Wednesday, June 20, 2012
photo: book cover, from its Wikipedia site
"1922," the first one, was very good, far outshining the other three stories here, but slightly disappointing in the final paragraphs, which felt comicbook-like. The writing is King's best in a long time, even if the theme and unreliable narrator are things we've seen before. You almost feel sorry for the guy--but not quite. King has visited the rat motif many times before, most notably in some stories in Night Shift, and does so again here in a psychological fashion--though perhaps realistically, as well, at least in the eyes of the narrator. This story is disappointing in the sense that King essentially has nowhere to go with it, leaving the author, the writing, the main character and the reader meandering through most of the story. But, strangely, agreeably, because of the excessively smooth storytelling. Perhaps one of the better examples yet of how King is a master storyteller--as he's been called literally a million times--even if he is somewhat lacking, sometimes (see: Rose Madder and Cell), as a writer. Writing and storytelling are non-exclusive. See James and Joyce for writing; see King for a story.
"Big Driver," the second story, was okay, in its own way, but severely disturbing no matter what you think about its gender-specific overtones. I thin of this one as what Jodie Foster's character in The Accused would have done if she'd had the chance--though that character was of a far different background and constitution than the one here. A disturbingly good read is the best way to describe this one, though, again, it's predictable with only one avenue to travel. You'll feel compelled to travel it, too, and watch the carnage unfold, perhaps with your hands over your readers' eyes, trucking that written road through partly-opened fingers.
"Fair Extension," the third, was...hard to describe. Slightly amusing in an "I'm a bad person for feeling this way" kind of way. The Book of Job in a comic book format, I guess. A reversal of the "bad things happen to good people" thought, combined with the Book of Job, this story is hard to like and yet also hard to put down. Taps into the fact that most people are so dissatisfied with their own lives that they will watch with glee as constantly terrible things happen to someone else. "As long as it isn't me" taken to the Nth degree. An unlikable, but true, aspect of most people. Right up there with King's often-stated metaphor of drivers and passersby rubber-necking for a glimpse of the corpse under the sheet at the accident scene. One of the worst aspects of human nature, something I've always hated. King's constant metaphor has led me to steadfastly NEVER peer at traffic accidents--literally, I don't ever look at the actual accident because of Stephen King. Having been in one myself--and my blanket-covered body was videotaped by a guy as it was put into the back of the ambulance, so I speak from experience--I can tell you that this is a truly repulsive, Let's All Watch the Fight in the Hallway and Not Try to Stop It aspect of human nature that I detest in others. Others' misfortunes are not my entertainment. (But, hey, I read this stuff, so maybe who am I to say after all?) I would argue here that this story points out all of what I've just said, and does so with a disagreeable look. (King acknowledges that he has made millions of dollars, thanks to this base aspect of human nature.)
The last story, "A Good Marriage," was good. Compulsively readable; very quick and easy; though, again, there's nowhere to go down this one-way street. But, also again, the reader is compelled to follow the story down that one road, knowing full well where it's going, and not caring that he knows. This is ostensibly King's greatest genius, it now occurs to me: he's able to tap into an innate segment of our psyche--no matter how base it is--and he shows it to us as a mirror into our own possible subconscious. We compulsively follow it, and his stories, for just that reason: it could be us doing those things. Based on the BTK killer--and his wife, who apparently really didn't know that she was married for 25+ years to a guy who tortured and killed a ton of women and children over all those years (Sandusky's wife is now saying the same)--this was a welcome break in between all the grad. class short story reading, which I also have to admit were very good, but much more serious and often intense.