and put-upon as he seems to think he is here. And he deals with it by killing people, so I don’t think I’m actually wrong here.

I also notice that both John Shooter from Secret Window, Secret Garden and Craig Toomey from The Langoliers like to say “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to”. Despite more or less being antagonists, these two characters really couldn’t be more different, so this little connection is interesting.

The Library Policeman — If there is one story that comes up as the “I can’t stand this” story more often than the others, it might be this one (by a slim margin). Or maybe I notice it more because I do like this one. I was prepared to like it less on re-read than I have in the past, but that didn’t happen. I assume people don’t like it because of the graphic sexual assault on the main character’s child self — which is hard to read — but the character’s reactions to that, the repressed memory of it, and the subconscious effect that both the occurrence and lack of any dealing with the occurrence strike me as right. I don’t mean they’re necessarily exactly how someone would be affected, but I think it’s a good representation.

Funnily, I like the story while not being a big fan of the two major characters, Sam and Naomi/Sarah. I don’t have any particular dislike for them either, just a sense that if they existed and I knew them, I would not choose to be friends with these people. I wouldn’t choose to hang out with them. I actually feel like that might indicate a strength of character writing — he didn’t give these characters a bunch of qualities designed to elicit strong emotion, I don’t love them or hate them, I just look at them and think, wow, hanging out with these two would be boring and uncomfortable. I feel like that about a lot of real-life people too.

I do think it’s interesting that Sam skates right up to the edge of calling himself an atheist, though. I would guess that he’d just call himself not religious, but he says things like “if there really is a God” in ways that indicate that he doesn’t actually think there is, points out that crosses are just nailed together pieces of wood and metal, and compares them to a rolled up ball of licorice — they’re the same if you believe in them, basically, which I found hilarious. And true. I think horror and spirituality are very mixed up with each other, and organized religion is a super common element, too. Which is logical — I think for most people, monsters and ghosts and what have you prove a world beyond our understanding, and would make them turn to religion or spiritual practices for a more comforting world beyond our understanding. But I like the idea of a non-religious guy being confronted with the supernatural, and instead of turning to any religion, he just decides “eh, I’ll just believe in this rolled up ball of licorice for now. It’s just as good.” And he’s right!

I like the story, though. And Ardelia/whatever she really is, I think is a good monster. I believe I’ve seen a theory that she’s an It, similar to Pennywise, maybe related, and that rings true to me too. And as with It — although to a lesser extent — it’s really the flaws, vices, and incuriousity of adults that allow her to prey on children as easily as she does. I do think parts of it are a little silly. Ardelia’s anger at the deputy, for example, just kind of illustrates that it might be a bit contrived for something this powerful to go through all of the trouble of concealing things the way she does, rather than just taking what she wants? Could they really stop her? But it’s a good story, so I’m fine with them doing it. There were just a few parts that jolted me out of it a little.

The Sun Dog — This is another one that I’ve always liked and still do. And in this case, I like the characters as well. I like all the Delevans, and Pop Merrill is a lot of fun, as is returning to the whole Castle Rock setting. Sure, the concept of a Polaroid camera that takes pictures of some other world is a bit silly — but so is the concept of a doll that comes to life and kills people. Until it becomes scary, it’s silly. There are other examples of this in horror, plenty of them, but Chucky is a particularly good one and I think there’s a good reason that King specifically called it out in this story.

Besides, weird things happen in Castle Rock. At this point, we should just expect that.

Speaking of callouts, Kevin dreams of Oatley at one point, which is definitely a callout to The Talisman. I don’t know how the world of The Talisman is connected to Castle Rock, but I can’t say that I’m too surprised that it is.

Also, I love the description the Polaroid sound as “a squidgy little whine”. It fits so perfectly. Do people use Polaroids anymore? The device might actually date this story a bit, but having grown up in a time when a Polaroid camera would be a big deal kind of present to a teenage kid, it feels very of my time, even if it’s not of the current time.

Anyway, I just like the story. I don’t think there’s a ton here that’s too deep, other than it being part of the whole loose Castle Rock series. But I think it’s fun and scary. Kind of like Chucky.

