Category: Stephen King

“Misery” by Stephen King Review

Misery

Misery

Author:  Stephen King

Released:  1987

**Spoilers for Halloween H20 follow (seriously)**

This will seem random, but upon finishing Misery I was reminded of the film Halloween H20. Halloween H20 was a pretty successful entry in the Halloween series (and the slasher genre). The film brought back Jamie Lee Curtis, and featured hot young actors like Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams and LL Cool J, and was overall a pretty slick installment. When I think of the movie, the first thing that comes to mind is always Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s confrontation with Michael Myers. During the course of the altercation, O’Keefe’s character gets her leg cut, then savagely mangled by a dumbwaiter, then stabbed multiple times, before finally being hanged/displayed. It was by far the most memorable scene in the movie because it was intense, gruesome, and very scary. It is also memorable because hardly anybody else dies in the movie (if you’re a recognizable actor, odds are you survived until the credits on this film).

Compare Halloween H20 with a film like Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Once you get past the (awesome) opening where Jason is inadvertently resurrected via a bolt of lighting, Jason goes on a prolific killing spree, with sixteen victims overall. Rather than one memorable death scene, the film features such classics as Jason decapitating three guys with one machete swipe, impaling another couple on the same pike, using broken bottles as a stabbing implement and several other original kills. I’ve rewatched it at least a dozen times, and would regularly include it on my list of favorite slasher films, a list that H20 would never make it on.

If you ask the average viewer, or even a hardcore horror fan which film is “better,” you’re likely to get an even split. Rotten Tomatoes gives Jason Lives the edge at 52% to 51%, and that feels about right with my own experience of discussing films in this genre. Current trends in horror films probably have more people preferring the Halloween H20 version, as films like Saw or Hostel tend to focus on the lengthy agony of one person rather than the quick hitting fatalities of many.

That’s a long winded way of say that Misery is a good book that I didn’t care for. It’s well written, it has characters that feel like real people (having famous people play them in a movie helps that), and it really specializes in bringing the pain on one person in particular. Around the time the torture in this book really escalates from psychological to physical, I stopped enjoying this book. Despite not being a very long read, spending page after page with a protagonist in pain and an antagonist who pops in to sometimes cut off his body parts was way less enjoyable than King’s other books with larger casts that I’ve read.

Even with the single victim being tortured for a novel concept, there was so much about this book I really enjoyed. For starters, books about writers tend to feel so authentic because the author obviously knows what he’s talking about. Here I got a sense that many of Paul’s fears, beliefs and idiosyncrasies could very well have been true to King’s actual self. The idea of the book is great, with a crazy fan forcing somebody to create something just for her. That fan, Annie, is one of the best villains I’ve read in a book. King not only creates a consistent personality for her, but he also wrote a terrifying backstory (the Dragon Lady in the nursery ward!) and enough physical tics that I think I would have visualized somebody like Kathy Bates in my mind even without ever seeing the movie.

The problem is that no matter how well made a book or movie is, and how great the characters are, as a viewer or reader reacting to the end product my actual enjoyment is still important. I don’t need to like characters in a book to enjoy it, or for there to be a happy ending, but I do want to enjoy reading it or else I should be spending my time doing something else. At times I actively dreaded reading more of Misery, not because it was scary, but because it was such an unpleasant situation to return to. Annie and Paul both had to know what happened at the end of the book, I was just relieved to get there.

3-star

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“Thinner” by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) Review

Thinner

Thinner

Author:  Steven King

Released:  1984

Along with ChristineThinner is the Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) book whose concept made me think “he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel with that.” Well before reading the book, I felt like I had enough an idea of how this book would go and that I’d never need to read it. However, at some point I thought it would be fun to read all of King’s work, so I didn’t end up skipping over this one. The fact that Christine ended up being a very pleasant surprise probably got my hopes up too much for this one, because indeed, this is just a book about a fat guy who gets cursed and loses weight throughout the book.

Ok, so there’s a LITTLE more plot than that, but not much. The fat guy is an attorney named William who was getting a handjob from his wife when an old gypsy woman jaywalked into his car’s path. Most likely, if the driver wasn’t being serviced, or if the gypsy wasn’t jaywalking, or if any other tiny detail were changed the accident would have been avoided. But, it happened, and the officers that showed up didn’t really investigate it, and the judge ends up throwing the case out, and everybody just wants the Gypsies to leave town and the incident to be forgotten.

