Stephen King

Obligatory Halloween Post!

Happy Halloween, everyone! Let’s talk about books before I dress up like a mouse and get my squeak on.

For the past few years, I’ve started the wonderful tradition of reading a classic horror novel each year leading up to this wickedest of holidays. This is an especially delightful tradition if you follow these simple steps: 1) curl up next to a crackling fireplace with your horror novel, 2) make sure to stock up on your Halloween candy, 3) don’t forget the apple cider.

I started this two years ago, with Stephen King’s The Shining. Doctor Sleep, The Shining‘s sequel, was about to be released. The timing was perfect. This book is an absolute must for horror novel lovers.

the shining

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

–Stephen King, The Shining

Last year, I went for Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House. This was, dare I say it, better than The Shining. It was horribly, dastardly scary. And if you are a cover geek, seriously google image search The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House. Both books have had incredible covers through the years.

the haunting of hill house

This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope.

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

And this year, I’m reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Stephen King has referred to it as one of the best of the supernatural wave of horror that also carried The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (uhm, why are horror movies always more famous than the novels they are adapted from?). I’m not impressed yet, I’m not even sure what is going on. But I have high hopes.

ghost story

The mind was a trap–it was a cage that slammed down over you.

― Peter Straub, Ghost Story

None of these, I have to say, compare to the scariest book I read this year. That was Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, about her relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule, a true crime author who passed away this year, worked long nights at a suicide prevention hotline alone with Bundy in 1971. They stayed in touch after the job, and Rule eventually came to realize Bundy may be a suspect in the killings she was writing about. The coincidence is a writer’s dream and nightmare all bundled into one.

I unfortunately finished this book, which included descriptions of the Chi Omega murders at Florida State University, just before it was announced there was a prowler on the loose who had been breaking into women’s apartments in my complex in Scottsdale. The combo of Ted Bundy in my mind and a prowler on the streets did not make for well-rested nights. Luckily, they caught the prowler and with doors and windows locked, I moved on to my next read.

stranger beside me

Just be careful,” a Seattle homicide detective warned. “Maybe we’d better know where to find your dental records in case we need to identify you.”
I laughed, but the words were jarring; the black humor that would surround Ted Bundy evermore begun.

― Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story

Time for me to put on my whiskers, dear readers. Remember, if it is a part of someone’s culture, it’s not a costume! And save some candy for the kids!

Review – Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

doctor sleep2

 

What happened to that little kid from The Shining, once he grew up? What would have happened to his dry drunk of a father, if he had found Alcoholics Anonymous? These are two of the questions Stephen King wanted to answer in Doctor Sleep, he explains at the end of the novel. King has built up quite the tale out of the Overlook Hotel’s ashes: I listened to the audiobook version of Doctor Sleep, narrated by Will Patton, and it was just awarded best audiobook of the year at Audible.com a few days ago.

Doctor Sleep brings us that little strong, sweet, and smart kid Danny Torrance all cragged and grown up; Danny is such a painful portrayal of innocence lost he’ll make you wistful for your own early childhood, before all the mistakes started piling up. The Overlook still haunts poor Danny’s dreams, and he’s now a drunk who despises himself for turning out like dear old dad.

King takes us through Danny’s alcoholic bottom with the descriptive language he has such a knack for, making the first bits of the book difficult, but necessary, to get through. King loves to linger a bit on the rough stuff in life; rather than having an off-putting effect, this is part of what makes him a horror powerhouse. The man who spent paragraphs describing wind-up teeth in “Chattery Teeth” and didn’t shy away from documenting the split of a woodchuck into two in Under the Dome turns his attention to Danny’s low points with alcohol, and we are spared no detail of where Danny’s drinking takes him. Danny’s recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous is a part of the story, something that is becoming more common in novels and television shows.

Oddly enough I may have been happy with a story of Danny Torrance without the horror, but rather than only documenting Danny’s struggle to find recovery, King introduces a new and unlikely set of villains: a nefarious band of energy banshees called the True Knot, disguised as old folks touring America in RV’s and campers. They feed off of the shining that those like Danny possess. They sense something delicious in a bright young girl named Abra, who shines something strong and needs a mentor like Danny desperately.

The characters here were delightfully vivid for me. The evil figures, roving in a band of trailers, were reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic armies in Robert McCammon‘s Swan Song, and I’d be interested to know if King was influenced by that classic in any way while writing this book. King has in Doctor Sleep, as he does in many of his books, an appreciation for the full spectrum of human capability.  It would have been so simple for King to write Abra as a one-dimensional sweetheart, but she has her own dark side–as we all do, King seems to be noting.