I also want to say that one of the reasons I have love for this book — even the stories I’m less fond of — is because it’s one of the ones where a note from King precedes each story. I love those notes. I like anything where King — as an author, not through his characters — talks directly to the reader. For me, it elevates the book. Your mileage may vary, of course.

There is a television miniseries adaptation of The Langoliers, which I believe I might have seen part of and given up on, but it’s possible that I just have heard so many bad reviews of it that I’ve invented a memory of seeing parts of it before giving up on it. I don’t think it’s worth the watch.

There’s a movie adaptation of Secret Window, Secret Garden, just called Secret Window, that stars Johnny Depp. It has mixed reviews, and I would guess may depend on what you think about Depp himself nearly as much as what you think about how the adaptation was executed. I haven’t seen it. It’s one of those ones I’ll probably get around to sometime, but I don’t feel any burning desire to see it either.

All in all, I think this book was a fun one. It’s not my favorite, but I could pick it up and flip to any story — even Secret Window, Secret Garden — and amuse and entertain myself for a few hours. That seems good enough to me.

No Great Loss

(The Stand)

The next book on my list is The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition.

Here’s the deal. This post is my post on The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. I have never bought, borrowed, or even seen the abridged version of The Stand, and it never actually occurred to me until now that the first post on that book was supposed to be about the abridged version. I’m sorry for the error, and for not noting in the first post that I wasn’t talking about the abridged version.

However, I’m not sorry enough to actually do a post on the abridged version. I suppose I could hunt one down if I really wanted to, but I don’t. My sense of completionism doesn’t stretch that far, I guess — as far as I’m concerned, I’ve done my due diligence on The Stand by reading the version King wanted released in the first place. I know what things have been cut out of the abridged version, more or less, and I tend to think that King was correct in putting them back in — or at least more correct than the people who took them out. I do not feel a need to read a book that is the same story, but less. If the abridged version is somebody’s favorite, I’d be genuinely interested to find out why, and more power to you. But I’m going to take my stand here and say that, in this particular case, I believe that more is better, I believe that the author had the right of it in the first place, and that the omission of the abridged version of The Stand in this collection of posts is no great loss. So you have the link that redirects to my original post on The Stand — if you want my thoughts on that, do feel free to follow it back there. If I ever do decide to read the abridged version, or if I have more thoughts worth typing up on the unabridged version, I will let you know. But for now, I think it’s time to move on to the next book.

Starting Off Always Felt A Little Obscene To Him, Like French-Kissing A Corpse

(The Dark Half)

It’s difficult for me to imagine writing a story on a typewriter, let alone a pencil. I have actually done both in the past, of course, I’m old enough to have used typewriters, and, at least when I was in school, it was much more common for kids to write assignments, including stories, in pencil or pen than anything else.

But I haven’t seen a typewriter since the one my grandparents had in their house when I was a kid – before I was in middle school, they had a computer, and I did a lot more typing on that as well as the wordprocesser I had in high school. By the time I’d reached a double digit age, about the only creative writing I did with a pencil were my attempts at poetry. And of course, I’ve been using a modern computer with internet capability for most of my adulthood. I don’t try my hand at fiction anymore, but I barely even write notes to myself in pencil or pen. I can’t write this post without several different tabs open in my browser. So the whole idea of a man writing a book with a pencil just sounds bonkers to me.

It must have happened, though. The jumps from typewriters to early computers and then to modern computers and the internet all happened within my lifetime. Typewriters pre-date me, of course, but not by as much as books do. So writing books longhand must have been an ordinary thing at one point. And I wouldn’t make the claim now that nobody writes that way anymore — there are plenty of people who are anti-technology out there. Some of them must write. Someone probably does it.

There’s also the matter of ritual. That’s real. Again, as a writer — even a boring, workmanlike, not very creative writer, I need certain conditions to be met in order to write. If I’m doing my paying work, I have to use Word. I don’t need Word in the sense that my jobs require it — they mostly want me to submit things in Google docs or on their platform. But I can’t write in Google docs, let alone some random platform’s text space. I just stare at the empty space. Instead I write in Word and copy and paste into Docs or the platform. I need Word, and I need specific settings in Word that I picked out. I had a minor freakout just this week when I somehow accidentally switched from print view to web view and didn’t realize what I’d done, so couldn’t put it back until I figured it out. I couldn’t possibly write in web view. Why? I don’t know. I’m not writing this in Word — personal writing takes place in Scrivener. I’ll copy and paste this into WordPress later. Why can’t I just write this into WordPress? Shrug No idea. When King says “writers are as superstitious as professional athletes”, he’s correct — I don’t think of myself as superstitious at all, I think of myself as a skeptic and nonbeliever, if anything, but one look at my writing habits tells you that there’s some superstition under the surface.

