Friday, February 01, 2008

Third Day

No fever today and not as tired, but my head is stuffy and it hurts.

Until this morning, I've been filling my time by trying to my way through "Needful Things" by Stephen King. I say "trying to" because I've had a tough time getting into it. I wasn't sure if it was just me or if it was the book before today. Certainly the writing isn't bad and the plotline is interesting enough. So what's the problem and why am I putting it down?

The ick factor. That's what.

I like to be creeped out, love the chills and thrills of a book that keeps me up all night. That's why I'm drawn to this genre. But the "ick" reaction has nothing to do with being creeped out. It has to do with a scene involving an eleven year old boy. After I concluded I wasn't probably wasn't going to finish it, I did a search for spoilers that involved this character. In brief, I'm glad I stopped.

I realized I'm commenting on a book written back in 1991, but--it's what's on my snuffly, headachy, Nyquiled mind this morning.

I've read four or five Stephen King books, but they were all relatively early works. My three favorite remain "The Stand", "The Shining" and "Firestarter". Of those favorites, two featured children as central characters who really didn't understand their own gifts. Both children lived in corrupt worlds and were largely untouched by them. Their agonizing struggle to understand their worlds and master them were what made both books great. Innocence and the wisdom gained from their struggles triumped. Hurray!

Needful Things is a book about humans who will "sell their souls" to satisfy some fleshly appetite. It may be better written than his early works. In fact I'll go as far as to say that it is, but I'm underwhelmed by his take on childhood and the subject of sex in this book. I'm no prude. I don't mind well-handled contextual adult scenes, but my distaste for his handling it was enough by itself to stop me from finishing (largely because it didn't involve just adults--thus the "ick" factor). On top of this, the adults in its pages are sadly broken when we find them and it only gets worse. I'm sure there are one or two characters who get better later on, but thanks to the first third of the book, I won't bother to find out.

Ray Bradbury wrote to a similar theme in a book entitled "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (one of his few full-length novels) and he did it better. Granted, he wrote for a wider audience than Stephen King does, and he was writing for a different era (the 60s), but the subject was very much the same. People who were willing to sell their broken souls for the one thing they were sure they needed to be happy once and for all . . . And dang, if he didn't only do it better, he said it better.

"Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he's covering up. He's had his fun and he's guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells."

And two more just because it's Bradbury and he's earned the space:

The train just stood in the middle of the dry autumn field, no one in the locomotive, no one in the tender, no one in any of the cars behind, all black under the moon, and just the small sound of its metal cooling, ticking on the rails.


Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had the strength to rouse up, you'd slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that's burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It's a long way back to sunset, a far way to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead -- And wasn't it true, had he read somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 A.M. than at any other time ...

1 comment:

Bandersnatchi said...

The Stand impressed me enormously when first I read it back in 1979 or thereabouts.

I learned later that his original was 1100 pages and the publisher said, "Steven we like it but it is too long for a first novel. We can't make any money on it."

So King edited 400 pages out of it without losing a scene or a character. Amazing.

Then after his great success, ten years later, they published the unexpurgated 1100 page version of The Stand and it was a bestseller all over again. I have read both and enjoyed both editions.