King's Highway pt. 3: Salem's Lot and more

I wandered over to Ravenswood Used Books earlier this afternoon (leaving myself plenty of time to arrive back home for the Champions League Final, of course) to see what they had to contribute to this Stephen King project. Unsurprisingly, they had quite a few things. For a grand total of $26 I got hardcovers for Everything's Eventual,  Just After Sunset, and Full Dark, No Stars, and the paperback for Skeleton Crew. Very pleased with that!

'Salem's Lot, "Jerusalem's Lot," and "One for the Road."

I never read any of these as a tweener/ teen. I remember reading a few pages of my old copy of Night Shift - oh wait, here's my old copy of Night Shift:

I was rarely without a Stephen King paperback in 7th through 9th grade. This cover describes a story therein "I Am the Doorway," which was recently made into a Russian short film. Anyway, I'll get to the rest of Night Shift in a moment, but "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road" begin and come-near-the-end, respectively, of this collection of short stories. And they take place as respectively-chronologically to the events of the novel 'Salem's Lot. 

I remember making an attempt with "Jerusalem's Lot" once and perhaps I even finished it, ditto for "One for the Road." But if so, I forgot everything therein, as I found it all new to me here in the far future of 2012. I enjoyed both quite a bit. The former is set in 1850, upon possession of family property, and the story bounces between what they discover about its past and what they discover about its surroundings. (Not to mention what's in the cellar...) The mythos are definitely Cthulhu, but it also relates to events that occur in 'Salem's Lot.

"One for the Road" is about an out-of-towner who gets lost and leaves his wife and child in a parked car in 'Salem's Lot, as he goes for help in a snowstorm. The locals that he encounters don't think much of his plan, and they trek out to see what can be done. The unspoken superstition and certainty of the locals comes across really well.

Neither of which would have hit me as much if I hadn't finished 'Salem's Lot at the same time I was reading them. Now, this was one I actually never read as a kid. (Kid sounds better than tweener/ teen, so I'll just use that. But, really, my big King reading years were 1986-1989 or so. By the time Misery came out in the theaters, and definitely by the time I was working at Waldenbooks and unloading endless boxes of The Green Mile off the trucks, my interest had waned.) But I remember the paperback on my brother's shelves:

Maybe it was my mother's actually. At any rate, I was so freaked out by the little bits of the Salem's Lot mini-series I saw when I was 10 or 11 that I never wanted to try my luck with this one. (I'd say I spent at least 40% of my time between 1984 and 1989 scaring the crap out of myself. I miss those years. I'm so happy I didn't spend my 10-15 years watching stuff like Saw, Cabin Fever, or Wrong Turn. Totally different vibe.)

Here are some pics from the mini-series:

I suppose it's a bit dated now - well, more than a bit. A used copy of the DVD is en route to my house as I type this. I was going to wait to incorporate a review of it into this blog, but it's probably the sort of thing you can review without seeing. If you're nostalgic for the era or time of your life, you'll find something to like. Perhaps it'll be a hidden gem. Anyone of a certain age remembers the kid scratching on the window and floating there - that got a lot of on-the-bus currency.

(I never saw the Rob Lowe version from 2004, but I've heard universally bad things.)

It was so refreshing to read an old-fashioned vampire's story. Crosses and holy water. No sexual metaphors wagging the dog. No labored layers of artifice. Sometimes that sort of thing is fun, but there's just been too much of it since Anne Rice, for my money. Now stuff like this is the exception and not the rule: Just an evil inhuman presence that spread its virus through human hosts until he consumed them and moved on. But these things come in waves, so we'll likely see a return to the more traditional "monster's tale:" A few dashes of satanic or psychological ritual (both also fleshed out further in "Jerusalem's Lot") and some "old-fashioned" murder, but mainly it's about having the outwit and then stake a bunch of bloodsuckers, turned by one master bloodsucker, and his human assistant. It's told in an engaging way, giving a bird's-eye view of the sort of fictional town in Maine I normally associate with a Stephen King book: a place where people are quitting smoking and others are smoking, people are drinking beer, and a lot of guys are slapping their wives around and where the main character goes to either reconnect with his past or get over a profound loss in his life. (In this case, both.)

I guess Father Callahan, who suffers an ignoble fate here, appears in some Dark Tower stuff, and I understand Wolves of Calla is a sequel (of sorts) to this. I joined the Stephen King forum and there's a lot of discussion of it over there. I'm saving all the Dark Towers, perhaps not for the end, but to read as a whole, so I won't get to those for a bit. But, if you're ahead of me here but have no reason to wait, see Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla for more information...

Night Shift

Ahh Night Shift... I was very pleasantly surprised with this collection, and it was my enjoyment of this that led me to select the purchases referenced earlier. I'm curious to see how his 21st century short fiction holds up.(And why I picked Skeleton Crew from the other books available - figure if I don't like the new stuff, I can always enjoy that. That was another paperback that traveled to a lot of different study halls, back in the day.)

