Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book #4: Everything's Eventual, by Stephen King

I remember, very clearly, the first Stephen King book I ever read. It was 'The Drawing of the Three', and I read it when I was 13 and only learning English. I stumbled through it, confused by idioms and weird expressions I'd never heard before, but oh man, I loved it. When I was done I started reading every King book my dad had, loving the crazy stories and his easy and exciting way of writing, all the time practicing my English. You could say I owe a lot to Stephen King. Now, we have just about every book he's ever written, and I still love his work with a passion, though now I can be a bit more critical about it. While I concede that a lot of King's work can be cheesy and repetitive, you'll never take away my conviction that no one can tell a story like King does, sucking you in and leaving your brain feeling like it's been sucked dry. It's very unfair (but easy) to dismiss King as nothing but a 'horror writer', yet he is much, much more than that, and "Everything's Eventual" is good proof of this.

The book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for a very long time. I'm not a very big fan of short stories in general, and aside from 'The Bachman Books' I haven't really enjoyed King's other short story collections. But I finally decided to give it a chance, and I'm glad I did. If you ever need a crash course on everything that makes King who he is, this is the book to read. It's a great, entertaining collection with a few truly great stories, and it makes for a good, guilt-free weekend reading that can be disturbing, touching, amusing and scary by turns.

'Autopsy Room 4', a scary, yet funny story that works as a great example of something that King does brilliantly: he creates a complete, three-dimensional character in a few paragraphs, and he puts them into completely believable, and terrifying situations. 'In the Deathroom' and 'Lunch at the Gotham Café' fall into this category as well, and all three were some of my favorite stories in the book. King uses his talent for quick personality sketches and fast-paced action scenes to write stories that are engaging and fun to read, that leave you wondering how you would react in those situations.

'The Man in the Black Suit', 'The Road Virus Heads North', 'Riding the Bullet'(which I really didn't like) and '1408' take a different turn, dealing with the sort of supernatural horror that King loves writing. Again, he takes ordinary characters and throws them into some seriously scary situations, made even more disturbing for their supernatural aspects. I love horror stories that deal with ordinary days and ordinary aspects of real life taking on supernatural qualities, and King is a genius at this. '1408' was seriously disturbing, and I don't recommend anyone with an overactive imagination (like mine) to read this while alone in your room in the middle of the night. You won't sleep.

At the other end of the spectrum, 'All That You Love Will be Taken Away' and 'Luckey Quarter' are both stories that highlight King's talent for creating completely believable and sympathetic characters, to whom nothing extraordinary happens. They're just regular people living their regular lives, and King shows extraordinary insight into the turmoil that goes on in the human mind while the world passes them by. In both these stories he writes about truly lonely, sad people trapped in their lives, and they are both moving and well written. There's something to be said about a writer who can take you from haunted paintings to a sad man contemplating suicide in a cheap motel. "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" sort of fits into this category; it's not a horror story at all, but it's a touching and hilarious story about regular people, though the ending is a little jarring and strange.

I was extremely happy to find that two of the stories in this book are tied into the 'Dark Tower' series. For those of you who have read the series, 'The Little Sisters of Eluria' is a great little story about Roland Deschain's early travels, and we get to revisit the extraordinary universe and mythology that King created for his epic series. This was easily my favorite story in the book, but I wonder if readers unfamiliar with 'The Dark Tower' will like it as much. This goes for 'Everything's Eventual' as well, which deals with the backstory of another Dark Tower character, though it's not nearly as interesting as story as Roland's. They're both great bits of fantasy writing, but I wonder if readers will get much out of them if they haven't read the 'Dark Tower'. And if they haven't, what the hell are they waiting for?

There are two stories in the collection, 'The Death of Jack Hamilton' and 'That Feeling, You Can Only Say What it is in French' (what a clunky title), that don't really fit anywhere. The first is about a dying mobster, and the second is a very strange story that King in his little introduction tells us is about hell. I found them both a little strange and not very engaging, and I wonder at the decision to include them in the collection.

I suppose, however, that they serve, like the rest of the collection, to show the reader every aspect of King's writing. He can be funny, sad, terrifying, bizarre, shocking, romantic…this is a writer who can write you a story about anything you can think of. He's admittedly written a lot of his books just to get the stories out of his chest, books that he seems to write in the course of a couple of days or only a few weeks. While those stories might not be great literary masterpieces, King knows how to entertain his audience, and what I find even more likeable about him is that he clearly loves to write. King often gets criticized and dismissed for this type of story, but I think you need to look at his full body of work to understand why some of us consider him to be a truly gifted and admirable writer who can't be pinned down into a single category.

'Everything's Eventual' is a good collection, and while not King's best, it's a good tour through his style and imagination. If you haven't read a book by Stephen King, I suggest you pick up one of his classics*, and if you have, this is a nice addition to the collection.

*'The Stand', people. Please, please read 'The Stand'.

No comments: