Four Past Midnight – Stephen King

Four Past Midnight – Stephen King

How fitting that a post about a Stephen King book is being posted on Halloween! This fourth anthology released by Stephen King is different again from the previous three.  Night shift had a series of short pieces, and older stories that tied into his earliest published works like ‘Salem’s Lot.  Different Season contained some of his most classic writing: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Apt Pupil.  Skeleton Crew had a good many of stories, the most memorable of which to me is Survivor Type, mainly because of the self-cannibalism.  Four Past Midnight contains only four stories, as its title implies.  The stories are closer to classical horror or suspense than many in the previous collections, and they are significantly longer than the previous tales.  The second and fourth were the most enjoyable, in my opinion, whatever that counts for.

 

The Langoliers

The Langoliers focuses on a cross-country flight that ends up messing with time.  On the East Coast they saw the destruction of the world by the Langoliers (why does this seem strangely prescient now that there’s a potential presidential candidate who lives on the East Coast?)  On the west coast they saw the birth of the world.  And here we see another of King’s standy methods, when time traveling or teleporting, one can only do so asleep.  Anyone who was awake on this flight disappeared.  The emptying of the world is always a scary thing, and the approach of the Langoliers is scary in its suspense, but in the end their appearance doesn’t live up to the hype.  To see the world disappearing before our eyes would be a sanity breaker, but I admit I was underwhelmed with it in the literary form.  It might be time to find and watch the movie.

 

Secret Window, Secret Garden

John Shooter is Walter White to me.  I think it’s the hat that did it.  Secret Window, Secret Garden was another version of The Dark Half, but written more in a mystery style than a horror style.  The most horrific thing about it is the panic in Mort’s mind when he thinks that Shooter has been in his house, and when the two bodies are discovered.  If reading it for the plot twist at the end, you might be sadly disappointed, for it can be seen a mile away.  As a short study of the human psyche, however, it is more interesting.  Guilt over his former plagiarism, anger over his failed marriage and not acting when he found his wife with her boyfriend, eventually festers in Mort’s brain and makes him crack up.  We may not all turn into murderers when suffering under the weight of guilt, but some do.

 

The Library Policeman

A shape-shifting ghoul makes another appearance in one of King’s books.  This one is most related to Pennywise, who haunts Derry, Maine.  She disguises herself as a librarian, but is really an insect-like creature.  She can take whatever form best suits her purposes.  In the case of the local drunk, she became a beautiful woman.  In the case of Sam, our protagonist, she becomes the man who raped him when he was a boy.  Here, too, the past plays a large part in the present.  Sam doesn’t remember what happened to him until the end of the story, and then he is able to use that information to overcome his past.  It was not until he did this that he was able to move forward with his life.

 

Sun Dog

Fifteen year old Kevin receives a Polaroid camera for his birthday.  Instead of taking its usual photos, it takes pictures of only a white picket fence on which a dog’s shadow is moving closer and closer with each successive picture.  It is a vicious dog, they see, and is trying to escape from the photographic world into the real world.  Kevin assumes responsibility for the thing, and would have destroyed it but for the crooked ways of old Ace Merrill, the local loan shark and dealer of interesting things.  Merrill tries to sell the thing for profit and in the process he fails, and loses several contacts who he has sold fraudulent things in the past.  In the end, Kevin discovers that he destroyed a replacement camera, not the dangerous one, and is able to act in time to prevent the dog doing any damage, but Merrill has died, proving again that you should not mess with powers you don’t understand.

Advertisements

Long Walk To Freedom – Nelson Mandela

Long Walk To Freedom – Nelson Mandela

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela writes a lot about the decades long struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa.  It was a long, and ultimately successful struggle in which they wanted to change the hearts and minds of the people, but more importantly they wanted to change the system.  Mandela and his fellow members of the African National Congress (ANC) wanted to have the freedom of their fellow South Africans.  In the 1990s they finally achieved this goal.  Does that mean that there is not still racism in the country?  Surely not.  While I am sure they hoped to live in a world free of racism, their main goal was to ensure that all people could live free.  Likewise today, the goal of the Black Lives Matter movement is not to address systematic problems within the African American community, but to shine a light on what seems to be systematic problem of unnecessary killing of black people.  Unarmed people in many cases, who are targeted (at least in theory) because of their race.  And then, after this killing, to compound the issue, the officers are frequently not held accountable.

