One Life, Furnished in Stephen King

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~post by Joe T., Assistant Buyer

I don’t remember my first Stephen King novel. It was either Pet Sematary or Misery. I was 13, maybe 14, and my best friend brought one of those two books on a school trip and I had read the entire book by the time we reached our destination. I was amazed that fiction like this existed in the world and I was hooked. Middle school was the first flowering of love for the works of King, but it was short: Pet Sematary, Misery, It, and Tommyknockers. And with that final book it was over (Tommyknockers will always kill the things you love).

Though I’d quit reading his books, King’s influence stayed with me as I entered High School. H. P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker (“I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker” – Stephen King) filled that gaping hole of existential dread. Along with Ramsey Campbell, they made sex and the city the twin pillars of transgressiveness. It was with great shock and recognition that when I read Danse Macabre (King’s primer on the horror genre), it seems I’d been following his syllabus without knowing it.

But that was college, the second great Stephen King awakening. First came what I describe as my favorite King novel, the underappreciated Bag of Bones. A ghost story not unlike the work of Peter Straub (Ghost Story) that hits you in the gut with its portrayal of a burnt out writer suffering from years and years of writer’s block. A thinly veiled portrait of King himself, Mike Noonan wrote faster than publishers would allow him to publish, thus allowing himself a stockpile of manuscripts. Now that he is incapable of writing, Noonan pulls a book out of his chest and “Voila!” a brand new Mike Noonan novel. Reading it, one can’t help but wonder just how much of King’s ’90s output was pulled out of his own chest.

The next book was Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King’s history of the ’60s. Another novel that echoes the work of Peter Straub, this one forgoes supernaturalism (though it is always there just out of the corner of your eye) for that of man’s inhumanity to man. Vietnam and the radical politics of the Symbionese Liberation Army, along with Mad Men-esque mistreatments of women, are the sources of terror. Like Straub’s novel Koko and his short stories “Blue Rose” and “The Juniper Tree,” this is horror that is based on the real world and is all the more memorable for it.

Hearts In Atlantis not only ended my second great flowering of interest in Stephen King, it also proved to be the last new work of his that I’ve read right after it was published. The third great awakening occurred sometime around 2001, a good year for reacquainting oneself with King’s mix of Peyton Place and EC Comics. Instead of moving forward, I delved deep into catalog. The haunted buildings the Overlook Hotel and The Marsten House in The Shining and Salem’s Lot; the unhinged Greg Stilson and teacher-turned-terrorist Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone; and poor Carrie’s slaughter of her fellow students were the horrors we faced each day; these were the true terrors of the 21st century and during that first decade those were the books, the touchstones, I turned to in order to make sense of it all. Did it help? I don’t know, but I did eventually move on once again and put Stephen King aside.

So now here we are in 2014. We’ve got the television show based on the novel Under The Dome and I’ve heard nothing but good things about 11/22/63. The Frank Darabont film based on the novella The Mist was one of my favorite films of 2007. AND OH MY G-D! STEPHEN KING IS GONNA BE AT MY WORK THREE DAYS BEFORE BY 39th BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!! I don’t want to predict the future but there’s a good chance that Revival will be the first new Stephen King book I’ve read in 15 years and maybe, just maybe, it might kick off my the Fourth Great Awakening.

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Copies of all the books mentioned in this post, and many more, are available on our shelves at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas) and via bookpeople.com.

5 thoughts on “One Life, Furnished in Stephen King

  1. I read Stephen King religiously for years. However, I’m woefully behind and probably haven’t read any in at least 10 years. I tend to now gravitate toward nonfiction, particularly history. I really do want to read some of his more recent books, as I’ve always loved the way he develops characters.

  2. It seems that I am the only Stephen King reader who enjoyed The Tommyknockers. Himself he dismissed it–along with Dreamcatcher–as one of his worst books. But I read it three times. And I can still read it. Many people have said how they didn’t like The Tommyknockers. I liked how those Haven residents were turning into jelly-like things. And how they were losing teeth!–that was the best part. I kept thinking: “What if they grin at you? All of them! At once!” And there was a guy–a professor of Mathematics, I think–driving across Haven when he discovered something new about prime numbers. He became extremely excited. But by the time he reached the other end of Haven, the man couldn’t even remember his name! That was a cool thing to pull in a horror story.

    I think The Tommyknockers is better than books like The Dead Zone, Desperation, From A Buick 8, The Skeleton Crew (horrible short stories), Cujo. And it has better prose than Dark Tower IV, V, VI, After Sunset, Everything’s Eventual.

    Two other books that I never see discussed are Rose Madder and The Regulators. Rose Madder is wonderful. The villain is a sick cop that bites people. The Regulators is as crazy as itself. A woman’s head exploded when something called Tak tried to inhabit it. Her brain splashed on someone’s face. That too is cool.

  3. I think every avid reader goes through their ups and lows on their favorite authors. I own all of Jodi Picoult’s books but after going through a spans of constantly reading her work I find myself drifting away for a while. It’s good to get a new insight into different genres or voices of a genre. For me my first King novel was Carrie. I avoided his work like the plague, but on a challenge I decided to pick it up. I ultimately fell in love with it and have vastly expanded into the Stephen King world. Complete opposite on the spectrum of genres between Picoult in my world, but its a good mix up.

  4. For me I could always get repeatedly sucked into the worlds that are his numerous novels. But I will always be obsessed with Richard Bachman, especially my favorite, The running man. From the very beginning of the book he draws you in like a moth to a flame with his countdown of a deathly game with the lovely main character Ben. But as they say once you’ve explored the spectacular journey through Kings novels, you may stray away from his books but you will never forget them .

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