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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Stephen King

Books Reviewed:
Carrie by Stephen King
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime)
From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
On Writing by Stephen King
Roadwork by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
Rose Madder by Stephen King
The Wavedancer Benefit by Stephen King, Pat Conroy, John Grisham, and Peter Straub

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King Stephen King, The Colorado Kid

Author Stephen King's entry in the Hard Case Crime series of pulp novels hardly fits into the style of the previous books at all. And it's likely to be a divisive entry with its love-it-or-hate-it conclusion. It's not that The Colorado Kid is bad, per se, it just doesn't play fair.

The plot consists primarily of a conversation between two aging newspaper editors -- on an island off the coast of King's beloved Maine -- telling their young ingenue, