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Forums => Shelf Abuse => Topic started by: 13 schoolyards on May 12, 2022, 06:07:04 AM

Title: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: 13 schoolyards on May 12, 2022, 06:07:04 AM
Back when the first movie of IT was coming out I thought "I remember really enjoying the first 2/3rds of the novel when it first was released and I was a callow youth, let's give it a re-read and see how far into it I can get". I think I managed three pages? It was so turgid and over-written to my (I guess 2017?) eyes that I couldn't face the slog and dropped it.

Then a few weeks back I saw a second hand copy of King's Billy Summers in my local bookstore, and figured that King writing about a hitman might not be so bad (I'd enjoyed one of his crime novels a few decades ago). So I took a look and... it was a lot more readable? He'd stripped out all the (no doubt coke-fuelled) excess and written something a human might stick with.

Is this a recent development with King? I stopped reading him in the late 90s, though I think I stuck with The Dark Tower a bit longer. I mean, I assumed getting off the gear would have improved his style, but this read like a completely different author.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Phoenix Lazarus on May 12, 2022, 06:15:19 AM
I gave It a try a few years ago and found it ridiculously overlong.   Pet Sematary was all the better for being relatively short.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: 13 schoolyards on May 12, 2022, 06:23:43 AM
Yeah, I remember Pet Sematary being a lot better - King's drug-addled style suited the subject matter too, the dad slowly going mental with grief really came across vividly.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: willbo on May 12, 2022, 07:35:01 AM
My Dad just read Billy as his first ever King and really enjoyed it. But yeah, all post 90s, and especially post 00s King is shorter and snappier than his 80s stuff. His short story collections and novella collections are good to start with IMO. Mind you, his previous novel The Institute was padded AF, and pretty bizarre too.

to be honest I'd just google which ones you like the look of and see what reviews say, he's done padded meandering ones in the past couple decades too, like Dreamcatcher and Lisey, and there were classic lean ones in the 80s like Misery.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: bgmnts on May 12, 2022, 08:46:52 AM
Yeah other than The Stand, I much prefer his collections of short stories to anything else.

His Richard Bachmann stuff may be my favourite.

The first King book I remember reading was Eye of the Dragon, which I think is just a short little story that takes place in the Dark Tower storyline (maybe retroactively?).

I think he has a talent for short stories and longer novels as I do think It is marvelous in places and The Stand is genuinely a masterpiece to me but there can be lots of waffly padding. But that is the case for lots of very long books to be fair.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: dead-ced-dead on May 12, 2022, 10:11:25 AM
His coke addiction was probably a big contributing factor to how overwritten his work in the 80s and 90s was. It's probably not a coincidence that there's a direct correlation between his books' length and his habit.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Egyptian Feast on May 12, 2022, 10:43:06 AM
Curious 1990s Irish teenagers leave thread unilluminated.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: pigamus on May 12, 2022, 10:47:29 AM
Quote from: dead-ced-dead on May 12, 2022, 10:11:25 AMHis coke addiction was probably a big contributing factor to how overwritten his work in the 80s and 90s was. It's probably not a coincidence that there's a direct correlation between his books' length and his habit.

Is there? He's written quite a few large books over the past thirty years
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: purlieu on May 12, 2022, 11:02:49 AM
Quote from: bgmnts on May 12, 2022, 08:46:52 AMThe first King book I remember reading was Eye of the Dragon, which I think is just a short little story that takes place in the Dark Tower storyline (maybe retroactively?).
It is, although it's actually very hard to believe that
Spoiler alert
it's the same Randall Flagg as in the Dark Tower books and The Stand.
[close]

I did try and read the entire expanded Dark Tower series, got through all the main series as well as the peripheral ones that tie directly in with the story, but once I finished and started on the more tangential ones it became a slog. It was the point where I gave up. I got about halfway through before realising I was totally and utterly uninterested in anything that happened in the book.

My favourite was Hearts in Atlantis. The first story of that is quite important to the Dark Tower plot (as well as Black House), but otherwise it's just a collection of loosely connected short stories, most of which lack any kind of supernatural element. It's a really touching, warmly human book and lacking the often stodgy writing that pollutes a lot of his books.