For the Gypsies however, there is no forgiveness, no chance of it being forgotten. As the protagonist finds himself losing weight a few lbs a day, the sheriff finds his face erupting into boils and severe acne, and the judge develops an interesting skin condition (that probably would have led to a more interesting story than this one if King switched the pages to character ratio). The villain is certainly fun here; a 100+ year old Gypsy, stubborn as can be, and his traveling carny relatives were much more memorable than anything else in the story.

In order to stretch this idea out into novel length, King spends a lot of time on tracking the gypsies from town to town over the course of a few weeks. This section of the book really tested my interest, as there’s only so many times you can read about other people cringing and walking away from the sickly stranger in town before wanting to walk away and read about literally anything else. While the introduction of a criminal underworld character to assist the protagonist helped catapult the plot forward and provide some fun action scenes, I found his entire character arc (from willingness to jump into the plot through his final scene of handiwork) to be less believable than the concept of a gypsy curse for weight loss.

Conversely, the scenes of William and his wife dealing with this unique problem, and William’s attitudes towards his wife (who he blames first for causing the accident and later for everybody who doesn’t believe him) were the source of the most character development and realistic aspects found in the book. Much like in The Shining, some of the scariest moments come not from anything supernatural but from the capacity for hate from the protagonist.

**Slight spoilers follow**

I found the end of the book to be a bit of a letdown, as it seemed there were two routes King could have gone that would have felt more satisfactory. There were two possible targets in the house that a curse could be transferred to, and choosing either one would have been either 1) a compelling 180 with William turning from good guy dad/husband to vengeful villain, or 2) a devastating final victory for the Gypsy patriarch. King opted for a third option to spread the love around and while it is certainly fatalistic I think it lacked the impact that one of the other two options would have provided.

3-star

“The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower Book Two” by Stephen King Review

The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II

Author:  Stephen King

Released: 1987

I didn’t find The Gunslinger to be particularly great, so I wasn’t looking forward to reading its sequel. My issues with the first book were the lack of clear narrative, instead favoring hallucinated characters and vague descriptions/motivations by the archetypal protagonist and antagonist. Thankfully King remedied those issues (for the most part) in book two The Drawing of the Three by introducing a couple of people that have no idea what the tower is or what exactly is going on.

This book starts off with a surprising scene where Roland (the Gunslinger) encounters a large lobster creature (not huge, just bigger than real life lobsters) while his guns are wet. The result of the attack is Roland loses some fingers and toes and spends the rest of the book dealing with the effects of being weak, poisoned, ineffective with one hand and worried about his wet ammunition. The scene is fairly shocking, because everything we read about Roland in the first book indicates he is somebody more than capable of defending himself. (Truthfully, the rest of the book doesn’t really jive with what happens early on either, as it’s established that Eddy can kill one of these things just be clubbing it with a gun, and Eddy is most definitely not a legendary gunslinger.)

Who’s Eddie and where did he come from? While Roland is making his way toward the tower down a seemingly never ending beach, he encounters three doors, each of which grants him a window into the mind of a person in New York during different years of the 20th century. Think “Being John Malkovich,” but with easier control of the viewer and the ability to pull things (or people) into the Gunslinger’s world. The three individuals Roland meets are very different though besides Eddie the rest of the characters seem to have obvious connections to each other or Roland.

Eddie himself is a heroin junkie who Roland finds himself in (as in, seeing through his eyes) as Eddie is trying to smuggle drugs on an airplane. This entire sequence was the high point of the series for me until later in this book a scene where Roland inhabits a man at a drug store and ends up reminding a police officer of Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” Besides a heroin junky, Roland needs the assistance of Odetta Holmes a double amputee with schizophrenia (and a cartoon caricature level hatred of white people), and the third I’ll leave for a surprise though I’ll say that things can always get worse.

Whereas the first book opted for dreamy language and plenty of abstract thought, The Drawing of the Three is much more plot and action driven and read much faster, despite it being longer than The Gunslinger. The most difficult sections to read involved the split personality of Odetta, and even the other characters comment at times that she doesn’t seem like a real person based on how hateful she is. While I’m sure that was King’s intention to make Odetta cartoonish the overall presentation of her character turned me off as a reader. Not only was it impossible to empathize with her personality or actions, but it was also unpleasant to read her dialect and repeated use of the same insults and language for hundreds of pages. That character aside, this was a big improvement in the series and has me looking forward to instead of dreading the next chapter.