 

 

An autobiography is always suspect as it is within our nature to try and portray ourselves in the best light.  I have no reason to believe that Mr. Mandela did not do the same here, but even if he did, it did not negate the power of the story.  His language is simplistic and accessible, and the usual boring details of politics are kept to a minimum, while the struggle of having to have passes, and being arrested and imprisoned are the focus.

My thought, embarrassing though it is, while reading Mandela’s Long Walk, was to think of how similar his story was to Harry Potter’s – the yardstick against which everything in my life is measured.  More broadly, how the struggles that the ANC went though looked very much like a Hero’s Journey, as defined by Joseph Campbell.  We have Nelson Mandela, a young lawyer working at a Jewish law firm.  He is told to stay out of politics, but he does not listen (Call to adventure.  He is separated from his family and for much of his adult life as he spent it in prison.  And in the end he is set free and uses all of his knowledge gained through prison and through the ANC to help make his country a better world.  It is a heavy price to pay but it is something to which we all should aspire.

Brand Loyalty, Part 2: Marketing Run Rampant

A new series of movies based off J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuts in theaters in a little more than three weeks.  As part of the promotion for the film they have started releasing songs off the soundtrack on iTunes.  The very first of such was the Main Title and it sounds appropriately sinister for a potentially dark series of movies (having to do with Gellert Grindelwald, apparently).  Being the Potterhead that I am, I was of course excited for this release.  The song begins with those opening notes of Hedwig’s Theme, so well known to almost everyone, even those who are not obsessed with Harry Potter.  It is brilliant to tie in this first song, this first movie with the most successful franchise of recent years.  I would say it is marketing 101.  The filmmakers want to tap into that audience of people who loved Harry Potter, and of course they are right to do that.  Musicians, authors, filmmakers, and other artists might consider themselves above the dirty and corrupting influences of business, but it is almost always because of those business practices that they are successful (especially on a scale like J.K. Rowling).

 

Yet it is precisely those business practices that have had a corrupting influence on many aspects of our lives.  One needs only to browse any form of media to see this.  The aforementioned Harry Potter is a perfect example.  Everything to do with the Fantastic Beasts movie has from the start been branded as coming from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding world.  Pottermore, the official online Harry Potter encyclopedia, is likewise branded.  This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Harry Potter, though.  It has become the exception to have a video game, or a successful movie that does not have at least half a dozen sequels.  What are they up to on the Fast and the Furious now? Seven, was it?  A quick perusal of Goodreads authors reveals the same: Outlander, Book 1 (terrible book, by the way). A Dream of Witches #1.  Terry Goodkind should probably have stopped writing the Sword of Truth series fifteen years ago.  Even Stephen King got in on this a little bit with both the Dark Tower series, and the Bill Hodges trilogy, though I think he is finished with both now.  How many Law & Order shows are there (and I should know this because I am trying to watch them all)? CSI? The Walking Dead, a truly terrible show, has an even worse spinoff called Fear the Walking Dead.  Bought any celebrity’s clothing line or fragrance lately?    It is endless.  Endless I tell you.

 

We live in a world where our media is like a bag of Cheetos: fluffy but without substance.  Why, oh why does Outlander have to be a series?  It could have been wrapped up in one book, no?  Why does Bookbub constantly sell boxed sets (funny phrase for a series of ebooks) of romance novels?  Have we become that bad at telling stories that we cannot wrap up the story in one novel?  No, it just pays better to stretch it out over successive books.  It must give a sense of job security for the author of the books, to know they have a loyal fan base who will keep buying their work, I understand that.  But not every single book published with any tiny degree of success needs to become a series.

 

With books in particular, this could be a throwback to the nineteenth century when many authors, Dickens springs to mind in particular, published novels in serial format, with a new part released at regular intervals.  People could not wait to read the next in the series.  And since authors of such media in Dickens’s time were paid by the word, we tended to get verbose narratives.  But Dickens and others at least understood when a story had to come to an end.  We don’t see Great Expectations 2: Miss Havisham’s untold story, or Jane Eyre: Mr Rochester Speaks.  Jane Austen did not release a story to tell us what happened after Darcy and Elizabeth married.  Dante didn’t feel the need to continue his Divine Comedy past the natural ending point.  We didn’t get the story of Dante’s climb from Beatrice as well, or from Lucifer (Paradise Lost is a different beast all together).  It isn’t just books though.  TV, movies, video games.  There are sequels, cross-overs, cross-marketing, tie-in editions, you name it.

