Palaver's Stephen King blog

Category: Stephen King (page 2 of 8)

Writings in English on the works of Stephen King.

Under the Dome (2009)

“We all support the team”

One day an invisible barrier appears around the small town of Chester’s Mill. It’s not a “dome” precisely, to be nitpicky about it, but the effect is roughly that of a huge glass bowl – or rather, town-shaped tube – descended from out of nowhere. Those caught on the inside may soon be the talk of the world, but they are also completely isolated from it. With dizzying speed, things spin out of control as the second selectman and de facto ruler of the town eagerly grasps for this chance of total control. Some people oppose him.

It’s tempting – irresistably so, almost – to read Under the Dome as an allegory of our times, right down to specific environmental issues and how certain characters seem to echo the traits of certain politicans of (probably lasting) ill repute. Even more importantly, however, I think it is about random, wanton cruelty. It’s deeply pessimistic, a downward spiral that at times seems intent on burrowing straight down into utter despair. It’s also entertaining, if that is the word, in its multitude of memorable characters, hectic pace and abundance of dramatic situations. Whether it’s a masterpiece, I have yet to decide for myself, but it’s King at his peak – demanding your attention and alternately punishing and rewarding you for getting on this journey.

Duma Key (2008)

“I can do this”

Edgar Freemantle finds the artist within him after losing an arm in an accident and moving to Florida as a means of trying to get his life back together. Or at least to make it bearable. Memory problems, rage, divorce, he doesn’t have much going for him until that sunset across the gulf – and what might be a ship – captures him. And he captures it, among other things, on the canvasses he fills with dark and wonderful paintings.

New friends, the memorable Wireman and the old, rich and demented woman he takes care of, add to the joys of his new life. What must be hauntings, and the growing feeling that his art is growing a life of its own, add to the horrors.

Yup, it’s another King story that gradually spirals into ever more frightening and supernatural territory and topped off with an unabashedly dramatic climax with imagery seemingly far removed from the down-to-earth tone of the beginning, but not before we’ve been forced to care deeply for the characters. And not before we are treated to, among numerous other great scenes, a depiction of nervousness that is an absolute gem, as Freemantle gets ready to address a crowd of art lovers. The mood is exquisite, with an almost audible soundtrack of waves across the seashells beneath the house. The recurring “How to Draw a Picture” chapters, which initially seem independent but gradually intertwine with the main story, are one of many other causes for kudos.

In tone not unlike “Bag of Bones”, near the end reminiscent of “Black House” and containing themes from the last Dark Tower novels, “Duma Key” is still very much its own story. Partly because the setting. Partly because… well, with King each story is its own, isn’t it? That’s why we remain Constant Readers.

Blaze (2007)

“Put money in briefcase. Be ready to go on a moments notise. Sincirely yours,
The kidnappers of Joe Gerard 4.”

Clayton Blaisdell, a.k.a. ‘Blaze’, is a huge man with a slow mind whose partner-in-crime has just died when the story begins, leaving him alone to carry out their final caper – the kidnapping of a baby. This simple story, engrossing but void of any significant surprises, is intertwined with what proves to be more or less Blaze’s entire life story. And a hard life it is, though not without moments of joy. It’s a simple but touching page-turner with both humour and some down-to-earth horror – mostly in the form of cold-hearted people – and perhaps just a touch of the supernatural. Along the way, a handful of ‘short cons’ performed by Blaze and the late George are presented.

Though not making any secret of the actual author, King dusted off his old pseudonym when finally publishing the story, since it was written around the time of most the ‘original’ Richard Bachman stories. In his foreword King rightly notes that ‘Blaze’ has more than a touch of “Of Mice and Men” in it. Add to that the main character’s fondness for Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” and, of course, King’s own style and unfiltered dialogue and you may get an idea of what’s in store. King also reveals that he, when finally revisiting and rewriting this decades old tale, changed his harsh opinion about it. And yes, it was worth publishing, and it’s worth reading. It is, above all, a fast read – the kind of book you pick up on vacation and put down finished a day or two later – it was in my case, at least.

Lisey’s Story (2006)

“I’ll holler you home”

Almost halfway through, Lisey’s Story is still “just” a book about two married people parted by death. Lisey Landon is tending to her mentally ill sister and going through her late writer husband’s things when she gets an unwelcome visit from a “fan”. No, it’s not Misery revisited. Intimate and daringly slow-moving it seems to be what some critics surely have rushed to dub “King’s serious book”. It is, to be sure, one of King’s many serious novels, but not as realistic as one might be lulled into thinking, if that is to be regarded as an intrinsic part of gravity.

The descent into bloody madness comes late but suddenly, merely hinted at throughout the first half of the book. King pulls no punches here, as he describes a family haunted by the seemingly inevitable fate of insanity (which comes in two flavours, different but equally frightening), nor does he remain in the world of established fact (who would have guessed?).

It’s also to a certain extent about the secret language of relationships and the penchant of writers for collecting words and phrases that ring true or perhaps just interesting to them – summed up in a phrase which King himself might well have caught in i similar fashion: “Catches from the word pool”.

As challenging as “Gerald’s Game” but more sympathetic, could be one description. Echoes of “Rose Madder” can also be heard. It also begs the question: has King ever written about a happy writer?

I must confess that I found one particular part of this moving story tough to stomach. No, I won’t say which one – it may be your absolute favourite section and there’s no use in spoiling that for you. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I can safely express my admiration for the rest of it.