The Stand and Insomnia were the two lengthy ones that I enjoyed. I think my first King book was Under the Dome, that's a recent lengthy one, and it was terrible.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: pigamus on May 12, 2022, 11:22:32 AM
Funny, lots of people don't rate Under the Dome but rave about the JFK one, but it was the other way round for me
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: pigamus on May 12, 2022, 11:29:10 AM
The one that really pissed me off was The Outsider. The way he sets it up is brilliant but it turns out to be a massive cop-out, I was so annoyed
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: purlieu on May 12, 2022, 11:41:37 AM
Quote from: pigamus on May 12, 2022, 11:22:32 AMFunny, lots of people don't rate Under the Dome but rave about the JFK one, but it was the other way round for me
What really bothered me about Under the Dome is how almost every character was such a cliche. It really felt like no original thought had gone into any of the people populating the book or their actions.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Magnum Valentino on May 12, 2022, 11:43:12 AM
I hadn't read any of his books since I was a teenager but my wife got me a copy of Later which came out a year or two ago and I read it in one sitting. It's excellent. It's extremely lean, and written (I suspect) purposely to bring it in line with the Hard Case Crime line it was published under (which includes books by other authors in a similarly vintage style).

Totally recommended by the way. Read it!
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: pigamus on May 12, 2022, 11:45:07 AM
Quote from: purlieu on May 12, 2022, 11:41:37 AMWhat really bothered me about Under the Dome is how almost every character was such a cliche. It really felt like no original thought had gone into any of the people populating the book or their actions.

Yeah, and his trademark shit ending. But I found the villain's comeuppance weirdly satisfying...
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: dead-ced-dead on May 12, 2022, 12:10:02 PM
Quote from: Magnum Valentino on May 12, 2022, 11:43:12 AMI hadn't read any of his books since I was a teenager but my wife got me a copy of Later which came out a year or two ago and I read it in one sitting. It's excellent. It's extremely lean, and written (I suspect) purposely to bring it in line with the Hard Case Crime line it was published under (which includes books by other authors in a similarly vintage style).

Totally recommended by the way. Read it!

I loved that one. Really tight and scary, but also moving.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Mister Six on May 13, 2022, 03:01:32 AM
I read IT for the first time a few years back and loved it. Grandiose and overblown, yeah, but ambitious as hell, and I loved wallowing in it. Could've done without the child sewer sex, mind.