 

If we’re not talking about the franchising of every aspect of our media, then we are talking about the proliferation of the ‘updated’ versions of technology.  I love all my iDevices, and am a fairly staunch brand loyalist to Apple (I’m writing this on my iMac, in fact) but even I recognize that many of Apple’s recent updates lack their previous innovation.  It might be that they haven’t made a giant leap forward in recent years like they did when they released the iPhone.  Perhaps their changes are smaller bits that ten years down the road will make us sit back and wonder why we didn’t notice this before.  If that is the case, I say now that I am sorry for jumping to cynical conclusions.  I happen to agree with a point Bill Maher made several weeks ago about how most of these updates are a way for corporations to pad their profits.  While not a business expert, I have some experience with the terminology: productivity, efficiency, cost effectiveness, year-over-year growth forecasts.  I would go on but I am putting myself to sleep.  Every one of these terms are part of the profit motive, that practice of eking out that little bit of extra earnings to placate shareholders.  As a shareholder myself, I like growth in my company, but as an employee I’m not always sure the layer upon layer of extra work is worth it.  Companies like Samsung pay for this overwork in having to recall whole series of phones so that they don’t catch fire.  Shouldn’t this have been worked out before the device was released?  Why do that when it is easier and cheaper to deal with the complaints after the fact? It is always easier to ask forgiveness than permission, right?  And as long as they’re on top of a problem fairly quickly, the marketing geniuses that brought us the phrase brand loyalty, can spin a problem, saying that the company is customer focused. We, sheeple that we are, often swallow it.

 

The world can be a dark place sometimes.  Just look at the presidential election in the U.S., a campaign dominated by racism, misogyny, hatred, vitriol, and easily disprovable lies, but yet Trump is still almost tied with Hillary Clinton.  It isn’t because the election is rigged.  It isn’t because his policies are as good or better than Hillary’s.  He doesn’t have experience in foreign affairs, or really any qualifications for the job.  He is in the position he is because he’s a celebrity.  He’s a brand.  He knows, if nothing else, how to make himself heard above the fray, and to get people to notice him.  In our scary, noisy, overcrowded world, this is what counts.  It is not substance, it is not character, it is the recognizable packaging.  It is the marketing geniuses that have brought us to the point we are at today, where style is the important ingredient in success.  Style, presence, and that ever important brand name.

 

Notes:

Brand Loyalty, Part 1

 

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

“It’s escapism” someone said in a comment online when speaking of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Escapism has become an excuse for bad writing, and it needs to stop.  All fiction is a form of escapism to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the story in question.  It does not do to use the same words to describe writers like Gabaldon, Stephenie Meyer or, even worse, E.L. James.  While Outlander is not to be placed on the lower shelves with Meyer and James, it is not much farther up.  The faults: Claire Fraser/Randall/Beauchamp, the persistence of rape, and the steer length of the thing.

 

Precisely because of writers like the aforementioned Meyer, James and Gabaldon, did I for a long time dislike the first person narrative point of view.  It was not until reading some Margaret Atwood, and my beloved Jane Eyre, that I came to realize that it was the writer and not the point of view that I had problems with.  And characterization, we cannot forget that.  James’s Ana has – as Stepehn King so succinctly said – two states: “Oh God” and “Oh My.”  Bella Swan is some desperate wannabe who latches onto Edward and then spend an entire series making anyone not a teenage girl want to strange her.  Gabaldon’s Claire is on the desperate, clingy girl that Bella is.  Her fault lies in flying off the handle at the slightest provocation.  She is a nurse and capable of more than Bella or Ana  but she, too, has two speeds: pissed off or recovering from being captured.  Picture: she’s just come through a magical time traveling rock, has almost been raped by her husband’s ancestor, and then she throws a fit because someone isn’t being treated correctly.  One would think she might be more shell shocked.

 

A great many pages are spent explaining how violent the Scots can be –with rape, murder and thievery being our prime examples.  Claire several times expects that some person is the culprit of some crime, while another ends up being the guilty party.  She should not have tried to dabble into politics as it did little to advance her main narrative.  Perhaps it has been explored further in later books, but I am not sure I’ll be sticking around to read those.

