I have officially wrapped up the first portion of my Stephen King reread project! For those not in the know, I am rereading the entire backlist of my favorite author, Stephen King . . . and those who know just how much this man has written over the years are aware this ain't no small thing. This project will probably still be going on this time two years from now, and by that time he will probably have released three or four new books. And that's okay. I'm taking my time and truly enjoying myself. None of the books I've read so far were new to me -- in fact, I had read all of them at least twice before. With King's works, however, there is always more to gleam than what meets the eye upon the initial read. Characters seem to change, motivations become more clear . . . his body of work is an ever-changing thing that rewards many rereads.
You might have noticed if you glanced at the title of this post that I'm only covering five years of King's work, whereas most bloggers who take on rereading projects like this (especially rereads of Stephen King) typically do a "look back" ten years in -- 1974-1984, 1984-1994, et cetera. I have decided I'm going to do mine a bit differently, if only to set mine apart a smidge (is that a word? spell check tells me it is not but I am going with it!) -- I'm going to do this sort of thing when I reach the end of each respective decade the books were published in -- i.e. 1974-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-1999, and so on. When I think of King's body of work that is how I categorize them, anyway. It just seems to work better that way, but that's my opinion. Carrie gets King's '70s output off to a slambang start and The Dead Zone is a quiet contemplation of the tumultuous decade as a whole.
On to it . . .
Stephen King entered the 1970s as a young man selling short stories to men's magazines and barely getting by at jobs in laundromats and mills. He left the 1970s a very rich and successful author. He saw his first hardcover bestseller (The Dead Zone) come to fruition, two movies were adapted from his work, and he had an ever-growing legion of fans that was always hungry for new tales from the King of Horror. This time in King's career is so interesting -- it's the time when his life changed forever. In these years he wrote some of his most well-known books (just check the photo above and see if you recognize any of those titles!). The majority of the stories revolve around special powers -- Carrie White, Danny Torrance, John Smith, and the survivors of the plague in The Stand all possess powers of the mind, terrifying powers they must control or let control them. The ability to read minds is a cool concept King puts to great use in The Shining and The Stand . . . and let's not forget Carrie's telekinesis and Johnny Smith's ability to see the future (and change it). The only books covered in this portion of the reread that don't deal with wild talents, or the supernatural in any way, are the two Bachman books -- Rage and The Long Walk. Both of these are mean and lean stories, one dealing with a school shooting and the other a walking competition straight from Hell. They're interesting cases when compared with the rest of the books, for sure. They were written when no one knew King was Richard Bachman, and thus he used the name to write stories that were very different from stuff that was becoming famous as "Stephen King stories" -- he was being pigeon-holed for using his own name, but he was havinga bit of creative fun and freedom under the Richard Bachman guise.
So while King was only published over five years in the 1970s, he made those years count. This is, arguably, his most consistent era. Every book is a classic and worth revisiting again and again. There is a reason these titles are so well-known! They are all complex studies of human nature with a certain forward thrust that would slowly fade away from King's writing with age (but what he lost in momentum he gained in exquisite character work and a wider emotion pallet). Most of what I have to say about the books I've already said in their respective reviews (which you can find in the "Stephen King Reread" link found on my blog menu), but I am going to offer up a few quick thoughts on each title.
Carrie - 1974
“She did not know if her gift had come from the lord of light or of darkness, and now, finally finding that she did not care which, she was overcome with an almost indescribable relief, as if a huge weight, long carried, had slipped from her shoulders.”
Stephen King's debut novel is a corker, and it's one that just works. Its story is timeless: at its core, it's about the horrors of bullying -- a problem that is still as relevant as it was back when this book was published. I actually came to this one kind of late; for some reason I was reluctant to read it. I read the majority of King's work before I got to this, and I really can't tell you why that is except I'd heard it just isn't as good as his later stuff . . . which isn't true. Sure, it lacks some of the depth, maturity, and complexity that King's later books have ('Salem's Lot, a book almost double the length of Carrie, was published only a year later and already showed King's extreme maturation as a writer), but this is a tragic horror story that hits all the right notes. It makes me think of a few girls I knew in high school, girls who didn't fit in and turned to cutting or drug abuse. High school kids are cruel. I sometimes wonder what happened to them, and I wonder if they ever found happiness . . . I hope they did. Unlike poor Carrie White, I hope their stories turned out okay.
