12.24.2012

King's Highway pt. 59: Ranking the Novellas and the eBooks

Ho Ho Ho! Blogger struck again and ate my previous attempt at this blog. Right at the end, naturally, literally seconds before hitting “publish.” Luckily, I had all my notes, so re-creating it isn’t too much of a problem, just kind of a pain in the ass. So, while Blogger gets a bagful of coal and razorblades, you’ve been so good this year so you get:


THE DOG STAR OMNIBUS  
NOVELLAS AND E-BOOKS  
CHRISTMAS CUP!

What exactly constitutes a “novella” is pretty much a judgment call. Although “N” is considered one, it’s shorter than “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which is considered a short story. “Sun Dog” is longer than The Colorado Kid, but it’s considered a novella and TCK a novel. And where does a “Kindle single” fit into things? So, in the same arbitrary spirit, I offer the following.

I covered most of these elsewhere (here and here) and have quoted myself where appropriate. I did not include the two novellas from Hearts in Atlantis; that one will be ranked with the novels, when I get to the best-of-the-novels blogs. Captain’s discretion.

TWENTY


“You’ve come down with a case of wheelchair fever,” Uncle Al says to Marty at one point. I wouldn’t recommend saying this to any of our wheelchair’d friends…

This arrived last week as a Christmas mystery gift. The only return address was Amazon, and no personalization of any kind. Turns out it was my brother, (thank you, sir!) but for a few days I was as perplexed as the Reverend Lowe receiving Marty’s un-signed letters. (Thankfully, my gift did not include the same sentiments.)

Not much to this one. Kind of King on autopilot. One of the rare occasions where the movie is better than the book. Its R-rating prevented me from seeing it easily back in the day, but it’s a fine coming-of-age tale. The fx might be a little dated, but who cares. Features good performances from a pre-drug-haze Corey Haim and a pre-crazy Gary Busey. As well as “Big” Ed Hurley from Twin Peaks and Locke from Lost.


NINETEEN

I don’t dislike this (I don’t dislike Cycle of the Werewolf for that matter) nor do I dislike Stand By Me. But for my money, King handles the coming-of-age/ shared-childhood-event narrative better elsewhere. I’m more ambivalent on the movie. Though it meant the world to me when it came out and I was about the same age as the kids onscreen, I find the performances kind of annoying now. From my original review: “Perhaps a few too many scenes of painful emotional catharsis/ revelation. The kind of thing actors live for but isn't my favorite thing to watch…

A lot of the trouble I had connecting to it this time around was Corey Feldman. As Teddy, he's the "wild card" of the bunch. I'm not saying he did a bad job; he did fine. But it's just impossible for me to suspend disbelief and embrace the craziness/ rage of any character played by CF. The fault is mine, I admit freely. Even if the real-life Corey Feldman was plunging a butcher knife into my chest and screaming in my face, I'd be shaking my head, saying 'I just don't buy it, dude, sorry.'”

I’ll add Wil Wheaton to my not-buying-it list. 

"You're not of The Body. You're not."
EIGHTEEN
“Not much to say about (this one). It's a good read - another vengeance-is-mine EC throwback (for something like Crime SuspenStories) - but a terrible movie. I made it about halfway through and then had to turn it off. What I saw kept trying to turn the story into some kind of comment on immigration, which is not in the source material at all. As always, leave it to Hollywood to turn anything into a delivery mechanism for half-baked politics.” 

Shares some similarities with the Poe classic.
SEVENTEEN


Apt Pupil was very dangerous in the 1980s. I can speak only for myself, I guess, but there was always some dark energy that surrounded this story of the sexual and serial-killer awakening of an all-American boy who discovers and keeps a Pet Nazi (who later keeps him just as much.) I was the same age as the protagonist when I read this, and I was disturbed by all the sexual-awakening stuff most of all. It sits rather uneasily with all the Nazi and killing-hobos stuff.

…The movie is still good, though. Less "dangerous," but a better take on the material, maybe? Bryan Singer refers to it as a film about the "tension and danger of adolescent curiosity." A great performance from Ian MacKellen and tho this may sound odd, some damn good lighting. It kept jumping out at me the other night when I watched it.

It changes quite a bit: it moves the setting from the 70s to the 80s (though keeps it in Santo Domato, CA), adds Pacey Witter, removes the "serial killer awakening" aspect, and … ends with Todd emerging more-or-less unscathed from the events of the film and heading off to sunny horizons... decidedly more chilling, actually.