 

Captain Randall, Dougall, countless numbers of drunken men and road bandits, and arguably even Jamie, our supposed hero, are all counted among the men who tried, or did force themselves on Claire.  Rape is as old as the sexual act itself, so I am not disputing the existence of assault back in the day, but it would not be as prevalent as Gabaldon makes it out to be, at least not in peace times, and there is not a full fledged war on at this point.  That she turned the tables in the end and had Jamie as the one who was assaulted is the only part of the story that rang true (at least until the witchcraft scene).  And as with everything else, once this is overcome we are never to hear of it again.  This is a problem for the argument of escapism on two fronts.  In the first case, it tends to take the reader out of the story if we see that no one is dealing with the consequences of the things that happen to them.  Rape and murder – no big deal, they’ll be settled in just a few pages as she plows on and on and on.  On the wider context though, it speaks to the fundamental stupidity of romance novels (historical or otherwise), that a person can be personally violated and there are no long term consequences.  This book and Fifty Shades of Grey are taking escapism to a very dark corner of the world, even if their ability to transport us to another realm is full of holes and plot points that are thin from wear.

 

Margaret Atwood’s fantastic novel The handmaid’s Tale was a dystopian view of a world in which war has destroyed a continent and led to the suppression of women.  It is a dark tale, equally as dark as anything written by Gabaldon or James, but it stands far above these two for several reasons.  Atwood is a far better writer than James or Gabaldon, and her story is consistent.  She is able to write characters in difficult situations that are deep and meaningful, and don’t fly off the handle every other page.  The reader picking up The Handmaid’s Tale can experience true escapism.  Read good writing, you’ll have a much more pleasurable trip.

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith have something else in common besides being the same person:  they both come into their strides in the third book of their series.  I don’t care what name she writes under, the truth is evident.  Third books are the ones with massive backstory and more interesting plots.  Also common to these third books are changes to future events.  In Prisoner of Azkaban, a murderer is on the loose and apparently after Harry, but we find out that he is really after the man who framed him for murder and is now coming to enact his revenge.  In Career of Evil we get a good deal of backstory on Strike’s mother and some of his childhood.  We learn more about Robin and why she’s still with her douche bag fiancé.  And we are introduced to the first true psychopath of the series.

 

Strike’s past comes back to haunt him when Robin is sent a leg.  He has three men he thinks might be their culprit, and he turns out to be right, but we don’t find this out until nearly five hundred pages later.  The latter half of the book is set against the backdrop of the Royal Wedding, sort of an irony given the grisly nature of the story, though thankfully not as blatantly gross as the Silkworm.  This story is more psychological in nature, with the occasional girl getting stabbed thrown in for good measure.

 

The blessing and curse for Rowling is that she will forever be associated with Harry Potter.  It is impossible to totally divorce Harry from anything else she writes, which is why I found myself marveling at the writing in this book.  Harry was dark for a children’s story.  Career of Evil was gritty, and she knows the mind of a psychopath quite well (I think).  It is the job of a writer to get things right, and I think this Rowling-Galbraith entity has done the thing properly.  Someone’s been lurking in dark passages, haven’t they?

 

The problem I find with almost any detective fiction, not that I’ve read a lot, is the tendency for the detective to have their AHA moment and then leave the reader hanging for an answer for many pages.  In the case of the Strike books I think this was at its worst in The Silkworm.  Career of Evil suffered the same fate, sadly, but of a much shorter duration which reduced this reader’s usual urge to throw the book against the wall.  Why can’t we have an AHA moment at the end of one chapter and then reveal at the start of the next (a la Philosopher’s Stone)?  Also tiring was Robin’s rape.  I’ll blush and admit I’ve fallen into that trap, too, but that makes it all the more irksome.  One part of my mind wants to scream and insist that there has to be something other than sexual assault that can happen to women.  On the other hand, her take down of Laing was so awesome that I can forgive the overused rape storyline.

 

No book is perfect.  The Strike novels can seem dry and detective-y at times, fine if you’re into that thing, drudgery if you’re not.  Career of Evil, though, was more my cup of tea.  Who doesn’t like a good dismembering psycho every once in a while?

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

Any person taking on the task of writing additional content for a beloved book series has to have nerves of steel, especially in the age of social media.  For that, I applaud Jack Throne and John Tiffany for even daring to wade into the world of Harry Potter.  If we can use a recent example, think of the backlash that came with the announcement and subsequent release of Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.   For the purposes of full disclosure, I cannot fully remove myself from this wave of criticism, having made my hatred of the Goblet of Fire movie well known among my acquaintances.  I was (and still am) nervous about the expansion beyond the original seven books.  After reading (and peeking pre-publication) I have not yet decided if my nerves are much sated.

 

Like an over excited kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait to read the play.  Using my good friend Google, I was able to find on someone’s blog a pretty good synopsis of parts one and two of the plays.  Having read that, I cannot now say whether I would have been happier or angrier at the play if I had come to it with innocence and ignorance.  I think probably more of the latter because there are still parts that made me angry, even knowing that they were coming.  I have a love/hate relationship with this play.  Let me tell you why.  Please consider this your spoiler warning.  You read on at your own peril.

