Monday, February 1, 2010

Stuff I've Been Reading January: Hail To The King Baby!


Steven King Companion
Mr. B Gone, Clive Barker
Jim Butcher Boxset (Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril)
Odd And The Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman
The Chronicles Of Narnia And Philosphy
The Audacity To Win David Plouffe
Shelf Discovery , Lizzie Skurnick
The Emperor Of Ocean Park, Stephen Carter
New England White, Stephen KCarter
The Poet, Michael Connelly
The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
The Black Ice, Michael Connelly,
Harry Potter And Philosphy
Jack London In Paradise
, Paul Mamount
The Portable Grindhouse
Literary Life Larry McMurtry
, Brad Sanderson


Under The Dome, Stephen King
The Shining, Stephen King
Horns, Joe Hill
The Stephen King Companion
Literary Life
, Larry Mc Murtry
Missed Connections, Various
Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art Of The VHS Box, Jacquees Boyreau
Shelf Discovery, Lizzie Skurnick
Franny And Zooey, JD Salinger
The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
Mystic River, Dennis Lehane

Hey guys, know its been quite for the last couple of days. I’ve contracted a honey of a head cold that has made rational thought, much less the act of typing two words next to eachother in order to create a flow of them, difficult. But I’ve gotten over enough of it that I’m now able to prop myself in front of a computer and infect the rest of you with my delirium. Yay Progress.

I kicked it off with the copy of Under The Dome I got for Christmas. The hype for Under The Dome had been strong. I’ve heard it called King’s best in a decade in more then one place. And they’re right. And I say that as someone who has liked a whole lot of what King has done this decade. Sure there have been some missteps Dreamcatcher and From A Buick 8 where both pretty clearly the work of a man shaking off the cobwebs, the merits of the meta Dark Tower conclusion can be discussed until doomsday and The Colorado Kid and Just After Sunset both have the air of “Oh well why not”. But Cell was a piece of unmitigatedly nasty balls out horror of the type he hadn’t really done since The Dark Half and I found both Lisey’s Story and Duma Key to be richly rewarding, not to mention deeply sad, pieces of work. Among the best that King’s ever written.

But Under The Dome brings it all together. It’s a reminder of what King does best. Basically setting up a bad situation then finding ways to make it worse.

Under The Dome’s pretty irresistible premise follows a small town that suddenly finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by a giant unseen force field. Things go from bad to shit storm in record time, as the town’s evil selectman ends up installing fascism as the defacto mode of government, and ends up setting his psychotic son and friends in charge of the new police recruits.

Arraigned against him are a few resisters led by a Iraqi war veteran. And for most of its surprisingly quick 1000+ pages we just kick back and watch everyone make the worst possible decisions at the worst possible times.

Don’t get me wrong now, if you’re a King Hater this will do nothing to change your mind. Just the opposite it finds all of King’s quirks out in full force. If you don’t like King’s voice, filled with running monologues, made up nonsense slang, and oft repeated Malapropisms, attempting to read Under The Dome might make you want to eat a bullet, Particularly some of the kid's dialogue which manages to combine several of King's Kingisms until they reach critical mass. I have to imagine they'd cause physical pain to King Haters.

But for those who know King’s gifts, his incisive character work (Prepare to meet the most likable Jesus Freak, Psychotic Meth Cook you can imagine), humor, and superb storytelling ability, Under The Dome is a delight. King’s skill with large casts hasn’t mouldered, and he skips nimbly from thread to thread somehow always keeping things clear.

My only problem is that I wished that King had hit the genre brakes for once in his career. The problem is that King at the end of the day is a genre writer (not a knock from my POV) and plays by genre rules. And at the end of the day he gives the book a genre ending and gives us an out. Now anyone who has read the book and it’s exceedingly grim ending, might wonder just what the hell I define as an out, but my feelings remain unchanged.

Had King left The Dome unexplained I think Under The Dome would stand next to Kafka and Golding. As is it falls a little short.

Without really meaning too I’ve ended up rereading King’s first three books for the first time since Adolescence. And have been gratified by how well they held up. Carrie remains a clumsy but ultimately powerful work, both for the rawness of its prose and the sad prescience of King’s vision. Salem’s Lot is a bit clumsier, but it showcases’s King’s laser like insight to small town life, and has some amazing scenes.