4-star

“The Running Man” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Running Man

The Running Man

Author:  Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

Published:  1982

I read this book as part of a larger book collecting the first four books published with Richard Bachman as the credited author. Through those four books, King published two books about men snapping and doing violent things (Rage and Roadwork) and two dystopian future books that revolve around contests where the losers are killed if they stop moving (The Long Walk and The Running Man). I hated the two books about men snapping and really enjoyed The Long WalkThe Running Man was certainly closer in quality to The Long Walk but reading it second I couldn’t help but feel that the whole book had a very familiar quality to it.

For fans of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (1987), reading the book version is an entirely different story with very few similarities. I found that to be a plus as the story was very unpredictable and I was always guessing about how the book would progress. Gone are the gladiator figures with high tech weapons and costumes, gone is the superhero physique of Arnold, gone even is the arena that the game takes place in. In the original King work, the concept was very different. A man is given a several hour head start and needs to stay alive for 30 days. He can go anywhere and do anything to stay safe, but he must mail in two tapes a day to the games people (which requires him going to a mailbox or post office). Although there are some professionals hunting him, they are normal guys like Ben Richards (the protagonist). The super high rated television program that is the basis for this contest edits the tapes that the people send in, and motivates people to report where the runner is in exchange for cash rewards.

As in the film, the show is a symbol of the oppressive government that lies to the rest of the populace, and the runners are made out to be terrible criminals when they are not actually criminals. Beyond that there is also a bad guy named Killian, and there’s another runner playing at the same time who is not given much story time. Overall I preferred the film version, though whether that’s because I saw it first or because this book reminded me of a less interesting version of The Long Walk I can’t say for sure. There are a few plot points that also didn’t work entirely well for me but they require some major spoilers to discuss.

**Major Spoilers follow**

Richards is basically the ultimate Running Man contestant, per the people that run the games. They decide this after he’s succeeded for 8 days. OK, so nobody’s ever made it for 8 days before and this is some exciting show people watch every night? Also, the show would basically be a news program as the videos runners send in are often devoid of any words or action. It’s not like there’s even a lot of people to interview, as typically the ones who blows Richards cover are taken and interrogated right afterward. The entire thing kind of fell apart for me at that point in terms of a credible future society. At least with The Long Walk there was the possible thrill of an ESPN sports like broadcast for the action. Also, if the games people knew Richards was bluffing as soon as he got on the plane, it seemed very stupid to allow Richards to have additional leverage by allowing the plane to take off rather than making their proposal with the plane still on the ground. (I also find it interesting that Rage is a book that has been pulled from distribution due to its controversial subject matter, while Richards final solution, something very reminiscent of certain tragic events from 2001, hasn’t led to the same controversies.)

**End of Spoilers**

King utilizes a countdown device to title the chapters, beginning at 100 and working his way down to zero. Upon finishing the book I’m not sure why this device was used, and even the choices for where to end certain chapters felt random. The book lacks any interesting supporting characters, as nobody sticks around for more than a few pages to assist Richards; even those that do assist him usually do so with little explanation for why they risk themselves. Despite its faults however, The Running Manworks on some levels because it is pure plot and reads at a brisk pace. Out of the 100 chapters, 98 of them are rooted in desperation or action, with only two short dream chapters that felt slightly out of place with the rest. As a quick read it’s fine, but I also understand why it’s not a book that people mention when discussing King’s best work.

3-star

“The Talisman” by Stephen King and Peter Straub Review

The talisman

The Talisman

Authors:  Stephen King & Peter Straub

Published:  1984

A boy must travel to another world that exists parallel to our own to find a magical talisman in order to save his mother. Not the plot one would expect from a Stephen King book, even one that he coauthored. Here the other world is a place called the Territories, sharing more in common with a fantasy land than the America Jack (the protagonist) is used to. Jack begins the book in the New Hampshire (hey, we’re at least a few hours from Maine) and must get to California. In order to get there he’ll travel both in the real world and in the territories, sometimes on his own, and at other times accompanied by Wolf (a werewolf) or Richard Sloat (the son of the man trying to stop him). There’s a man trying to stop him? One could guess by the description that he’s an evil doer, trying to rule the world and **spoiler alert for anybody whose never read a fantasy book before, I guess** only the Talisman can stop him.

