Stephen King’s books are like KISS records: loud, not very smart, but occasionally fun. Also, the best ones were done 35 years ago. So no, I did not watch the premiere of Under the Dome last night, nor do I intend to catch any of the episodes that follow.
Once upon a time, as a teenager and a young man, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I faithfully read everything of his (even the Bachman books), buying new releases in hardcover (despite the fact that I had very little money) because I would not wait for the paperback versions. I remember the clerk at Crown Books (remember them, DC area residents?) warning me that Danse Macabre was non-fiction, and I said, “Oh, yeah, I know”–and bought it anyway.
(Danse Macabre was really entertaining and informative, and through it, I was introduced to lots of great movies, books, and authors; after reading DM, I went on a Harlan Ellison bender that I didn’t want to end. To this day, I regret loaning my copy of DM to a fellow college student and never seeing it–or her–again)
But even back then, in the depths of my fan-dom, I noticed that King was hit or miss. The Stand, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot? Greatness. Carrie, Cujo, Firestarter? Ehhhhhhh…. But I soldiered on, reading Night Shift, Pet Sematary, Different Seasons (more greatness); Christine, the first Dark Tower book, The Talisman (more “ehhhhhh…..”).
IT killed off my fan-dom. I have nothing against very long books: I love The Stand and The Lord of the Rings. But IT was so bloated, so self-indulgent, so unnecessary. After finishing IT, I thought to myself, “Stephen King has outgrown his editors.”
Meaning, that he had gotten so popular and was raking in so much money for himself and his business partners that he was now off the chain forever, free to publish whatever he wanted, no matter how bad it was. Though IT was a terrible, terrible book (in an interview, King himself said something like, “I should have called it SHIT“), who would tell him “No?” No one, that’s who. No one in the publishing industry was going to say to him, “This book is too long; too banal; and the scene with the the very young teenage boy protagonists all having sex with the very young teenage girl protagonist–in the sewers, no less–will never, EVER be printed.”
(Yes, I’m speculating. No, I’m probably not being fair. But this was the feeling I had back then.)
So I skipped Misery and The Tommyknockers and gave him another try with The Dark Half, and then that was it for me. Because they were two of my favorites, I watched the TV movie versions of The Stand and The Shining–and got burned again. No mas.
Maybe he’s gotten better in the 20 years since I stopped reading him, but King’s problems back then were that almost all of his characters were flat and unmemorable (the grand exception being The Stand); he had a tendency to go on far too long (Christine was 526 pages in hardcover and would have been better as a novella or even a short story); and his endings almost always whiffed out (The Dead Zone and The Shining delivered; the rest? Ehhh…..)
Lest you think I despise King as I do James Patterson, be please assured that’s not so. King has some really fine short stories (particulary in Skeleton Crew) and some of the best stuff he’s ever done is not horror. I think the finest, most true lines that King has ever written come near the beginning of “The Body,” the story about four boys who go on an adventure:
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?”