But The Shining? Well, I think The Shining might be a God damn masterpiece.

The problem with writing about The Shining is you can’t write about it without talking about Kubrick first. I wrote about my frustration with it early in this blogs life, but as an adaptation The Shining is piss poor. At best it uses the setting and some of the beats for Kubrick’s own obsessions, at worse it’s a willful misinterpretation of the work (You could say the same thing about Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, the difference being that while Burgess’s and Kubrick’s aims are quite different Kubrick at the very least replaced Burgess’s themes with some worth considering, which I don’t believe to be the case with The Shining.)

The Shining is a very human horror story. You know the bones of it if you’ve seen the movie, but you don’t know how much hope King gives to Torrance. Torrance is a good man, finally starting to move past the demons that have been haunting him for the past half decade. And every room in the hotel, every task, every spirit just opens those fresh cracks up a little wider, and when Jack Falls apart its truly a terrible thing to behold. The film takes the time and care to build up a loving family unit, then it rips it to shreds. The book climaxes in a grisly act of Fatherly love that never fails to stun me.

Kubrick gutted this all, of course with Jack acting crazy as a loon from the first frame, and Wendy and Danny never seeming two people who would have anything to say to one another.

The Shining is a very academic horror novel as well. In his under read study of lthe horror genre Danse Macarabe King suggests that the tension in most horror fiction comes from the struggle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, which is often fueled by the characters own Narcissim.

Keeping this in mind The Shining is as much of an engine as the haunted hotel itself is supposed to be. The first conflict is easy enough to see, the way King’s novel pits the small nuclear Torrance family against the eternal omnisexual fuckfest that’s going on in the ballroom. But it’s the narcissism that really stokes the engine, with Jack’s doom being sealed by the simple fact that he can’t understand that its not him the hotel wants.

King’s writing a sequel to The Shining, before the reread I thought it was a ridiculous idea, now against all odds I’m sort of excited. I hope he finds it as rich ground to revisit as I did.

At our after Christmas sale I picked up an odd little Curio called The Stephen King Companion. As a biography its pretty worthless, but it does come with a bunch of neat pictures, reproductions of manuscripts, artwork, and foreign book covers. Not a bad buy for five bucks.

Finally on the last of The King matters, I got my greedy mitts on “Son Of King” Joe Hill’s book Horns, which comes out in just a few short weeks. Guys its fucking awesome. Go out and buy it. Like now.

I also picked up the second portion of Larry McMurtry’s Memoirs, Literary Life. This is despite being somewhat bamboozled by the first volume. When you pick up a book called Books, you might, not unfairly think that its about Books. But Books wasn’t about Books. It was about the selling of Books. Based on a few excerpts I read, I figured Literary Life would be more on topic.

Well fool me twice shame on me. Literary Life isn’t about McMurtry’s Literary Life its about all the stuff around his literary life. All the agents and classes and now forgotten rivals. Dear sweet Christ you’d hardly know the man wrote books.

To be fair Literary Life’s does have a few passages about you know literary life, and its more tolerable then Books if only because its less aggressively inside baseball and because McMurtry has never been anything less then an appealing meanderer.

Still I have no doubt that when Hollywood, McMurtry’s third volume comes out, it will be about Deluth.

I Saw You was a similarly enjoyable trifle. Though the premise a bunch of comics based around Missed Connections posts on Craiglist screams indie chic, it managaes nonetheless to overcome its feyness and showcase some genuinely affecting work.

And while we’re at Esoterica might as well bring up Portable Grindhouse. In case you haven’t heard Portable Grindhouse is a collection of old VHS box art and back covers. It’s kind of amazing. The lurid covers are reproduced in startling detail. Ironic that for a book celebrating one of the ugliest mediums in entertainment history Portable Grindhouse is a frankly beautiful to look at.

Shelf Discovery is a similar look back at a bygone era, this one by Lizzie Skurnick as she travels back to the classic world of YA fiction in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s a rewarding tour, that reminded myself on the details of several old favorites. Skurnick is an incisive insightful writer, if not one I would be exactly eager to take a long hot car ride with. But her apprasials of the likes of A Wrinkle In Time, Danny Champion Of The World, and Island Of The Blue Dolphins can’t help but hit a soft spot in my heart, as I imagine it will for anyone with a soft spot for said same books.