There are a few other things too — I want certain tabs open. I need a certain level of noise — too much and too little are both problems. The point is, when Thad Beaumont thinks about the ritual of writing, I understand what he means. And when he says that as Thad Beaumont, he needs his typewriter, but as George Stark, he needs a specific brand of pencil, I also understand what he means. Because the ritual of writing is real. It’s also individual to the author, and maybe the type of writing that they’re doing. King didn’t make that up for this book, he just explained it. I assume he has his own rituals that are just as necessary.

The Dark Half is a book that makes me think a lot about writing. About the process. About the strange whatever-it-is that makes word flow a thing that happens to me sometimes, that I don’t really have a ton of control over, but also can’t avoid. About the ritual. About the division between different types of writing.

Once again, King writes what he knows. So he writes about writers. And, interestingly, I think the story of how Thad Beaumont’s pseudonym got exposed is fairly similar to how King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, got exposed. Although I imagine King didn’t go through all the supernatural twin and sparrow stuff. It should probably be annoying — maybe it is if you zoom out and focus on the many writers in his pantheon — but once you get into the story, you’re too intriugued to actually be annoyed with yet another writer.

Of course The Dark Half is good. It’s got twins. Twins are always interesting — I don’t know if they’re interesting to themselves, but twin stories interest most people who aren’t twins, anyway. It’s got Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who tends to be a fan favorite among Castle Rock fans. Speaking of which, it’s got Castle Rock. It’s also got spooky birds, another good trope of scary fiction.

But underneath it all, The Dark Half is, I think, mostly a story about writing. About where the words come from, the rituals that accompany the words, the feeling that there might be another… entity of some sort who’s really responsible for the words, because when they’re really flowing through you, they don’t feel like they’re coming from you at all. I think The Dark Half may be more a story about writing than even Misery.

I feel like The Dark Half doesn’t get talked about much or show up on the usual lists of recaps and ratings of great Stephen King books. But I think it is a pretty great Stephen King book if you care about Castle Rock, if you care about Alan Pangborn, and mostly, if you care about writing. Of course, if you’re only a casual visitor to Castle Rock, if you don’t care about reading Needful Things and understanding just what’s been happening in Alan Pangborn’s life prior to the events of that book, and if you don’t care about writing, then it’s probably more middle of the road. But it’s still a good story that contains a lot of good story tropes. It’s kind of circular — it’s a very story-like story, with obvious tropes and tricks, that’s also about the process of creating stories.

Because it’s a Castle Rock story, it obviously shares characters and story links with other Castle Rock stories. It also makes mention of Ludlow — Thad’s winter home — where the events of Pet Semetary took place. And this may not be a connection, but Liz Beaumont lost her first pregnancy by being pushed in a store. She didn’t see the pusher and doesn’t know if it was accidental or on purpose. Of course one would usually assume such a thing would happen accidentally. But isn’t there a person in King’s Dark Tower series who liked to anonymously push people in order to harm them? Jack Mort is a New York character, sure, and I’m not entirely sure that he fits into Thad and Liz’s when. Or their where. But the inclusion of a harmful push that might have been intentional does make me wonder if either Mort or one of the darker characters that seem to be associated with him somehow was responsible for Liz’s miscarriage. Or maybe pushing was just on King’s mind at the time. As far as it goes, it’s an unusual stated reason for a miscarriage, at least.