SIXTEEN


I remember kind of liking this when I read it in the 80s, then flashing back to it when I had to read Updike’s “A and P” years later. I prefer the ending in the story, though, which ends on a note (literally) of “Hope.” Not so in the film. 

This remains a quick and entertaining read… in the same way something like The Birds is even more entertaining when you bring Freud/ Oedipus into it, "The Mist" works even better when you project Dark Tower onto it.

Though you really have to wonder what the hell kind of painter David Drayton is, if you don't know Dark Tower stuff.
FIFTEEN


I probably enjoy “The Mist” more than this one, but “Riding the Bullet” is probably a better-constructed story. More “literary,” perhaps.

I like when King writes about hitch-hikers. Hitch-hikers and airplanes. There needs to be a way to combine the two. That will be my favorite King story, if it ever materializes.

As he laments in the foreward to Everything’s Eventual, people seemed to focus more on the business side of this story rather than its content. It’s too bad, as it’s a well-written tale. But the business side of it is pretty cool, too. For more on that, go here.

FOURTEEN

“Not the most pleasant read, with the whole flashback-to-kiddie-rape and all, but some intriguing connections to King's other works. (One example of a few: Naomi, the office assistant who sends Sam Peebles to the library, where he meets possible-Pennywise-relative Ardelia, is a fan of the novels of Paul Sheldon, i.e. the guy who writes the Misery Chastain novels in Misery.) This is a dark story, sure, but it's a good one. I don't know why it's never been made into a movie, actually - seems like it'd be perfect for one.”

Not much to add to that, really, except this is an underrated tale. If anyone had it at number one (same goes for the next thirteen, actually), I wouldn’t argue.


THIRTEEN


Great little tale. “This Castle-Rock-interlude between The Dark Half and Needful Things very much resembles a fun episode of Friday the 13th: the Series I was amused by the dialogue "tic" King gave Pop Merrill. Pop affixes "what I mean to say is" to a lot of his sentences. At the end, when he's under the spell of the camera and about to be attacked by the dog from Polaroid World, and Kevin and his father burst in and tell him to move it, he says something to the effect of "No! What I mean to say is, I can't!" Good little payoff for something not essential - the kind of fun detail I enjoy.”

Personally, I think the epilogue could be omitted. “Kevin gets a computer for his following birthday. In order to test its word processor function, he types "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy sleeping dog." Rather than a printout of this text, the page reads, "The dog is loose again. It is not sleeping. It is not lazy. It's coming for you, Kevin. It's very hungry. And it's VERY angry." Meh.

An actual Sun Dog.
TWELVE

Fair Extension
“A man with cancer stops at a roadside vendor in Derry, Maine, and the vendor sells him an extension on his life/ remission of his cancer. All he has to do is wish the "badness" on someone he hates. It's a version of the old "The Button/ The Box" story, and this is a great read.”

The end to this one is a fine example of dark irony. I like this side of King.

ELEVEN


This is a fun one. The structure is simple enough on first glance, but it’s more complex than it appears. I also like how it’s dedicated to Nye Wilden and Doug Allen, the guys who bought King’s first stories back in the day. This came out in 2011, so I was happy to see that. Although older works are dedicated to Kirby McCauley and Bill Thompsen, who had a similar impact on his career, they don’t seem to get much mention from King after a certain point in the 1980s or so. I’ve always wondered why that was. I maintain hope (perhaps ghoulishly) that someone will publish a tell-all memoir on King’s business relationships.

Good stuff. One of two on our list that recalls From a Buick 8. Both in the car-that-is-not-a-car (and may eat you) aspect and in its not answering where the car comes from or how it got there.

TEN


Granted, I’m a big baseball fan, but even if I weren’t, I think I’d love this just as much. The narrative voice given Granny (“high, wide and handsome…” “The game was played hard in those days, Mr. King, with plenty of Fuck You.”) is a perfect blend of old-timey-baseball and just-old-timer. The tale-told-to-the-author-himself aspect is fun. And the story itself (particularly its final twists) is compelling.

I’ve criticized King in the past for unsuccessful attempts at the tale-told-by-one-character-to-another (“Dedication” or “Ballad of the Flexible Bullet”), but here is one perfect example of how it can be done. I think giving the narrator a particular way of speaking and plenty of asides is the way to go. 