I picked up The Black Echo because I wasn’t sure how I could keep calling myself a crime fiction fan and ignore Michael Connelly. Connelly is one of those magical writers who manages to hover in a privileged nexus of Critical Respectability and Commercial Success.

He’s without a doubt the biggest crime writer of the day. I don’t really know why I was avoiding him. I guess I’d always just written him off as a member of the James Patterson school of dumbass gimmicks. But I kept hearing good things, so I decided to go ahead and buy the first Harry Bosch book, The Black Echo.

An once again (I had previously read Crime Beat a collection of his writing as a journalist) I have to wonder where all the fuss is coming from. I mean its not like its bad. There’s a lot good there, Bosch is an interesting enough character, the crime Connelly conceives of is pretty clever, he writes a good LA, there’s a twist at the end that I genuinely didn’t see coming. All in all it’s a decent well written policier. And yet I’m unmoved.

I don’t know, it’s not like I’m writing off Connelly, I’m planning on reading The Poet this month, and I already have to the second Harry Bosch book so I’m sure I’ll read that. But reading his stuff is like watching NYPD Blue when you have five full seasons of The Wire next to you. Sure NYPD Blue isn’t bad, but that’s the fucking Wire right there. What the fuck are you doing? Because while Connelly might not be down on the level of James Patterson and other assorted lazy ghost writing fucks. He’s not a Richard Price, Andrew Vachss, James Ellroy, David Peace, Richard Stark, Don Winslow…

Or a Dennis Lehane either. And Dennis Lehane kicks enough ass to make you scream, “DOOONKENNN DOONUTTTSS ARE FAAAACHINNGG OOSUME!” Seriously there are few writers I envy more then Lehane. Not only is he a great storyteller, with a keen sense of plot, character, and an unpredictable sense of humor. But line by line he’s just a fantastic writer, his prose slipping between effortlessly authentic vernacular and some truly beautiful work seemingly at will.

Assuming that you are one of the few who hasn’t been spoiled by Eastwood’s film (One of those annoying movies that’s simultaneously over and under rated, I’m not going to dive too deeply into the mystic. I’m just going to point out that it’s a dark hearted morality play that’s hypnotic to read And if you haven’t read it yet, go get it now.

I finished the month with some Salinger. I have been saving Franny and Zooey and Raise High The Roofbeams Carpenters for a rainy day and now have only Raise High The Roofbeams Carpenters remaining in my larder.

Franny and Zooey has all the attributes that Salinger’s critics find distasteful. It’s didactic, over detailed, and about nothing but the problems of over priveleged white people (gasp!).

All of these criticisms miss the point of Salinger. Salinger was the poet of unhappiness. And Unhappiness is universal.

Franny And Zooey is one of Salinger’s Glass novels, the family of ruined Geniuses who apparently took up the remainder of Salinger’s literary life. And of whom Updike once sublimely complained, that “Salinger loves them more then God does.” It’s a tough work to write about, as it not a lot happens in it.

It follows Franny, as she first undergoes a nervous breakdown and begins following a kind of Zen Buddism form of Christianity, and then has her older more cynical brother Zooey try to talk her out of her depression. It plays almost like the reverse of Catcher In The Rye, with the disillusioned older brother having to save the innocent sister, rather then vica-versa.

Like most of Salinger’s work it’s a melancholy fable. But one I cannot help but respond to. Salinger’s sadness is usually adolescent in nature, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. He brings up questions that we don’t think about anymore, not because we’ve found answers to them, but because we haven’t. Reading Salinger is always uneasy and intimate. I hope that Raise High The Roofbeam Carpenters doesn’t sit alone on the shelf for too much longer.

1 comment:

Marcus said...

Under The Dome was absolutely awesome. Not at the top of my King masterpieces (that would be IT, The Stand, and The Shining) but it's definitely in the really good category. And I definitely get your meaning about an out. The only thing I didn't exactly care for was how our "villain" went out. Was very similar to Rose Red.