 

First off  imagine a giant angry emoticon) time travel, really?  Unending vistas of possible fantasy plots, and they have to use one that has become threadbare from overuse, even making an appearance in the Potterverse before now?    At least, when we see it used in Azkaban, it was for consequences of life and death, not because some kid was mad at his dad.  (Be quiet about the irresponsible use for school lessons, will you, I’m trying to make a point here!)  Lazy is what I would call the time travel idea, amateurish would be the word for the three or more forays into the past.  As a lifelong devil’s advocate, however, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not make a counterargument.   The fan in me wants to rage and scream for the above stated reasons, but I know that in reality, J.K. Rowling may have wanted to be done with this story when she finished Deathly Hallows, but caved to pressure.  By making this a time travel story, she allowed for it to be self-contained.  Once Albus and Scorpius repaired the original timeline, the story is done, no wholly new villain to work out motivations for, no plot threads to dangle out and fray the nerves.  She can move on, now.

 

Some have called Cursed Child sanctioned fan fiction.  I therefore feel no compunction in berating Mr. Throne for thieving my idea!  That he would lean heavily on Goblet of Fire makes sense because that was the midpoint of the series, where there was a huge twist in Voldemort’s return.  Harry should have died by Voldemort’s calculations, Cedric should not have.  That things turned out the way they did changed a lot, as we see in one of the many trips into the past.  It was interesting, if not nice, to see Amos Diggory, haggard though he was.  Harry lied, not unheard of for his character (“he invented wildly’ was somewhere in the books), but still feels sour.  I did not like it in the reading, but after some time to reflect, I think it makes sense.  He wanted to cut off any further discussion of this dangerous weapon.  Harry is not Dumbledore, but he has his moments.  He’s not a teenager or young adult anymore.  He is a man of forty with even more years under his belt in which to acquire knowledge and wisdom. I don’t like the lie, but I understand it. And we must  remember that the Potter books were very good at colouring actions by the point of view character and the conversation between Diggory and harry was heard by Albus while he was mad at his father.

 

Closer to the hate part on the love/hate continuum: I cannot stand the Voldemort part of the storyline, from Harry’s scar hurting again down to Delphini.  For one thing, wasn’t Harry’s scar hurting a symptom of the Horcrux trying to free itself and reunite with Voldemort?  If that was the case, shouldn’t the pain have stopped?  Or was it phantom pain, only remembered in Harry’s dream?  (A reread may be required).  That the mother of a child by Voldemort was Bellatrix would make sense.  That Voldemort had a child at all does not.  Correct me if I am misremembering, but I am sure Rowling said that Voldemort had never been in a sexual relationship with anyone (kudos to the person who had the cajones to ask that, by the way).  But, I hear you saying, she could have changed her mind.  You are correct, and she is well within her rights to do so.  One thing you cannot deny is the revulsion at the thought of Voldemort and Bellatrix doing the nasty is just . . . . well, nasty.  Squick-o-meter has broken.  Let’s assume we’ve showered the Squick away, and imagine that Delphini was the product of some sort of immaculate (satanic?) conception, it brings up the importance of the nature/nurture debate.  Was she inherently evil because her parents were, or was she evil because of how she was raised?  Conundrums of a philosophical turn do go out the window, when the expected and horrifying murder of a student issues from her hands.

 

The Malfoys: Scorpius was the best character in the play, hands down.  Totally unlike his father, he was funny and a great partner in crime to Albus.  He was basically the Ron of the play.  It was refreshing to see that he was not an arrogant prat like his father.  And in the turn back of time where Harry was dead, we see that perhaps Albus’s influence was a good thing.  In writing this, I have reversed another opinion that I had about the Draco storyline and the silliness of Scorpius’s parentage.  I would love to know where Lucius is – is he back in Azkaban?  Probably.  I’m sure he would hate the fact that his son was chumming around with Harry Potter, and that his grandson was best friends with Albus.  I also think that Lucius would be torn, at least, to think that his son was not capable of producing an heir.  We know how serious Mr. Lucius Malfoy took his family’s purity of blood.  I did not like that they tried to wrap up the old feud between Harry and Draco by all of a sudden having them look at each other ‘as friends.’  To be friendly and civil, fine.  Anything else is just eye rolling and frustrating.