Lisey’s Story, which incidentally revisits his fictional town of Castle Rock, is pure King. If anyone should have the poor sense to hail this as a step in an entirely new direction and a higher echelon of seriousness, just ignore them, they’ve obviously just been skimming through his previous books. But perhaps this is even more personal and sad than usual. Some scenes make for truly gruelling reading, but the tenderness in the story – sometimes present even in the midst of violence and madness – makes it a deeply rewarding read.

Cell (2006)

“Kashwak=NO-FO”

Cell is dedicated to, and echoes the works of, filmmaker George A. Romero and writer Richard Matheson, but it is also very much a “typical” King book – more so, some might argue, than his most recent other publications. Cellphones bring about an apocalypse perhaps more reminiscent of King’s short story “The End of the Whole Mess” than “The Stand”. What seems at first to be mere bloodthirsty madness in the afflicted turns out to be of a more “ambitious” nature. Illustrator Clay tries to find his son in a world gone mad and finds new friends along the way – enabling King to expound on themes like communication and the parallels between the human brain and a computer.

This is an extraordinarily bleak tale, swinging between stubborn hopelessness and a more alarming sort of terror, but not entirely without it’s brighter moments. They pale, however, beside all the carnage that – presented with King’s usual, inflinching eye – becomes just as tragic as it is gory.

As for similarities between “Cell” and his or others’ tales: as long as King makes all his characters alive and real, the story will always be a new one. Simple as that.

The Colorado Kid (2005)

“Island living has a way of creeping into your blood, and once it gets there it’s like malaria. It doesn’t leave easily.”

This tale, published in the Hard Case series and sporting a suitably pulp-fictiony cover which has little to do with the subject matter, might be called the kid brother of “From a Buick 8”. One might also say, without stooping to spoilery, that if you liked the latter you’ll likely to like this one – and vice versa, of course.

The nature of mystery is once more what King sets out to explore, for reasons he puts very well in the afterword. Two aged reporters on a Maine island tell their young, female apprentice-of-sorts about one “story” (insisting all the way that is in fact not an actual story) where the loose ends never really got tied up. A dead man found near a garbage can, a pack of cigarettes, cause of death seemingly not a crime.

Being a King tale, it’s not surprising that it also works as a written commercial on the beauty of New England and the quirky charm of the people there. An easy-to-read trifle that manages to be both frustrating and strangely fufilling.

The Dark Tower 7. The Dark Tower (2004)

While reading the epic (a project which for me spanned some 16 years), I haven’t consciously tried to imagine exactly how it would end, but of course ideas have floated around in my mind. The greatness of the conclusion to the tale is to me that I didn’t see it coming, but had no problems accepting it.

Of course, acceptance isn’t the same thing as complete happiness, and considering the amount of tragedy in the finale it’s hardly King’s goal. But it feels right.

Being in no mood to spoil the story, I will keep details at a minimum but I will say that the main boss at Algul Siento, residing over the patient destruction of the ever-important Beams, is a very striking representation of what might be called mundane evil. In fact, evil intent is far from his mind, although he’s perfectly aware of the nature of his job. After the exciting events here (and some equally important preceeding events) things swiftly take a turn for the darker. As in “Wolves of the Calla”, we are also reaquainted with characters from other King stories.

If the meta aspects (which are present, however much King hates the term metafiction) felt a bit jarring when first introduced, they feel less so here, and to my great relief they do not “shrink” the story into some witty punchline, as meta elements sometimes do. The increasingly apparent fact that the series is in part an exploration of writing and creativity does not take away from the story. In fact, it’s all a very fitting illustration of King’s recurring claim not to be in complete control of his stories.

Those with plenty of time on their hands will discuss the various logical aspects of the complete saga – now that all cards are on the table. I feel no urge to join the online discussions regarding King’s motives for this and that event or scene, a form of second-guessing which to me takes away from the experience. A favourite King line (from “The Mist”) comes to mind: “this is what happened”.

For my own part, I’ll just say that on an emotional level “The Dark Tower” is a dark, worthy and satisfying conclusion. Michael Whelan repeats his role as illustrator and has made heart-wrenching art of some of the most poignant moments – the details of which I will leave unmentioned.

So, thank-ya, King. This was a tale worth reading. In fact, it’s a tale which makes most other tales seem small in almost every aspect.

The Dark Tower 6. Song Of Susannah (2004)

“I will name him Mordred, said she.”

Susannah and a certain woman named Mia is right in the middle of events in the next-to-last volume. The ka-tet is about to be scattered, and all its smaller constellations will have to work separately to confront the many dangers to the beams, the rose and the universe.

This may be seen as a “part-way” book without a clear cut theme of its own – unless one is to focus on the presentation of a new but very familiar character. Still, essential reading of course, and often very entertaining at that.

The Dark Tower 5: Wolves Of The Calla (2003)

“The wolves are coming,” he said. “I have this news from Andy.”

After the typical long wait, but also a near-fatal accident which was to find its way into the rest of the tale along with Mr King himself – the fifth volume finally appeared. The last two were to follow surprisingly quickly, as if King had realized through the accident that his tale might never be finished if he dawdled.

Here, the spaghetti western becomes an even more apparent influence, in the shape of events partly echoing “The Magnificent Seven”. The people of a small village on their way to the tower need help, and there Roland’s Ka-tet will also find new paths towards the tower as well as to other wheres and whens.

A meta theme which will become a major thread in the remaining books is started here, as we are reaquainted with a certain Father Callahan who once was the priest in a town called Salem’s Lot.

Everything’s Eventual (2002)

As with almost all of King’s later work, obvious ties to the Dark Tower can be found here, but the short stories collected here also remind me of “Night Shift” in their often simple greatness. This is uncomplicated storytelling by a master craftsman, ranging from the darkly comical to the melancholy.

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