NINE
In true pulp-cover style, the image has little to do with anything in the story. (Art by Glen Orbik)
“Unlike most of the hard-boiled detective novels that comprise and inspired the Hard Case Crime collection, The Colorado Kid offers little in the way of actual procedural detective-work, no sex, violence or action, possibly no crime, and no solution to its mystery. The story of the unsolved mystery is framed as an oral history given by Dave and Vince, and to this extent the novel is about the storytelling prowess and rhythms of these two yarn-spinners, even as genre expectations are denied and subverted.”

Here’s the other one that brings to mind From a Buick 8. Not just in the unexplained-mystery aspect but in its probably-connection to the Dark Tower:

“King noted on his personal website that an apparent research error regarding the rise of Seattle, Washington-based Starbucks Coffee may hold other implications: "The review of The Colorado Kid in today’s issue of today's USA Today mentions that there was no Starbucks in Denver in 1980. Don’t assume that’s a mistake on my part. The constant readers of the Dark Tower series may realize that is not necessarily a continuity error, but a clue."

Perhaps we’ll see this expounded upon in works-to-come. It might help explain how “the kid” got from Colorado to Maine so fast, as well. (“Why” is still anyone’s guess, of course.) I’ve only read this once, so if there are more clues in the text, please lay ‘em on me.

EIGHT


A twinner of The Dark Half and arguably a better exploration of the material. “The good twin.” My preferred one of the two, at least. Great stuff. And though the movie changes the ending a bit, it’s among the better King adaptations out there. Directed by David Koepp, someone who knows a thing or two about being a successful writer.

SEVEN


This one got its own entry back in June. I was far too nice about the film, which is just terrible. Oddly enough, I enjoy watching it, though, and keeping a list of all the ways it aggravates me. (I have the same relationship with Rose Red; both need a remake.) “The movie has been referred to it as a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 4 hours. While it's actually only 3, it's a reasonable description.”

It’s too bad most people are familiar only with the movie, as the novella itself is great. Much more successful sci-fi than something like “The Jaunt.”

SIX


I love this story. I wanted it to be number one, actually, when I sat down to write this out, but events proved otherwise.

“…The central image/ metaphor for this one is particularly creepy. I'd love to see an ongoing series set in this club, with its ominous slither-bump sounds from the nest of rooms and corridors upstairs, and the ageless and ever-present Stevens.” 

I think this would be a natural setting for a King anthology show or comic, with Stevens filling the Cryptkeeper role. Wish someone would untangle the copyrights and get on this.

FIVE


“Great stuff, here, and compare the ending cop/interrogation scene here with the scene from “Apt Pupil…” One of the fun things about zipping around King's catalog the way I have been is seeing the changes in his writing over the years and comparing/ contrasting similar scenes or set-ups.  I'd say the scene at the end of "Good Marriage" (or "Big Driver," for that matter) reads a lot "tighter" than the equivalent scene at the end of "Apt Pupil."

FOUR


This is the first blog where some of my reading was done on the Kindle. What a cool little gizmo. As cool as it is, though, the Ur-Kindle described in this story is even cooler. The span of King’s bibliography coincides with some remarkable inventions; whether it’s the GPS, the Kindle here, or cell-phones, it’s fun to get his first impressions of them.

King’s thoughts on this one:

”I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle. Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird. I had previously written about homicidal cars, sinister computers, and brain-destroying mobile phones; at the time the Amazon request came in, I'd been playing with an idea about a guy who starts getting e-mails from the dead. The story I wrote, Ur, was about an e-reader that can access books and newspapers from alternate worlds. I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos and Co., but that didn't bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I'm still standing.

King's agent, Ralph Vicinanza, has stated that downloads of the novella at Amazon.com have reached "five figures" in about three weeks, while also denying the novella is an infomercial for the Kindle. King's publisher, Scribner, released Ur as an audiobook on February 16, 2010. In an interview in October 2010, King stated that he didn't write the novella for the money: "I did it because it was interesting. I'm fairly prolific. It took three days, and I've made about $80,000. You can't get that for short fiction from Playboy or anybody else. It's ridiculous.”

Finally, my criticism of “Word Processor of the Gods” is that it ends prematurely. It sets up a final act that would be great but doesn’t happen. “Ur” is a great answer to this criticism, a perfect example of the kind of final act I had in mind.