I looked this up to find out if there were adaptations, and lo and behold, there’s a George Romero adaptation from 1993. I’ve never seen it and wasn’t aware of it, but I’m interested to know if it was any good. There was also a video game, believe it or not, published by Capstone and released for — I’m not kidding — DOS in 1992. I can’t imagine what that looked like, or why they picked this novel to be a video game. Wikipedia also informs me that this was announced to be a film adaptation by MGM in 2019. Apparently, that hasn’t actually happened yet, but who knows? That wasn’t so long ago, so maybe it’s still coming. I think this probably could make a good movie. It could probably also make a terrible one, so we’ll just have to hope for the best.

No One Gets Taken Who Doesn’t Want To Be Taken

(The Tommyknockers)

I’m going to get this out of the way up front — I don’t like The Tommyknockers. It took me multiple tries to read through it the first time, and when I was done, I used the book to prop something up in my kitchen because I was just never going to read it again. Then I started this project, and I had to read it again if I wanted to keep going, so I bought the e-book because my physical copy got destroyed by being a prop for so long. I disliked it just as much this time.

That’s not to say that there isn’t good stuff in here. There is. I think the general concept of the aliens is even a good idea. And there’s a huge amount of connection to the rest of King’s multiverse here — and even more meta connections, like a mention of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. But the book is a mess. It’s meandering in a lot of places. It’s convoluted. The narration is… weird. I hate Gard, and Bobbi pisses me off, so I can’t even hold on to the main characters as a guide through the weirdness.

I’m not alone here. Stephen King has even said that this is his worst book. It’s got problems not just in the sense of me not liking the story or the main characters, but just in a technical sense… in a storytelling sense. But of course, some Constant Readers really do love it anyway, so I’m almost certainly going to be downvoting somebody’s fave here. All I can say is that I can’t help it. I have some love even for the stories I don’t care for much, and there are little pieces of this story that I feel that way about, but mostly, I just don’t like it.

Part of what bugs me is Gard’s (and Bobbi’s, for that matter) general rantiness about nukes, technology, the Dallas Police… I take notes in the Kindle as I read these things, and over and over again, my notes for this one say “I’m sick of hearing about the Dallas Police” or “This is way overboard on the subject of nukes” or “what, did you want no technology instead?” I am aware that for a person of King’s generation specifically, these topics are bugaboos in a way they really aren’t for mine. But the kind of ranty anger that just insults people and shuts them down — while drunk at parties, no less — does not strike me as an effective way to deal with these problems. Maybe that was part of the point — nobody was dealing with them effectively, and a lot of people were mad and ranting about it. But it’s just not fun to watch. And honestly, Gard and Bobbi’s paranoia about the Dallas Police makes me nervous. I do get their problem with the actual Dallas Police, but equating that to everything and everyone in any kind of authority ever is how you get Qanon. Or almost help a race of dead aliens take over a town, I guess.

The same goes for the addiction/alcoholism in this one. Look, King has a lot of different allegories and metaphors for addiction in his work, not to mention actual depictions of addiction. He’s a man who has dealt with it in his own life (including while writing this book, probably) and it’s as much a part of him, and his art, as his political worldview. I don’t mind that. What I mind is that this is a bad, boring depiction. Gard is a shit, frankly, who does nothing or makes things worse through most of the book — while being drunk and having anger issues at the same time — and there’s no reason for him to be the hero at the end except that he’s the Designated Hero. I think it might have been interesting if Gard had had a revelation as the shit hit the fan about helping the bad guys against his better judgment because his better judgment was compromised by anger and obsession and alcohol… while someone else was the hero. He could have died or lived with that knowledge and it would have been interesting. But he didn’t need to also be the hero. He didn’t deserve to be. And it was just unbelievable that he could have been.

I looked up dreams about losing teeth for this, because Bobbi starts having them even before she actually starts losing teeth, and then of course everyone starts losing teeth. The consensus seems to be that losing teeth in your dreams is an anxiety thing. That tracks for me, because this is a hugely anxious book. Gard is anxious about his own crap, but also about technology, nukes, weapons, war, and abuse by police/authorities. All fair enough things to be anxious about, then or now. Bobbi is anxious about those things too, and also seems to have residual anxiety about her lousy home life and sadistic sister (I actually think more background on her childhood and more insight into her relationship with sister Anne would have made her a better character — amazing that this book could have so much stripped of it easily, but didn’t have enough here.) And as more people become affected by the Tommyknockers, we see their anxieties too. I actually like the book better if I think about it as kind of a metaphor for what having anxiety is like, because anxiety makes everything fraught and crappy. Which is kind of how this reads most of the time.

