Friday, April 20, 2007

King of Pain

From the time my cousin Brian slipped me his twice-read copy of 'The Stand', I have been an eager disciple of Stephen King. As I read it, the apocalyptic potboiler fully engorged my twelve year old cortex. Instantly I forgot all about that Time-Life series on UFO's I'd been eyeing at the school library and began trolling the paperback racks for King titles. Quickly I devoured his full catalog, catching up just in time to gorge on every new zombie-filled novel he'd unleashed on the 1980's. But it wasn't the lurching axe-murderers that drew me to the Maine native's dark canon - it was his freakin' readability. Populist horror yet so much more, King's winky kink for brand name placement, odd character cameos and twisty narratives made every tortured tail of gore worth far more than its reckless heft. My collection grew and my mother worried. Assurring her I'd read this particular author if he churned out only cookbooks, I dismissed the unspeakable evil within. Today if you asked my brother just what I read, he'd still say "Stephen King", even though I haven't cracked one of his novels in almost 20 years. Still, I credit the man with inflamming my adolescent brain and teaching me early that its perfectly okay to take dictation from the madman in your head.

So what's my point? None really, other than to say I absorbed every syllable of King's books as a kid and have yet to breech the walls of a cemetary in the dark. Well there was that one time in high school, but that's only because that's where the liquor bottles were stashed. I wouldn't have dared to do anything too creepy, despite having thrilled at every fresh shovel crunch into King's eternally haunted sod. In a book he's now distanced himself from, the author foretold the future with an unfathomable tale of a troubled student opening fire in a classroom. I still remember the stilted conversations the character Charles Decker had with police over the classroom loudspeaker. Back then, the very scenario was ludicrous it was safe as entertainment. These days not so much. When Entertainment Weekly asked the bestselling author what to make of the Virginia Tech murderer's violent screeds, he found little correlation between imagination and intention.
For most creative people, the imagination serves as an excretory channel for violence: We visualize what we will never actually do...Cho doesn't strike me as in the least creative, however. Dude was crazy... Essentially there's no story here, except for a paranoid a--hole who went DEFCON-1. He may have been inspired by Columbine, but only because he was too dim to think up such a scenario on his own.
Too dim indeed, Stephen. I only wish his unthinkable acts were still just the stuff of your cinematic nightmares - instead of the trademark arc of another marquee massacre. Maybe then I could forgo the unfortunate carnage and tell these good people about your most indelibe tome yet, 'On Writing'. Until then, I'll be out back, grooming my prose and sharpening my meat cleaver.


FlutePrayer said...

King could write a phone book so you'd never want to put it down. Well said.

Oreo said...

Dood, if you haven't cracked a King novel in 20 years, you've gotta find and finish the Dark Tower series. It starts with The Gunslinger and runs for 6 or 7 more books. When my parents evacuated for Hurrican Rita, their hardbound editions were packed in with everything else they didn't want washed away.

Anonymous said...

Your brother WOULD still say that, so
I'm surprised that I've read KING since you have. Your missing good stuff. RCP

TheShu said...

Gotta echo what Oreo said. The Dark Tower series was awesome. Especially the way he weaved in bits and pieces from so many of his other books. They'll stand on their own, but you might want to check inside the cover of the DT books first and make sure you read all the other related books as well...maybe even before you start DT. DT will make a lot more sense if you do.