The book I was most reminded of when reading this was Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The two books have nothing in common except for why they didn’t work for me. In both books the author sets out to tell a child’s story but did so in a way that a child would not understand or be appropriate for. Instead of veering toward young adult, this book was firmly in the adult content genre. I’m an adult so that should have been fine, but it was also saddled with this boring and formulaic story straight out of a kid’s book. I enjoy kids books, but at nearly 700 pages the “will Jack find the Talisman?” story became downright tedious.

The villains in this book were over the top cliches, even in the annals of Stephen King bullies. Until the two sidekicks are provided to Jack the book has zero stakes because the length and subject matter guarantee Jack will keep advancing to California. The most interesting aspect of the book is the reciprocity between the events in the Territories and those in the real world. This is alluded to at one point for being the cause of World War I. After the cataclysmic ending of this book, I was looking forward to seeing how all of the casualties in the Territories would affect America; unfortunately King and Straub gloss over this beside mentioning emergency personnel being needed to respond to the area of the final confrontation.

This book has a pretty high average score on Goodreads, so I’m sure a lot of people enjoy something about it. I found the plot to be very generic of the fantasy genre, and the main characters (Jack and Morgan) particularly unoriginal. The book also presents the most unoriginal version of the magical Negro character that King has yet rolled out, and considering the regularity of the character archetype’s appearance (The Shining, The Stand, The Green Mile) that’s saying something. The only character I found at all interesting in this was Richard Sloat, and that was mostly because I was wondering if he would turn on Jack or not. Even the resolution to his story provided little conflict on whether to side with Jack or his dad. I guess there’s a sequel to this book that takes place much later, hopefully it’s an improvement on The Talisman.

2-star

Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) Review

Roadwork

Author: Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

Release Date: 1981

Roadwrk1

Warning, this is one of those books I can’t complain about without also spoiling the ending.  Spoilers marked accordingly below.

 I had a feeling of déjà vu while reading Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman).  Following on the heels of The Rage, The Shining and even The Long Walk, King has now told multiple books about seemingly sane characters snapping and losing all appreciation for right or wrong, life or death.  In this story, Barton George Dawes is forced to come to grips with a highway expansion that will require him to sell his home and relocate his employer.  From the beginning of the story it’s clear that Dawes is lying either to himself or to everybody else.  After buying some powerful firearms, he concocts a story that will cause the laundry corporation that he works for to miss out on the new property that it has an option on. The result will force the company to go out of business, but have little practical effect on the corporation that owns it.

 If that sounds like a stupid plan, it’s because it is.  Similarly to the main character in (the terrible) The Rage, here the protagonist frequently makes decisions that will cause hardships on other characters with no care for that effect on their situation.  Whereas the shooter in The Rage actually killed people, Dawes actions are more in line with ruining his wife’s and coworkers’ finances.  (There is a ridiculous statement about his coworkers having unemployment coverage that will take care of them better than the laundry ever could, but it only underscores how little Dawes cares for these people or understands their situations.)  As the book progresses, Dawes tries to simultaneously thwart the city’s highway expansion, while also weigh the moral implications of his actions.

 I’m starting to pick up on a trend that the Bachman books are supposed to be bleak.  Through the first three, only The Long Walk has been what could be described as an enjoyable read.  However the problem is not in the dark subject matter of the stories but instead in the execution.  **Spoilers follow for the ending of the book**  Dawes solution at the end is to blow up his house (with him in it) before a televised news crew.  The way he makes sure a news crew is present is to shoot at the lawyer and police officers he told could come take possession of his house when they arrive.  This book takes place in the 1970’s, so I think calling in a tip to the news station could have had the same desired outcome.  Although it doesn’t appear he kills any of civil servants, he shoots at least one in the arm with a Magnum (the book points out repeatedly how powerful the firearms he has chosen are).  Apparently we are to overlook or empathize with Dawes because he lost a child several years back.

 This book may have been a better read if told through the perspective of Mary (Dawes wife) or if he actually spent any time sympathizing with her.  While they both lost a son, Mary’s pain is overlooked because of how much their son was “George’s boy.”  When she loses everything and is forced to move in with her parents, Dawes solution is to split the money he received for surrendering the house with her as well as their bank account, and then give the rest to a hitchhiker he slept with shortly after they split up.  It is obvious King wants readers to either sympathize with Dawes or forgive some of his actions, but he never gives reasons to do so.  If his intent was to just tell a story about a selfish man who decides to kill himself, then he should have made it more entertaining than what is present in Roadwork.  In various introductions to the Bachman books, King expresses disappointment in this story but says it gives readers a window into his mind at the time of publication and later calls it his favorite Bachman book.  Although both statements can be true, I would only concur with his initial evaluation.