This bit doesn’t matter much, except it drove me crazy — if you read this, did you notice that in narration, King spends a huge chunk of the book calling Bobbi “Anderson”? It makes no sense at all — she doesn’t think of herself that way and no other character in the book thinks of her that way — they all call her Bobbi or occasionally Roberta. Jim Gardner, at least, calls himself “Gard” and so does “Bobbi” so it makes sense when the narrator does it. But calling her Anderson when the narrator is speaking… it’s weird. And it’s not a King-specific weirdness either… he doesn’t normally do that. Normally, the narrator would use the name that the character used for themselves or that other characters used for that character. It’s strange.

The connections that The Tommyknockers has to the rest of the King multiverse are many, and that, at least is interesting. We knew there was a connection between Haven and Derry going in, because Eddie Kaspbrek has aunts there. And, uh, there’s some mention of chuckling in the drains that makes me think that It hasn’t quite cleared the area. But it’s not just that. Before Gard even gets to Haven, he wakes up near the Alhambra — and meets someone who is, in all likelihood, Jack Sawyer. There’s also a connection to Ludlow (Pet Semetary) and some pretty serious strings between this and The Dead Zone. Oh, and The Shop comes in near the end — something that can pretty reasonably be equated to the Dallas Police, if you’ve read Firestarter. Also, in what I think is another meta shout-out, a character compares Bobbi and her westerns to “that fellow who lived up in Bangor” and wrote books full of “monsters and dirty words”… King himself, probably? That was fun.

Can I just complain about one more thing? The Coke machine security guard? I hated the killer Coke machine. There is probably a good way to make a Coke machine scary. I imagine that a man who made an industrial washer scary is the man who could do it, too. I’m not doubting King’s ability. But this wasn’t it.

The Tommyknockers was made into a miniseries in 1993. I remember seeing parts of it. The parts I saw weren’t good, and I don’t have any particular interest in even putting this on my list of adaptations I need to watch for some future phase of this project — though I may change my mind when I get there, of course. Jimmy Smits is undeniably awesome, but he’s not who I would choose for Gard at all. New adaptations of The Tommyknockers have been announced, but nothing has happened. I agree with King that if you trimmed out all of the junk in there, you could probably find a good story. Since King himself doesn’t seem to be rewriting this one, it would be cool to get a good adaptation — but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Art Consists of the Persistence of Memory


Misery is fascinating to me on at least two levels — as a story, yes, but also as insight into the way both writing and reading for pleasure works.

King will, of course, take his lumps for having so many writer protagonists in his pantheon. He really does do that a lot. Write what you know? Well, King knows being a writer. To be fair to him, though, I think that a lot of writers do this. I don’t have statistics… but I’ve read a lot of books, and it seems clear to me that writers of fiction invent fictional writers an awful lot. Write what you know strikes again. At least when King does it, you get some really vivid insight into the process of writing and the way a writer’s mind works while it’s happening — as well as some insight into a writer’s readers which probably comes not only from the King fan base but from King himself, since he’s known to be an avid reader himself.

His descriptions of writers and readers ring very true to me. I take that to either mean that they’re accurate, or at least that they’re accurate enough to apply to me, so they’re at least truthful to some writers’ experiences, if not all.

And sure, I’m not a novelist… I don’t even play with fiction much these days; this blog where I record my thoughts about another writer’s work is the closest I’m getting to writing anything fun these days. But I do get paid to write for a living. I do know what it’s like to look for that hole in the paper. I think in terms of word count, not page count as Misery’s Paul does, but it’s the same concept. I know what it’s like to get on a roll and surprise yourself with your output — even when your output is less-fun subjects like gutter cleaning services and erectile dysfunction drugs ordered over the internet. Shockingly, you can still get into the zone when you’re writing about those things. I also know what it’s like to hit a wall or be blocked for an idea. I play Paul’s game of Can You? Except mine might be more like Can You interest the reader in Texas real estate? But I get it as applied to fiction, of course. So much of this book is focused on Paul’s process, and I find that at least as interesting as his plight.

