Thursday, August 23, 2012
King Stephen, Part II
I wrote yesterday about how I resisted reading Stephen King until 1990--until The Dark Half, his creepy 1989 novel about a writer who creates a pen-name. And all sorts of unpleasant things ensue. King himself had used the name "Richard Bachmann," so he surely had imagined: What if this person were to come to life? What then? His novel offered some ideas.
Following that one, I started reading everything, even going back to read some of the previous ones--though not all. I still have not read Carrie or Pet Sematary or The Shining or Firestarter--and I've never read any of the Dark Tower novels. Not sure why.
But I did devour It and The Stand and--most tremblingly--Cujo, about a large dog that gets rabies and goes on a rampage. (Sort of like a berserk Buck from The Call of the Wild.) I read that novel a long, long time ago, but I still remember one sentence from it. One unpleasant character was a guy named Joe Camber, whom Cujo dispatches at some point. When he has Camber on the ground, King wrote this (and I'm pretty sure this is accurate): And this time he came for Joe Camber's balls.
That is not a pleasant image for a man of any age to read.
And while I was reading some of the old ones, I was trying to keep up with the new ones that were flying from his typewriter--and then from his word-processor. I remember that when he was in his typewriter phase, he wrote somewhere that when he lost himself in his writing, he fell into the page. I always liked that image. Later--now with a computer--he changed it to fell into the screen. Also pretty good.
So why did I stop? I guess I'd tired of it? I felt there were times when he was repetitive. Or--hard to believe--boring. Oh, there were amazing flashes, though. When he serialized The Green Mile (six installments--six little paperbacks in the spring and summer of 1996), I was in the bookstore immediately when I heard the next installment was ready. King had always liked Dickens--wanted, I think, to see what it would be like to serialize a novel the way Dickens and those other amazing Victorians did. I don't think I'm a modern Dickens, he wrote, but I have always loved stories told in episodes.
I remember reading an interview with King afterwards, though. He said he'd never serialize again. Why? Because, he said, it gives the critics six chances to kick your ass.
I also bought into the novel The Plant that he was selling directly online--I think it was $2 an installment? But then, I guess, so many people were cheating him that he stopped.
King was the King of Popular Fiction for a long time--but like many popular artists he yearned for more. He wanted to be seen as a Writer--not just as someone who could write popular novels that weren't, you know, Serious Fiction.
And in the 31 October 1994 of The New Yorker, he made a breakthrough. The magazine published his story "The Man in the Black Suit"--a story much influenced by Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" (Hawthorne's text). I remember there was some controversy about that--Stephen King in The New Yorker? Who's next? Belva Plain and Danielle Steel? But readers generally liked it, and King has published fiction in that magazine seven or eight more times--nothing since 2009, though.
And Harper's Magazine, as I mentioned yesterday, has a new King story in their current issue.
TOMORROW: Returning to King, reviewing a couple of his books, his status with young readers today.