'Salem's Lot - 1975
“The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep within the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.”
This will always be one of my favorite King novels. Like Carrie, the character work is great and the story is simple and yet oh so affecting -- a small town in Maine is slowly overtaken by vampires and soon the majority of the townspeople are infected. One of Kin'g scariest works, what amazes me the most about this one is the author's total ability to capture an entire town (as a character itself) as well as its inhabitants -- each have their own story and ideas and motives, and they all work so well. Sure, King has turned this trick several times over the past decades, but this was his first time. Carrie was an excellent novel but its scope was much smaller -- it focused on only a few key players. This book has at least five main characters and several secondary characters. No small feat for a writer only in his mid-20s.
This book always makes me think of Halloween. It is set in the fall and has the most frequent scares of any King book aside from a few such as The Shining and IT. It's mounting terror and feeling of antiquity are only a few of its charms. I don't remember when it was I read this for the first time, so I can't really comment on my initial feelings . . . but obviously they were good, as I've come back to this one again and again.
The Shining - 1977
“He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept, too, and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.”
Unlike 'Salem's Lot, I do remember the first time I read The Shining. It was the eve of Thanksgiving, 2011, and I was at home alone while my family was out Christmas shopping. I've never been one to scary easy. I just don't. Sure, I get a little spooked at times if I'm in the shower (when home alone) and think I hear noises . . . or if I'm driving on a deserted road late at night and a car is riding my butt, seemingly out to get me. Those things cause me to get scared, but in most cases I just don't get frightened.
That changed when I read The Shining.
As I said, I was home alone and it was night. I was supposed to be going to my aunt's house the next morning, and I was going to have to get up early. I didn't care. My hands were glued to the pages of my thrift shop-bought The Shining movie tie-in edition (y'know, the one with the black and white stills from the film?), and I was transfixed. I came to Danny entering room 217 . . . . and the bathroom. The lady in the tub. The hands around his neck. And my lights started to flicker. I screamed, then forced a laugh. I checked my cell phone and saw it was one a.m. And I kept reading until my parents got back home around 2:30 or 3:00. I realize my story is not unique; in fact, it's quite similar to other accounts I've read online of folks' first encounter with The Shining. But it's mine. This book takes me back to Thanksgiving of that year, when I was still in high school and didn't have many of the worries and stresses I do now. Despite it being such a dark and horrific tale, it takes me back to a carefree time.
Rage - 1977
“Craziness is only a matter of degree, and there are lots of people besides me who have the urge to roll heads. They go to stock-car races and the horror movies and the wrestling matches they have in Portland Expo. Maybe what she said smacked of all those things, but I admired her for saying out loud, all the same--the price of honesty is always high. She had an admirable grasp of the fundamentals. Besides, she was tiny and pretty.”
When I found a paperback copy of The Bachman Books at my local thrift store (seen in the picture above), I was thrilled to finally have my hands on a copy of the long out of print Rage, taken off the shelves in the late '90s due to a string of school shootings. The story -- that of a high school senior gunning two teachers down and holding his classmates hostage -- is one of King's bleakest and most scarily real, although that wasn't true for the time in which it was published. School shootings have become an epidemic in the years since its release as a Richard Bachman paperback in the late '70s, making this grim little story a bit of a forecast of the future. This book was obviously written by a very young writer (the first draft was completed as King went into college) with a lot to say (for better or worse), but I still love it a lot. It's a really quick read, and if you come across a copy of The Bachman Books, it's well worth it for this story alone.
The Stand - 1978, 1990
“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just … come out the other side. Or you don’t.”
Yes, I read the expanded edition that was released in 1990 for this reread project. Was that cheating? I don't know, maybe. Who cares? It's King's best book by a mile, and it doesn't matter which edition you read, quite frankly. I've reread this book probably seven or eight times now, and it never gets old. It always mesmerizes me. King combined the character work of The Shining and the grand set-pieces and numerous characters of 'Salem's Lot to create his masterpiece. I don't remember a lot about the first time I read this one, but I tend to associate it with Autumn, like a lot of King's early books. I first got into in him in September of 2011 and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around I'd read probably fifteen or twenty of his books. I was hooked.