I’m also interested in King’s depiction of readers, which I think is much less commonly explored. I don’t mean crazy number-one fans that hold their favorite author captive. I mean how so many of us can be invested in fictional book characters that we can’t help but grieve when they die. I mean feeling empty and lost after finishing a good book — which is sort of like being forcibly ejected from the world you were in. I also mean the people who want to know the end before they read the story. King, and a lot of other authors, seem to hate this particular trait in a reader. But I just want to say that if you are an anxious person (I am) checking ahead to find out a major part of the end — does the character die/escape/get convicted/etc. — can calm you down and allow you to finish the story in peace. I can only speak for myself, but I have never stopped reading anything because I found out the end in advance. I don’t care if I happen to run into spoilers before I get to the end even if I wasn’t looking for them — I’m very much an “it’s the journey, not the destination” person, so a few words that let me know where the story’s going doesn’t take anything away from the trip through the book to get there, at least for me — but I have, when I felt anxious, looked up an ending or outcome so that I could stop worrying and enjoy that journey.

It wouldn’t surprise me much if Annie Wilkes sometimes had the kind of anxiety about stories that could be soothed by finding out the end before finishing the story, too.

Speaking of Annie Wilkes, I kind of love her. I am positive that the portrayal of her mental illness is not super accurate and probably problematic. He was trying to use mental illness to create a human monster, and while that can happen, I suppose, most people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and it doesn’t help any of the real ones to make fictional victims of mental illness evil, violent, and practically superhuman. This is (one of the reasons) why people get shot when the police go out to do a wellness check on a person suffering from mental illness, when they should be getting help.

And yet… Annie Wilkes reminds me of someone I actually knew who did actually have bipolar disorder (which would have been called manic depression back when this was written. It’s outdated now, but not his fault the language changed.) Not the violence. That doesn’t remind me of this person at all. And not the things she said or did, really. But her presence. Her solidity. And those strange blank episodes. I want to emphasize that the person I’m thinking of was a lovely person, not an Annie Wilkesian monster. I’m just saying that King got something right — something familiar — about this woman. Which is maybe why, as far as villains go, I can’t help but like her.

Another reason why is probably Kathy Bates’ portrayal of her in the movie adaptation. I have seen Misery, though not in years — and of course, I didn’t rewatch it for this, put it on the list of movies I’ll watch if I finish going over all the books — but Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes is unforgettable. And I can’t help but find her compelling. Kathy Bates is a powerhouse of an actress, and I highly recommend watching her in Misery. Or anything.

Misery takes place in Sidewinder, CO, which is the same place that The Shining took place is, and the burning of The Overlook — and the caretaker — is specifically mentioned. It’s more of a reference than a connection — it lets us know that these stories take place on the same level of the tower, and that’s about it. It’s interesting to me that The Shining is one of King’s relatively few books with a sequel — possibly the only sequel to an actual horror novel of his, and so much later — when The Shining connections in the King canon are mostly just shoutouts like. Big and very famous novels like The Stand and It have meatier connections to other works, but no sequels. Go figure.

Speaking of It, Paul also throws out a memory of his mother going to Boston with Mrs. Kaspbrak across the street. Did Paul grow up in Derry, then? Or did Eddie and his mother move to wherever Paul lived when they left Derry? Or did King just reuse a name? I like to think that Paul grew up in Derry, although I think perhaps the second explanation — Paul happened to live wherever Eddie and his mother moved to when all of the families (except for Mike) were leaving Derry — probably creates fewer plot holes.

My last thought is about the novel within a novel. I personally don’t read a ton of the kind of fiction that appears to be. I don’t want to be snobby about it though — when I worked night shifts, I read a lot of that kind of romance/adventure book because they were easy to follow when your brain was tired and entertaining enough to keep you awake. Also, different books for different people with different tastes — you do you. But if I’m not killing time in the middle of the night, I’m probably not picking up the Misery books. I did think, this time, about how Misery really sounds like a name that V.C. Andrews’ ghostwriter would give a character, though that would be a different type of book than Paul Sheldon’s Misery. I got kind of distracted for awhile, imagining the V.C. Andrews-brand Misery story.