 

I am channeling Back to the Future here, I’m sure, but a thought: instead of having all this back and forth nonsense with them weaving in and out of the past, have Delphini show up at the same time and work with the boys to get that time turner.  Then she could steal it almost at once and drag them into the past where they would interact with James and Lily.  They could share what happens in the future.  But, I know you are asking, how would we solve the potential paradox (would Lily have been able to save Harry if she knows he survives?) by having Harry have to modify their memories or something, so they don’t know he was there.  Then we could have had an awesome moment of real interaction with them.  I want to write this now, but MUST NOT . . . must not . . .

 

For a Potter story, I give it a couple of wands up.  It is fun and mostly lighthearted (at least until the Voldemort stuff comes in).  A book would have been better, but it does give me another very good reason for trying to get to London.  I must see the play before I can give a less biased opinion on the matter.

The Dark Half – Stephen King

The Dark Half – Stephen King

Think Stevenson meets Shelley. Dr. Jekyll and Dr, Frankenstein fuse into one being and create an amalgam of the creature and Mr. Hyde (Oho – The Creature and Mr. Hyde – a most promising title. A story may need to be written from this title). Add in a writer and two Maine towns and presto-majesto – you have The Dark Half. But it is almost alchemical, for it is not just throwing together two nineteenth century horror writers to make a story. There is also some third part that makes this novel decidedly King-esque. Ah, yes, the two Maine towns in which this story takes place.  The Dark Half, in truth, has more in common with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jeckyll and Hyde story than it does with Frankenstein, but the thought of creating a being and then casting him off with a sense of disgust definitely has traces of Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was far more active in the creation and rejection of his being with the protagonist in this story.  

Mr. Thaddeus Beaumont, English professor and writer of profound, unsuccessful novels, has a pseudonym under which he writes thrillers. Pretty nasty hack-’em-up thrillers at that. Thaddeus (hereafter called Thad) is contacted by a man who has figured out the big secret of his pseudonym and tries to blackmail him to keep the matter quiet. The plan backfires and Thad decides to go public about it. A story appears in People magazine, which includes a mock up of a gravestone for Mr. George Stark. Thad tells us that he had been considering jettisoning the pseudonym for some time because he didn’t like (or at least his wife didn’t like) who he became when he was writing Stark’s books. (JPaging Dr. Frankenstein).  

Not long after the People story is published, murders begin. Thad’s pseudonym has come to life in all his not-a-nice-guy-ness’. We know in advance, of course, that Thad had bits of an undeveloped twin pulled from his head when he was a young kid. He did not know this until years later. Stark was not just a pseudonym after all. Stark was almost a person, and could only be carried away by sparrows in the end. And we are left with an open question: know that Thad knows about this other self, will he be the same again?  

Even before consulting Wikipedia, a thought percolated in this girl’s brain – was The Dark Half written based on King’s experiences of being outed as Richard Bachman? Though wikipedia is a site with trust issues (how much of the info contained therein has been messed with for the hell of it?) the blurb talking about why the book was written rings true. The kernel of the idea for Dark Half came from King’s experience, the rest of the story coming from those dark corridors of his mind. I R SMRT, RN’T I?  

After surviving The Stand, It, and The Tommyknockers, The Dark Half felt like a novella. Several characters lent their points of view: Tad, Liz, Alan Pangborn, George Stark, even the groundsman and the doctor, but that’s it. Half a dozen people spoke here, not a dozen and a half with fifty page back stories to boot. Don’t get me wrong. Stories like The Stand and It are obviously much broader in scope than The Dark Half, and lend themselves fairly well to reading about more than just our main characters. On the other hand, these are the stories that are most susceptible to bloat, and it is not uncommon to read about them and think: do I REALLY need to know seventy years of Derry history? The Dark Half is mercifully missing town histories and excessive number of characters. it is a straight to the point story, and is much better for it. King seems to write his best when he sticks to narrow scope. This has everything to do with emotional concentration. Watering down something dilutes it, as adding too many characters and subplots to a story can dilute emotional impact. 

It is not that I dislike long stories in general, but perhaps my limited amount of time to read has something to do with the preference for shorter stories, and the previous comment about emotions is just me talking out of my ass. After all, It remains the only book I had to slam shut because I was freaked out. Anything is possible. I’ve found though, that the best of King’s books have been the ones that don’t delve too far into too many characters: The Shining, Misery, and The Dark Half. I am only half-way through Mr. King’s catalogue, though. Perhaps I am not yet into the Dark Half of his works.  

(Go ahead and groan, it is allowed).