And is it just me or are the Low Men actually rather sympathetic here? Far more-so than they appear elsewhere, to be sure.

The Paradox Police reminded me of Walt Simonson's Time Variance Authority, from Thor and FF.
Not that it doesn't have plenty of other precedents in sci-fi, but that's what came to mind.
THREE

1922
“King wanted this story to reflect the hardness and isolation of the photographs from Wisconsin Death Trip. I think he pulls it off. 

  
"This is another good read, about a man who talks his son into helping him murder his wife/ the boy's mother, and the consequences thereof. (All that is revealed in the first paragraph of a one-hundred-and-twenty-eight page story, so don't feel like I ruined anything for you) Fans of Investigation Discovery will find plenty to enjoy, here.”

I’ll only add that this one has really stuck with me. I enjoy when King sets stories in the early twentieth century.  


TWO

Big Driver
“I was greatly surprised by "Big Driver," which takes some fun narrative leaps, if "fun" can even be applied to a story that involves rape, revenge, pain and suffering, PTSD, et al. The language of this one is particularly crisp. I read it mainly on the train and didn't record many examples, but the voices given to Fritzy, Goober, and Tom (especially Tom) are all great. Great structure and overall, just a tight production. This is tough material, but, again, consumers of Investigation Discovery and tortured-girls-enact-revenge stories will find familiar terrain here.”

Pretty much a perfect story. I don’t know why King’s work isn’t utilized more by academics. Not just professors of literature, for that matter. It’s like having a compass for American culture in perfect-working-condition and not using it in favor of less-reliable / accurate methods of reckoning.

ONE

and

What else could it be? One of King’s most loved works and another pretty-much-perfect slice of literary construction.

I covered this more extensively here. I won’t add too much more, here, but just wanted to reiterate that any of my top thirteen could easily be number one. But there’s definitely something special about this story. It’s on its way to becoming as much an American classic as It’s a Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz. The movie might overshadow the novella a bit (I don’t think the short-lived play is any danger of doing so), but people who love the film and come to the novella won’t find too much different. “That it's more or less the same exact story on the page as it is on the screen says a lot for King's uncanny instinct for what the masses want to see/ hear/ read.”
Until Next Time...
Happy Holidays!

2 comments:

  1. I love stuff like arguing over what counts as a short story as opposed to a novella, and so forth.

    My personal definition of a novel is this: is it long enough to be published on its own? So really, for me, anything over about 150 pages counts as a novel to me.

    As for the story-or-novella argument, it's slipperier. The metric I use is this: if I feel I could comfortably read it in a single sitting, then it is a short story, whereas if I would feel the need to break it up into two or more sessions, it is a novella.

    * Nice "The Return of the Archons" mention. Landru is a little bit like Blaine in some respects, isn't he?

    * Good point about the Low Men in "Ur." I remember thinking when I read it that they represented the Low Men as they exist without the influence of the Crimson King. I thought that was pretty cool. It's a solid story overall, and the Tower overlaps make it even more compelling.

    * Not sure what my #1 would be. I think it'd come to either "The Breathing Method" or "1922," both of which seem to me to be outright masterpieces.

    I'm typing this while listening to the South Park Christmas album, "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics." It is demented genius.

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    1. There's a great anecdote from some bio I read of Jerzy Kosinski (not that there's all that many, I just can't recall the exact name) where, upon completion of "Being There," (better known now for the Peter Sellers/ Hal Ashby movie made of it) he wasn't sure if what he had on his hands was a book or a story or what. He wandered into a bookshop and counted the pages of Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." So bolstered, he went to his publisher and declared he'd written a new novel.

      Landru and Blaine are definitely kissing cousins. And I couldn't agree more on "1922" and "Breathing Method." Such GREAT stories. Just perfect constructions of narrative.

      It's been awhile on Mr. Hankey! Very nice. I had occasion to reference South Park tonight, actually, as my cat (Big Boy) never fails to enter a room like Towelie. He (the cat) always seems to just appear, squawking some catchphrase that amuses him / makes sense to him more than anyone else. The rest of us are left staring at him, while he (I'm convinced) makes subtle meowing inquiries as to whether or not anyone has weed. It's something to see.

      DON'T FORGET TO BRING A TOWEL.

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