Saturday, April 15, 2006

I love Stephen King

And I'm not ashamed to say it. I started reading his books when he published his ultimate masterpiece, It in 1986. So it's just occurred to me that I have been a fan for 20 years. Scary in and of itself. Anyway, I have read about 90% of his output and I would rate several of his books in my all time favorites. It's always irked me when he's dismissed as a schlock writer, because his books always seem deeper than that to me. His books have managed to move and involve as well as terrify me. Not to mention he has a delicious sense of humor that has caused me to laugh out loud countless times. I will never forget reading The Tommyknockers in school during quiet time. We'd all been yelled at and threatened if we made any noise we'd be in detention for the rest of our lives. I then happened to read the part of the novel describing Gard's revenge on his boss by putting laxative in his chocolate milkshake. I spent quiet time holding in the most intense attack of the giggles, hands clasped over my mouth, tears running down my face.

Rather famously, King almost died after being hit by a truck in 1999. This was after the publication of the coolly received Bag Of Bones (which I loved). And that was the last book of his I loved for a fair while. His post recovery output is, in my opinion, his worst. Dreamcatcher is just horrible and don't even get me started on the movie, the short story collection Everything's Eventual had a few moments but I grew bored and didn't finish it. From A Buick 8 was a big improvement but it still wasn't great. I haven't read any of his Dark Tower series yet, so I don't know if the completion of that saga lived up to early promise.

Anyway, the good news is King is BACK. His latest novel, Cell, is a triumphant return to form. I absolutely loved it. And if anyone hasn't read it but intends to, please proceed no further. It's clearly inspired by Romero and his Dead movies, but King takes it to the next level. A mysterious Pulse is administered through cell phones, causing those exposed to it to turn in to crazed and murderous zombies. A small band of survivors (including, refreshingly for the unapologetically homophobic King, a homosexualist drawn with sensitivity and almost completely unremarked upon), draw together and try and work out how to survive. It being King, it's not as straightforward as all that, with telepathy, levitation, mass murder, mind control and many other curve balls thrown at the reader. The main hero, Clayton Riddell, is looking for his ex wife and young son and the scenes where he tracks his son in earnest, finding a couple of letters his son left for him, are just heartbreaking. Not as heartbreaking though as the callously efficient way King, after many pages making you really care about her, kills off the 15 year old Alice. She is rescued by Clayton at the start of the book and obviously you think that all the survivor group will make it to the last page. Nope. Alice meets a very nasty end and it's so astonishingly well handled, I got a little tearful, not to mention really angry that a character died such a senseless death. That such strong emotions could be evoked in a book about people driven crazy by their cell phones is really saying something. And the ending? Resolutely ambiguous and utterly maddening. Brilliant. I'm tired of having everything wrapped in a little bow and handed to me. Cell leaves you dangling and for that alone I would love it, but it's really the icing on the cake.

Even more excitingly, at the end of Cell, there is a few pages from the opening of his next book, Lisey's Story and this looks like it's back in the realms of books like Gerald's Game and Rose Madder, where the horror comes out of domesticity, which of course makes it all the more terrifying. For someone who retired a few years ago now, he sure is busy. Well played, Mr King. Well played indeed.

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