I also thought The Institute, described above as "padded AF", was fantastic too. The writing and characterisation are strong enough that I found it a pleasure to read even when he's just sketching out the life story of some random stranger we'll never see again. And once you're in The Institute proper, the tension and claustrophobia are immense.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: willbo on May 13, 2022, 07:58:35 AM
oh I enjoyed it. It was very disturbing. I even enjoyed the town character diversions. But I feel like it could have worked without them. It's like he goes on these digressions to sneak in character pieces.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Mister Six on May 13, 2022, 10:08:28 PM
True, but I love all the character pieces, so I'm not complaining!
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: kalowski on May 13, 2022, 10:16:07 PM
By god I can't stand IT. King is such a one trick pony. I don't think I realised as a kid but I read The Stand and IT during the last five years and they really pissed me off. He only writes one character: someone into all sorts of pop culture and adverts and rock and roll. Stephen King, i assume.
QuoteMartha walked slowly through the room. Nothing beats the taste of a Twinkie ran through her head.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: purlieu on May 14, 2022, 12:13:08 AM
Quote from: kalowski on May 13, 2022, 10:16:07 PMHe only writes one character [...] Stephen King, i assume.
Never read the later Dark Tower books.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: bgmnts on May 14, 2022, 12:25:34 AM
QuoteMartha walked slowly through the room. Bang! And the dirt is gone ran through her head.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: kalowski on May 14, 2022, 07:29:38 AM
Quote from: purlieu on May 14, 2022, 12:13:08 AMNever read the later Dark Tower books.
Me? No. Should I? I read loads of his stuff as an adolescent and I imagine one of not both my kids will do the same but I got sick of the characters.
I'm intrigued by his Kennedy assassination novel, but still haven't read it because of how bad IT was.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Phoenix Lazarus on May 14, 2022, 08:02:37 AM
Something I've heard people say of him is that he doesn't know how to end books well.  I liked the way he concluded Pet Sematary, however. 
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Greg Torso on May 14, 2022, 08:03:59 AM
Martha walked slowly through the room. Her breasts felt like tangerines under her sweater - the small ripe sweet tangerines that Old Man Oswestry used to sell down at the lake where her dad molested her on the fourth of July.
(nothing beats the taste of a Twinkie!)
"Hey, dollface" said a kid in the corner who was wearing a leather jacket and also chewing gum and had a pair of sunglasses on.
'Lord, not this again', she thought, her face burning up with shame like a balloon full of blood.
Suddenly a tall, handsome man stepped into her view. He had shaggy, long hair and sunglasses on and was also wearing a leather jacket. He was older, but he looked good.
"Stephen Kingston" he said, extending a hand that was gnarled by the road and the chrome handlebars of his 1942 Harley Davidson 900cc motorcycle. "Is that whack cat bothering you?"
Martha was again conscious of her breasts. She nervously began to hum a Carl Perkins song. She always did that when she was nervous - proper good old rock and roll music, not like the shit they have now. The snick of a switchblade opening cut through the thick hot air.
"Don't worry" said Stephen Kingston. "For I also am good at fighting."
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: purlieu on May 14, 2022, 08:39:36 AM
Quote from: kalowski on May 14, 2022, 07:29:38 AMMe? No. Should I? I read loads of his stuff as an adolescent and I imagine one of not both my kids will do the same but I got sick of the characters.
I'm intrigued by his Kennedy assassination novel, but still haven't read it because of how bad IT was.
Ah, I meant it as advice ('reed' rather than 'red').
Spoiler alert
King himself appears in them.
[close]
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Phoenix Lazarus on May 14, 2022, 08:43:54 AM
Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on May 12, 2022, 06:15:19 AMI gave It a try a few years ago and found it ridiculously overlong.   Pet Sematary was all the better for being relatively short.

I liked Needful Things too.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: kalowski on May 14, 2022, 11:48:41 AM
Quote from: purlieu on May 14, 2022, 08:39:36 AMAh, I meant it as advice ('reed' rather than 'red').
Spoiler alert
King himself appears in them.
[close]
Aha! Got you!
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: bgmnts on May 14, 2022, 02:21:30 PM
Martha walked slowly through the rooman. And all because the lady loves Milk Tray ran through her head.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Magnum Valentino on May 15, 2022, 09:49:38 AM
Quote from: Egyptian Feast on May 12, 2022, 10:43:06 AMCurious 1990s Irish teenagers leave thread unilluminated.

Very very funny!
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Mister Six on May 15, 2022, 02:57:13 PM
Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on May 14, 2022, 08:02:37 AMSomething I've heard people say of him is that he doesn't know how to end books well.  I liked the way he concluded Pet Sematary, however. 

It's a product of him writing them more or less as he goes along, but it doesn't afflict every book. The Institute ends really well, for example. I think IT does, too. Whereas Desperation starts off really well, then King realises his antagonist is too powerful and scrabbles to find a way to hobble it, and doesn't really succeed.

I think that problem - of launching into a story then struggling to find a way to finish it - led to an irritating contrivance thing that afflicts both Desperation and IT: predestination. The goodies win in both books because they were always going to win, and especially in IT, they're relying on that knowledge to guide them. Just robs the story of tension, even when a couple of them are injured and killed.

Oh, and the main character being a small town author who becomes rich and famous and marries a beautiful movie star, but still gets to have a consequence-free affair with his childhood friend who's now grown up to be a curvy redhead stunner with massive tits is pretty bloody cringey.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: H-O-W-L on May 15, 2022, 04:52:04 PM
I concur with the rest of the thread; I really like IT but it is definitely overwritten in the first half. The second half is so much smoother and flows well IMO. I've not read much else King (just chunks of other books) but I think it's a good book.

