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May 25, 2022, 05:47:25 PM

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Stephen King's shifting style

Started by 13 schoolyards, May 12, 2022, 06:07:04 AM

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13 schoolyards

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.

I gave It a try a few years ago and found it ridiculously overlong.   Pet Sematary was all the better for being relatively short.

13 schoolyards

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.

willbo

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.

bgmnts

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.

dead-ced-dead

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.

Egyptian Feast

Curious 1990s Irish teenagers leave thread unilluminated.

pigamus

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

purlieu

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.

pigamus

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

pigamus

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

purlieu

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.

Magnum Valentino

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!

pigamus

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...

dead-ced-dead

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.

Mister Six

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.

willbo

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.

Mister Six

True, but I love all the character pieces, so I'm not complaining!

kalowski

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.

purlieu

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.

bgmnts

QuoteMartha walked slowly through the room. Bang! And the dirt is gone ran through her head.

kalowski

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.

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. 

Greg Torso

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."

purlieu

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]

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.

kalowski

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!

bgmnts

Martha walked slowly through the rooman. And all because the lady loves Milk Tray ran through her head.

Magnum Valentino

Quote from: Egyptian Feast on May 12, 2022, 10:43:06 AMCurious 1990s Irish teenagers leave thread unilluminated.

Very very funny!

Mister Six

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.