Stephen King has written one of my favorite books ever (The Stand) in addition to one of my favorite psychic kids books (Firestarter) and also lots of books that I just like a lot, or are worth reading even if I didn't love them.

He is one of my exceptions to generally not liking horror and, in fact, I tend to enjoy his books in direct proportion to how horror-ish they actually are. This is why, unlike some fans, I tend to not like his short stories and prefer his novels. Yeah, sure, his novels tend to be flawed and sprawling and in need to editing while he can turn out an absolutely perfect little horror story… but I don't really like horror, and if I like the characters, I'm fine with unnecessary passages in which they go shopping and encounter random dangers and have lengthy discussions that aren't all that relevant to the story.

The other thing about King is that I tend to like him proportionally to how much I like his characters: hence my adoration of The Stand and why I like It quite a bit despite its weirdness and the fact that it has a fucking evil clown that makes me really hesitate to re-read because, sorry to be a cliche, but I am scared of clowns. But it has wonderful characters.

But I stopped reading him when he was writing some of his worst books (I might have given up at Tommyknockers), but then after reading his nonfiction book On Writing (one of the very few books on writing which I actually recommend, which explains that he was an addict for a while and it had a bad effect on his writing) and re-reading Pet Sematary for Yuletide (the definition of an objectively good book that nobody wants to read again) I checked up and found that popular opinion said he got good again once he sobered up. This turned out to be correct, and I am happily reading my way through his very large back catalogue.

I am currently engrossed in The Dark Tower and will shortly be blogging that. I just started book four, so DO NOT SPOIL anything about the series in comments here. I didn't like book one much, but loved the second and third books as much as I have ever loved anything written, so I want to wait to write them up for when I have a little more time. (I am about to take off to the Farmer's Market).

Meanwhile, I give you my brief thoughts on The Long Walk. It's a relatively short book in which a America has a Norman Rockwell surface but is clearly a dystopia, because it has an annual event in which one hundred boys must walk without stopping across America. If they stop for more than the count of three, they get shot in the head. The last boy standing wins something good, though no one has ever met a winner so clearly the last one is whisked off and then shot too, I assume. No explanation of why this is done. No one seems to think any of this is weird.

It manages to have an even more implausible premise than The Hunger Games by making this a voluntary event in which many boys volunteer, and the winners are selected by lottery. No one is starving, though some could use the supposed prize money, so I found this implausible. I mean, I believe that teenage boys would do it. I find it implausible that their families would be generally okay with it.

What The Long Walk does incredibly well is portray the walk itself, which happens essentially in real time. The boys are under-characterized for the most part, but the depiction of their slow physical and psychological disintegration under pressure is incredibly intense and well-done.

As a whole, the book falls in the Uncanny Valley for me of being too allegorical/implausible to work as fantasy but too realistic to work as allegory. Still, I give it major props for the sheer relentless atmosphere even though it's not really enjoyable to read for that exact reason.

I had a similar issue with The Gunslinger-- not the Uncanny Valley issue, but that the characters didn't feel three-dimensional/likable and while the atmosphere was very well-done, it was also so relentlessly unpleasant as to not be fun to read. The first part of The Stand is my perfect version of people reacting to an extreme event - it feels incredibly real, and the characters are human and likable enough to make it fun to read. It has a varied tone, which I prefer to even the most well-done one-note when the one note is "This sucks."

(The second two Dark Tower books have EXTREMELY varied tones. Probably too much so for some readers. I loved it.)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)

From: [personal profile] alatefeline


Thanks for the review. I have enjoyed several of his books, nope out of several others, and absorbed critiques on a number of levels. I may still give some of King's books another chance, but on a case-by-case basis.

Happy reading!
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass


That's very useful for calibration, thank you.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)

From: [personal profile] juushika


I gave up on King a few years ago after way too many attempts, having concluded that I hate his characterization, his redundant author surrogates, and his "flawed and sprawling and in need of editing" thing; I admire his horror creativity, but don't like the genre enough to tough out his style.

But I love The Long Walk. (Despite my King ban, I've considered hunting down more of his Bachman books, as I'm under the impression they have a shared style that avoids most of the aforementioned pitfalls.) Survival games/deadly games are one of my favorite tropes, and for me they're all about how people change and survive and fail within contrived, impossible, but very real settings--and The Long Walk just nails that, that relentless impossible claustrophobic lived experience.
torachan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] torachan


Yay! I'm glad you continued on and gave more of The Dark Tower a chance. :D

From: [personal profile] saunteringfiend


I love reading about other people reading books that I love. Can't wait to see what you think of
Book 4.

From: [identity profile] jorrie-spencer.livejournal.com


I loved Firestarter, which I read maybe 12 years ago, but I haven't been able to pick up and/or continue reading much of his stuff since. I did, in fact, read The Stand, and while I appreciated a lot about it, by the end I was dragging myself through it. I tried It and set it aside for reasons I don't remember, same with The Dead Zone.