Where the story lost me a bit was in the action. Without giving too much away, many of the battle scenes felt a bit silly to me because they were taking place, well, in people’s minds. When used in books and in films, incredible mental powers (let’s face it, all magical powers) can often feel a bit hokey as they can at anytime become a cheap trick. I think King relied on this type of thing too much towards the end of the book. Things become much more cerebral than they did in The Shining, and I was disappointed there wasn’t a more epic The Stand style battle between good and evil.

The final question here is Abra, Danny’s delightful and powerful-beyond-belief mentee, whose temper matches her strength. Will we meet Abra again, in her own book? It would be wonderful to see the capabilities of an older Abra, adolescent and out-of-control. It seems like too good of a story not to tell.

Doctor Sleep on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org/Audible.com

Related articles

The Shining!

the shining

I just finished Stephen King’s The Shining, in anticipation of reading the recently released Doctor Sleep.  Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, features a grown-up but still traumatized Danny Torrance.  The Shining is one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read, and it is amazing how King manages to heighten the fear around harmless things like topiary art to an intense level.

I love to read King’s comments on his work, as he always has great perspective. Here are some great thoughts written by the author in an introduction to a new edition of The Shining, written in 2001:

A killer motivated to his crimes by supernatural forces was, it seemed to me, almost comforting once you got below the surface thrills provided by any halfway competent ghost story.  A killer that might be doing it because of childhood trauma as well as these ghostly forces…ah, that seemed genuinely disturbing.

The decision I made to try and make Jack’s father a real person, one who was loved as well as hated by his flawed son, took me a long way down the road to my current beliefs concerning what is so blithely dismissed as “the horror novel.”  I believe these stories exist because we sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our real lives…

That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too.  They live inside us, and sometimes they win.

The Shining by Stephen King on Amazon

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King on Amazon /Doctor Sleep on Indiebound

Epic book of the day – Wool by Hugh Howey.

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When a book features a blurb from Justin Cronin, author of the massive dystopian masterpiece The Passage, I’m ready to read.  Cronin says of Wool, “Howey’s WOOL is an epic feat of imagination.  You will live in this world.”  And he is for serious, as this book is the real thing.

I discovered Wool via an article on Howey’s underground success, and found I could download the first Part in the series for free for my Kindle through Amazon.  The book is broken into small easily consumable parts, short-story length interconnected tales of a future in which humans live in an underground silo.  I read Part One quick, and purchased Parts 1-5 right away.  This is everything that makes scifi worth reading:  the commentary on our social structures; exploration of our weird rituals and lore in societies; the struggles for control over knowledge, material wealth, and power in social systems.  I think this will be the new Hunger Games, a series that gets non-readers reading.  It is simple to understand and draws you in quick.

Wool – Part One blew my mind right away.  It reminded me a bit of how sucked in I was by the first chapter of Ender’s Game, called Third, when I read that for the first time in my childhood.  In the chapter Ender gets his monitor removed and brutally beats Stilson to prevent future bullying.  I thought it was so crazy the way Orson Scott Card drops in Ender’s age near the end – “Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, even though he was only six.”

That first part of Wool was so intriguing that it really brought me back to that Ender’s Game level of interest – I was dropped into this dystopian world, and right away I could see it all happening, all the rituals and beliefs and fears and concerns of these new people made so much sense to me.  I feel like the greatest science fiction I’ve read doesn’t stop to explain itself to the reader, it just lets the story play out while the reader watches from the sidelines and picks things up as the story goes along.

The concept of Wool, humans living in a silo underground, is one that has such a sweeping amount of plot to play with.  I’m always so interested in the myths and rituals and culture that build up in a society not like our own, and what these things say about our own culture.  I love the development of an entire world after ours in dystopian fiction (The Passage does such a great job of this, as does Oryx and Crake), and this book definitely leaves room to create a history of a people.  There are questions of maintaining power and control within the silo, and, without giving too much away, the daunting prospects of the entire world outside the silo’s safety.  And above all this, the constant sense of claustrophobia that comes with containment.

A group of people in an enclosed space always makes for interesting fiction – think of Stephen King’s Under the Dome.  I love cozy mysteries, and some of my favorite cozies take place in enclosed areas.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie takes place on an island during a storm, so guests are stranded.  The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny takes place in an isolated monastery, where the monks have little contact with the outside world and must be reached by boat or plane.  Science Fiction as a genre has a great opportunity to play with this tension by building situations where people are stuck together in enclosed spaces.

I’m excited to read the next part in the Wool series, called Shift.  I’m trying to put it off a bit for now, as I know I’ll just compulsively read it once I kindle it and get nothing else done in my life.

Wool – Part One by Hugh Howey on Amazon.com

Wool Omnibus Edition Parts 1-5 by Hugh Howey on Amazon.com

Shift Omnibus Edition Volume 2 by Hugh Howey on Amazon.com