 The only positives I can say about this book involve a few entertaining scenes that had me optimistic King’s story would develop into something better.  Early on when Dawes is coming up with stories to fool a gun seller (for no real reason) and later Dawes’s supervisor (in order to make them lose their option on the property), I was eager to find out what the end game he had in mind was.  Instead for 300+ pages, Dawes has no idea what he is going to do and we are dragged along.  This included numerous pages of Dawes moping around his house and a trip on mescaline that seemed out of place with the rest of the book.  While I’m only giving this one star, I will say that on the scale of one star books this is much closer to two stars than zero stars (which Goodreads doesn’t allow) and was much better than The Rage.

1-star

“The Long Walk” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) Review

long.jpg

The Long Walk

Author: Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Release Date: July 1979

I was nervous when I started “The Long Walk,” mainly because the first “Richard Bachman” book I read was “Rage” and that book was awful, dated, and one of the few books I’ve read that I understood being pulled from book shelves (the book was pulled because it allegedly inspired school shooters, I would have pulled it from shelves because of how bad it was). “The Long Walk” also is about a teenage boy’s struggle facing the death of those around him, so right away my reluctance felt justified. Maybe it was the low expectations but I ended up really enjoying this book for what it was.

The plot of “The Long Walk” is about a contest between 100 boys who begin in Northern Maine and walk south along the road. Each boy wears a monitor that verifies their speed, and any time they fall below 4mph, they get a warning. Each boy gets three warnings before he gets his ticket which means he is out of the race. If they can go a certain amount of time getting a new warning, they can earn back their warnings so they’re back at zero. There’s also a prize at the end of the contest of whatever they want, or anything they want, or everything they want. The contest is ran by an authoritarian military figure known as the Major.

**Stop reading here to avoid spoilers**

As you read the book, you pick up on a few things that are subtle and then some more that are shocking. (At least for me they were, I didn’t read the back of the book so I don’t know how much that spoils.) The world this book takes place in seems to be an alternate reality United States, where after World War II communism is the norm and the Long Walk is the an appealing contest to escape the drudgery, or for other people to take their minds off the bigger issues society is facing. This dystopian future though is not focused on, but only comes across in a few lines of dialogue here and there. I got most of my idea for the world this takes place in from the Walkers own views of their options in life (which was an interesting way to convey the setting by King).

The shocking part happened when the first Walker got his ticket, and soldiers came out and shot him as the other 99 boys kept walking. I figured the twist was something to this extent based on the main character’s mother’s reluctance for him to compete in this event, and some statements at the beginning about how most races have one boy who freezes and gets his ticket right then, but the actual execution by King is fantastic. The nameless soldiers become a force throughout the book, the same as large hills and rain storms that the Walkers acknowledge as part of their reality now.

All that said, the book was by no means perfect. The actual competition didn’t make a ton of sense, with everybody being dropped off by family members shortly before hand in whatever clothes they were wearing and starting out with no fanfare. The motivations for why each walker was in the race were also pretty slim, which the most detailed versions shared being fights with girlfriends or possible homosexuality being revealed to families (I commend King for trying to address homosexuality in this book, leaving it open ended as to the sexuality of two of the main characters, but it’s certainly a product of the era in how it associates shame more than any other emotion with those characters). The struggles with using the restroom and cramping all felt real enough, but the lack of sleep by the Walkers was the one fiction I couldn’t totally suspend my disbelief for.

Equally vague are the rewards people can expect for winning the Long Walk. The ending of the book was both fantastic and disappointing in that King completely succeeds in his goal of telling a lengthy, engaging story about 99 boys walking until they physically can’t continue, and stopping before giving the reader any hint of what happens next. The plot arc in this book is almost entirely internal character growth by Garraty, as he goes from feeling immortal to accepting death as a reality (about ten other characters have the same arc throughout as well). Perhaps it’s the sign of a great book, but selfishly when it was over I found myself asking “would an epilogue have killed you, Stephen?”

4-star