Sunday, February 09, 2014

Three More Kings

The rereading Stephen King project continues! (And I appear to be making better headway than the guy who gave me the idea for this, who stalled back in November with Four Past Midnight.) I have also been alternating with other things, as reading only Stephen King will probably eat my brain. Charles Palliser’s Rustication was very good (I read his Dickensian debut The Quincunx back in 1990 but lost track of him over the years). The J.J. Abrams/Doug Dorst specialty printing extravaganza S. was also very good, and I got some mileage out of it for other blogs I contribute to. The new Thomas Pynchon novel Bleeding Edge (a satire of the post-dot-com boom) was excellent and very funny, and I finally made it all the way through Gravity’s Rainbow, as well as rereading V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Vineland. (Reading along with the Pynchon wikis is actually quite helpful.)

Anyway, back to Stephen King:

Gerald’s Game (1992)
This one routinely scores pretty low on King fans’ rankings of his books, but it’s not as bad as you would think. The premise is pretty notorious: Jessie, a middle-aged, wife accedes to her husband Gerald’s requests for an afternoon of bondage, and she is handcuffed mostly naked to the bed—and after a kick in the chest, Gerlad dies of a heart attack. They are of course in a remote cabin on a Maine lake, and it is early autumn, so there is no one around to hear her screams. How will Jessie get out of her situation? There are some pretty harrowing (i.e., gross) scenes, one involving a starving stray dog and a large all-you-can-eat buffet lying on the floor (’nuff said). There is also another character who plays a pivotal role—although as the book’s “Mr. Evil” he is a bit over the top, even by Stephen King’s standards. (One gets the sense that King read about Jeffrey Dahmer—who would have been in the news just before he was writing this—and thought “Heck, I can do better than that.”) Most of the book, though, is a stylistic experimentation with internal monologue, as Jessie flashes back to an unpleasant incident with her father during a solar eclipse in 1963. Maybe the pop psychology is a bit cheesy, but it largely works. The ending isn’t entirely satisfying—a common gripe in King novels, especially starting around this period. There is a tenuous connection to the next book, Dolores Claiborne, involving the same eclipse.
Grade: C+
Dolores Claiborne (1992) 
I recall reading Dolores Claiborne back in the 90s and liking it (I can’t remember if I saw the movie starring Kathy Bates), and while I didn’t dislike it this time around, getting through it was more of a chore than I recall. Part of the problem is that it is a single, long, unbroken narrative as the titular Dolores tells the police about the events that led up to her killing her husband many years earlier, and not killing the elderly dowager she had been working for. And it’s all in her rural Maine dialect, which gets irritating after a very short while. There’s nothing supernatural about the book, which isn’t a bad thing, and it makes a good revenge tale. Dolores is also a pretty sharply drawn character. As indicated above, it’s sort of a companion to Gerald’s Game, as both books flash back to events that happened during the solar eclipse of 1963. It’s another stylistic experiment, which you have to give him credit for. Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne mark the beginning of King’s “women’s novels,” which would include Rose Madder, which is coming up shortly. 
Grade: C+ 
Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993) 
King’s third short story collection, after Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, and like those earlier collections, it’s a mix of the compelling, the silly, and random experiments, some of which work and some of which don’t. Among the better stories are “Dolan’s Cadillac” (a little on the unbelievable side but it kind of works), “The Night Flier” (a vampire with a pilot’s license?), “Chattery Teeth” (supernaturally possessed joke teeth? a bit silly, but I liked it), “The Moving Finger” (a giant finger pokes out of a bathroom sink for no apparent reason), “The House on Maple Street” (an abusive stepfather gets a bizarre comeuppance), “The Ten O’Clock People” (only people who moderately smoke are able to see horrible creatures around them—another silly premise that kind of works), and “Sorry Right Number,” a screenplay for an episode of Tales from the Dark Side. There is an attempt at a Sherlock Holmes story (“The Doctor’s Case”) which is not bad, and a meta Twilight Zone-y Raymond Chandler piece (“Umney’s Last Case”) in which a character meets his author, which takes a bizarre twist. He channels Shirley Jackson in “Rainy Season” (a torrential rain of killer frogs is a small town ritual). Some of the sillier stories include “Sneakers,” “You Know They’ve Got  Hell of a Band” (all the dead rock stars are still alive in a secluded Oregon village—and they’re evil zombies), and a few others. He also should not try to write British characters (“Crouch End”). A hit or miss, but largely hit, collection, as usual.
Grade: B-
Interestingly, Insomnia, which is up next, is out of print, and even an attempt at getting a used copy has thus far been fruitless. I had to get the e-book version which, curiously enough, is more expensive than the paperback versions I had been picking up.

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