The only story in here that I felt didn't really work as a story was "Night Surf," which was likely just a napkin-sketch for what eventually became The Stand. Not necessarily a bad read, but I tried picturing it as an episode of Tales from the Crypt or something, and had it been, it wouldn't have had much of a plot or point to it. (Probably more of a Tales from the Darkside.) The rest run the gamut from not-bad-but-not-amazing ("The Man Who Loved Flowers" or "The Last Rung on the Ladder") to surprisingly good/ better-than-I-remembered (Pretty much all the rest, but particularly "Battleground," which was made into a really wonderful episode of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and "Quitters, Inc." which I always remembered as inferior to the James Woods segment of Stephen King's Cat's Eye, but this time around, I found much better. And I love that segment, don't get me wrong. Although the film deviates substantially (pretty much altogether, keeping only the "man quits smoking via mysterious all-powerful organization" part of the plot) from the story, but it was recently made as the Bollywood feature No Smoking) to the wow-that-was-fantastic, which I reserve for two of its better known ones, "Children of the Corn" (made into a crappy but fun 80s movie, which spawned several diminishingly-fun sequels, and an underwhelming, rather-pointless recent SyFy remake) and "Trucks," which saw life on the big screen as Stephen King's directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, but which reads here as actually pretty wild. It ends right when it would be getting interesting, as a book (and depending on your reaction the film, it might end exactly where it should have), but the images and logic and scenario remain. "Trucks" is definitely "one of those stories."

I enjoyed "Sometimes They Come Back" but mention it here mainly as an excuse to share the poster for the film:

Which I remember distinctly from a video store I used to rent from. (Never saw it. But I like the poster.)

This has been a little longer than I expected, even after editing, so I'll save Firestarter and Four Past Midnight for next time...


King's Highway pt. 2 (Special Features)

Here are two photos of the stairway by the library/ waterfall where I read The Stand. Makes me nostalgic. They cleaned it up considerably these days, so it's less rough-and-tumble, and I kind of miss the dilapidated-ness...

You can't see the waterfall from these angles, but, if you sit here, you can certainly hear it.

Here are some pics of other views from this little area behind the NS Library...

If you parked your ten-speed at the top of the stairs, it attracted attention, so it was best to lift it down the stairs and hide out of view. I can't tell you how many times I scraped my shins on those bike pedals while performing this operation... And that's what I associate most with that summer and reading The Stand: scraped shins and the stone summer steps behind the library.

King's Highway pt. 1

Like a lot of folks born in the 70s, I grew up reading a lot of Stephen King.

Then, in the 90s, like a lot of English majors or those with pretensions to literariness, I became embarrassed by King and distanced myself. I still enjoyed plenty of his movies, but I stopped reading new works, I don't know, somewhere around the time of Desperation or whatever it was. Somewhere in the early-to-mid-90s, I guess, although truthfully it was before that.

It struck me the other day - why did I turn off the guy's work like that? Was I following the lead of other folks, or did I have a good reason to do so? I honestly didn't know. And it started to bug me in a way evaluating other writers doesn't. Because the time I spent with King's books in the 80s (particularly 7th through 9th grade) was huge. It felt like a huge blind spot on my nostalgic resume.

I have many fond memories of reading King. Whatever was available by him was checked out of the library by me more or less on a continuous basis 1987-1989 or so. Junior high early high school study halls are all associated with his books. I remember the summer The Unabridged Director's Cut of The Stand came out. I'd bike down to behind-the-library and sit on the stone steps by the waterfall. I had just started to smoke and was stealing cigarettes from my grandmother whenever she came over - Merit 100s, god-awful - and even now, years later, I can taste the rancid blandness and shake my fist across the years at my younger self. I can hear the cicadas buzzing and feel the cool, wet stone, and the hot and hazy summer air. It's a novel forever tied to that summer.

A friend read his most recent 11/22/63 and relayed this from the afterword or forward. "I read all the books you don't have to... Oswald acted alone." Wow. I don't even know where to go. The 1960s assassinations need to be understood beyond the propaganda. If not, like a traveler proceeding with a faulty compass, you land way off the mark when trying to evaluate anything subsequent.

Additionally, King has written recently that Warren Buffet's tax-me-more platform is not only morally sound but economically so. This perspective perplexes me; it is one happily shared by most "progressives" but I can't help but weigh it against ) why Warren Buffet actually supports this, and b) how taxes actually work, and c) the Federal Reserve System. But, I'm not winning this argument any time soon, so moving on...

Now that I've gotten out of the way, I feel I've given myself permission to just dig on the stories. Or not dig - we shall see! It's a long road ahead, but it feels good to start on something, knowing the road map. Maybe not the sights along the way, but the road map is good.

Previous to the above, the only time King really came on my radar over the last 10 years was when I was a tutor at the RIC Writing Center. A copy of On Writing was on the shelves, and I leafed through it a few times. That was where I first discovered he was a big druggie during the years of my most fervent fandom, and it was an "a-ha! So that's why It and The Tommyknockers and many others were so crazy and random..." moment for me.

A friend recently sent me a list of King's work and it struck me how little of it from the last two decades I've read. And how I've more or less forgotten most of the stuff I read so much in the 80s. All of which leads me to this: I have decided to read everything he wrote, and I will use this blog as my repository of observations, reviews, and thoughts and reminisces. Both for movies based on his work (Dawn recently surprised me by suggesting we watch every work based on King's work. My reaction? "Where have you been all my life???" If we weren't already engaged, such a thing would be an I'll marry the first girl that suggests such a project... moment) and his stories. And also, any associated-memories I uncover.

Blogging is a lonely venture and sometimes feels like an opportunity to make a fool of one's self before the world. But, something compels me to do it, even so. I like organizing principles. I like reading stuff. 

I like you.

(Delivered in my best Erwin Fletcher voice.)

First up: 'Salem's Lot, Four Past Midnight, and Night Shift. I'm reading them all simultaneously. I will intentionally follow a random path and not read/ watch anything chronologically. Can't wait to get to Maximum Overdrive... *

* When I was a PA on Batman Begins - an experience which deserves several blogs of its own - my favorite stock reply to passersby asking what was going on/ what was being filmed was "Maximum Overdrive 2."