A big problem with IT though is that it was written in a compartmentalized manner over several years, in a state of flux, and he sobered up when writing the latter half of that book, so the first half is just insane drunken six-pack-and-eight-lines shit, absolutely dripping with substance overwriting. I've had my own issues with booze-when-writing and while I'm not even a fraction as good as King I can definitely notice a similar too-many-words issue when under the influence compared to off.

I think IT is worth wading through though because some of the less-notable chapters, the interstitial stuff, is really good. I still get chills (even typing this!) thinking about the chapter where Ben sees IT on a frozen lake. King really captured that "overcast days that last forever" vibe you have when you're a kid.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: bgmnts on May 15, 2022, 05:35:36 PM
Definitely read King's shorter works, I'd recommend.

Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: iamcoop on May 22, 2022, 04:09:20 PM
Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on May 14, 2022, 08:43:54 AMI liked Needful Things too.

I agree. It's one of my favourite King books and it's almost never mentioned when people are appraising his career.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Shaky on May 23, 2022, 08:30:30 AM
Never really got on with the novels, but his short story collections are horror essentials. When he's good he's gooooood. Survivor Type from Skeleton Key is something which pops into my head with horrible regularity.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: kalowski on May 25, 2022, 07:47:16 PM
Quote from: Shaky on May 23, 2022, 08:30:30 AMNever really got on with the novels, but his short story collections are horror essentials. When he's good he's gooooood. Survivor Type from Skeleton Key is something which pops into my head with horrible regularity.
That was the "they taste just like lady fingers" wasn't it. Stuck in my head for 30 years.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Shaky on May 26, 2022, 09:35:03 AM
Quote from: kalowski on May 25, 2022, 07:47:16 PMThat was the "they taste just like lady fingers" wasn't it. Stuck in my head for 30 years.

That's the one. Takes a nasty idea and gallops to an even more horrific conclusion. Such a palpable, claustrophic feeling of dread. Fine piece of writing.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: Gambrinus on June 07, 2022, 12:40:14 PM
Quote from: kalowski on May 25, 2022, 07:47:16 PMThat was the "they taste just like lady fingers" wasn't it. Stuck in my head for 30 years.

It took me about 30 years to realise that was okra and not an actual woman's fingers.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: frajer on June 07, 2022, 12:45:02 PM
Quote from: Shaky on May 23, 2022, 08:30:30 AMNever really got on with the novels, but his short story collections are horror essentials. When he's good he's gooooood. Survivor Type from Skeleton Key is something which pops into my head with horrible regularity.

Great call. Another shout for Skeleton Key, specifically The Jaunt. Read it at about age 12 and have never ever been able to shake the horror of it. Magnificent stuff.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: bgmnts on June 07, 2022, 02:19:18 PM
Quote from: Shaky on May 23, 2022, 08:30:30 AMNever really got on with the novels, but his short story collections are horror essentials. When he's good he's gooooood. Survivor Type from Skeleton Key is something which pops into my head with horrible regularity.

I'd say just his short stories in general, Running Man, Shawshank, The Body and the Long Walk aren't really horror stories, but are all great.

It's weird for me that he is known as a horror author when most of his best work for me isn't horror.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: QDRPHNC on June 08, 2022, 12:23:07 AM
I always loved The Breathing Method, especially the framing device of the strange gentlemen's club with the library of books by unknown authors and the odd noises from the rooms upstairs. It's like The Shining in miniature.

A film version was announced a few years ago, but since then there's been nothing.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: QDRPHNC on June 08, 2022, 12:29:44 AM
Also has it been mentioned yet that King is an absolute legend when it comes to student and no-budget filmmakers, he has a program where you can secure the rights (temporarily) to one of his short stories for $1. Frank Darabont did this when he was younger.
Title: Re: Stephen King's shifting style
Post by: pigamus on June 08, 2022, 12:57:14 AM
Both the book and film of Dolores Claiborne are excellent.