This is the book that first introduced me to Stephen King, as a matter of fact. No, it wasn't the first one I read . . . it was just the first one I heard about, period. I was thirteen years old and in eighth grade. One of my friends carried this book around with him at school for a month or longer, often reading it at lunch and in exploratory period. I've always been a reader, and this book fascinated me. It was so long! It was longer than anything I'd ever read before . . . it was even longer than the bible I had on my night-stand at home. I didn't read any King until the next year, but it was my friend carrying around his worn copy of The Stand that turned me on to Steve King to begin with.
(Note: Recently I actually told that friend his carrying that book around introduced me to the man who has changed my life and helped me so much over the years. I then told him I've read it upwards of seven times now, and he said I'm crazy to reread anything that much. Ah, well.)
The Long Walk - 1979
“Some of these guys will go on walking long after the laws of biochemistry and handicapping have gone by the boards. There was a guy last year that crawled for two miles at four miles an hour after both of his feet cramped up at the same time, you remember reading about that? Look at Olson, he's worn out but he keeps going. That goddam Barkovitch is running on high-octane hate and he just keeps going and he's as fresh as a daisy. I don't think I can do that. I'm not tired -not really tired- yet. But I will be." The scar stood out on the side of his haggard face as he looked ahead into the darkness "And I think... when I get tired enough... I think I'll just sit down.”
The second Bachman book covered in this reread (and apparently the first written, at least according to King's afterword in Full Dark No Stars), this one is just as bleak -- if not moreso than -- Rage. Honestly, I didn't like it the first time I read it, which I don't think is a normal reaction. The long chapters annoyed me as did the seemingly pseudo psychology and I just didn't like the characters that much. It wasn't until the second read through that I really caught on to the intensity of horror -- as well as the apt study of the human condition -- that was waiting to be mined in this short novel. It's one of King's most unyielding -- the Walk starts in chapter two and doesn't end until the final page. At a constant speed of four MPH with no breaks and no deviation from the Walk itself, one begins to feel exhausted by the story's end. . . which I would bet was King's intention from the start. Perhaps the first time I read it I wasn't mature enough emotionally. I couldn't handle the unflinching pain and anguish and dread of the story, so I pushed it away and deemed it as bad. What a mistake.
The Dead Zone - 1979
“She suddenly realized she was sitting in an apartment by herself late at night, eating an apple and watching a movie on TV that she cared nothing about, and doing it all because it was easier than thinking, thinking was so boring really, when all you had to think about was yourself and your lost love.”
Like The Long Walk, I didn't care for this one the first time I read it. I didn't know why, but it just seemed so boring un-King-like. It was almost two years until I went back to it, and in that time I had grown up some and could really treasure what this book had to offer. It's a fitting end to King's 1970s output -- it's a rumination on the decade as a whole, with the narrative beginning in 1970 and jumping to various points in time until the end, which takes place in '79. It's one of King's most melancholy, showing him tackling something he'd never really done before -- lost loves. Relationships ended for no real reason but time and happen-chance. It was the first time King was writing outside of the horror genre, instead writing a quiet, sad, and reflective story with an odd (yet memorable) plot structure and some of his most memorable characters up to that point. Its focus on politics gives it automatic points with this politics junkie, but there's so much more about this I love, too.
It was one totally unlike anything he'd done before and unlike anything he's done since. It's a fitting farewell to one of King's strongest decades as a writer.
I really bloody love all these books. I already want to reread them, but there are only so many hours in the days and I must move on to King's 1980s output . . . ahhhh, that's when it will get really fun!
After some consideration I have decided to hold off on including the story collections until I finish this project. I am doing this because I reread Night Shift back in April (before starting this) and felt it was too soon to reread that collection and enjoy it. It is possible to reread a book too soon, dig? And being the OCD guy I am, I wanted to cover Night Shift before moving on to Skeleton Crew and the like. So . . . those will wait for now. However, I will be covering the novella collections. Does that make sense? I don't know. Don't really care, either. That means I'll be getting to Different Seasons pretty soon. Wheeeee!
I'm going to try with all that is within me to speed this project along -- at least -- a tiny bit. It's already been a month since I read The Dead Zone, so I'll be jumping on Firestarter soon soon soon! I'm going to try (famous last words) covering two King books in a month, and with my Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks coming up I think that will be totally feasible. I've just gotta stick to it. . .
Anywho, thanks for reading. If you're still around, you get an e-hug from me. Your patronage is highly appreciated!
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