I do keep thinking about trying another of his, though, including the Dark Tower series.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Hmm. Maybe Lisey's Story? It might be too digressive/self-indulgent for you. On the other hand, it's well-structured and is basically a love story, though not a genre romance because half of it takes place two years after the hero's death and is about how the heroine carries on. The ending is a little anti-climactic, but King has trouble with endings. (Firestarter is the only one I can think of offhand where I thought the ending was perfect.)

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com


I loved his writing book so much, too, that I'm tiptoeing around his work. I got kind of bored with the fantasy, have 11/22/63 sitting on the shelf here . . . do you have a recco for another? For vector purposes, I read Firestarter before it came out, when it was submitted to Larimar. Loved the entire thing except the middle, where all I recollect now is that they were torturing people. So I never tried another.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


The thing with King is that there is always going to be at least one really violent/gross/disturbing scene or section, even if most of the book isn't horror. (That was not my favorite part of Firestarter either.)

Like, Lisey's Story, I think you'd have a similar issue as with Firestarter, which is that the majority of the story is split between the (past) story of a loving marriage with some interesting problems, and the (present) story of a middle-aged widow who is badass and fabulous despite not having any special powers, and how she begins to heal and find her own life after her husband's death two years prior. T

hose parts, I think you'd like. And that's most of the book. However, there are a few short but plot-crucial scenes that are real horror, one involving a squicky injury and one involving child abuse/harm. (If you do read, get the mass market paperback. Apparently other editions have some weird font issues making parts hard to read. LITERALLY hard.

I'll keep my eye out, though. I also want to read 11/22/63.

From: [identity profile] movingfinger.livejournal.com


The Long Walk seems like it could be discussed in the context of the Aliette de Bodard series that [livejournal.com profile] tightropegirl mentioned the other day. The sacrifice as a genuinely necessary thing to keep the world going.

Perhaps that's the next place one goes after "The Lottery." Not only is this terrible thing happening, but it has to happen or something even worse comes into the world.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


That would be King's The Stand: the sacrifice, first of most of the world's population, and then of some of the few survivors to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

The Long Walk is different. he walk does have an implicit in-book reason, but it's not for anything good. America is apparently a military dictatorship and the person in charge is a sadist who gets his kicks out of watching kids die. The ending especially has the strong implication that the entire thing was a completely pointless waste of life. It might be an allegory for the Vietnam war, except that at least some of the people causing that believed that it had a purpose. It's a great allegory for the Iraq war, with the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, except that it was written something like 20 years previously. It does work as an allegory of pointless war in general.

From: [identity profile] resonant.livejournal.com


I could see it as an ultra-patriotic response to an historical event, like the Long March in China. "You younguns don't appreciate how we had to walk for days chased by the enemy, gunned down if we paused for a moment. Let's hold an annual event to commemorate it".

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


Have you read any of Joe Hill's books? (He's King's son, but writes under the "Hill" name because he wanted to be judged on his own terms.) His style is very similar to King's, so he might be worth a try.

I'd particularly recommend Horns, about a dude who starts turning into literally The Devil (growing horns and a tail, skin turning red) while solving the murder of his girlfriend; and NOS4A2, about a woman who has the magic power of being able to find anything lost fighting a vampire.

(My favorite of Hill's is actually his book of short stories, but that one's very very much horror, so maybe not for you.)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


SO LATE, sorry! No, I haven't.

But I am mostly commenting to say that I initially read a woman who has the magic power of being able to find anything lost fighting a vampire. and thought, "Worst power ever, how many things get lost while you're fighting a vampire" before realizing that there was an alternate reading.

It now goes on my hall of fame ambiguous sentences along with "I saw a heron fixing up my deck" and "The cowboy rode through the desert covered in cactus."

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


Hahaha, I would actually love to read a book about such an amazingly specific power. But your second reading is the correct one!

From: [identity profile] negothick.livejournal.com


King wrote the first version of The Long Walk while still in high school, and revised it while in college during the late 60s. It is by his account an allegory for Vietnam, during which working class boys were drafted and sent to war while slightly more affluent ones went to college on scholarships and proceeded to get stoned, drop out, and end up in Vietnam. Or graduate with a low lottery number, ditto. [yes, broad brush strokes over-simplified, but that's allegory for you]. By the time this was published "as by Richard Bachman," King was famous and the war was over. For a mature version of the "college during Vietnam" story, read the heartbreaking Hearts in Atlantis.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


That makes the entire book make so much more sense, thank you. Nothing more confusing than an allegory when you don't know what it's an allegory of.

I have obtained Hearts in Atlantis! King is really good at breaking my heart. I am never going to get over some of the deaths in The Stand.

From: [identity profile] kinston.livejournal.com


I really enjoyed this book! I haven't read many S. King books but the ones that I have read, I really liked. I loved the entire of The Dark Tower series, even the ending of the last book, which most people seem to hate. Don't forget about The Wind Through the Keyhole.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I also loved the ending of Dark Tower! I just did a whole write-up of it: http://rachelmanija.livejournal.com/1255499.html

I have not yet read The Wind Through the Keyhole. Without spoilers, what did you think of it?

From: [identity profile] kinston.livejournal.com


It was as good as the rest of the series, but just unnecessary to the rest of the story. :) It adds a little extra insight, I think.
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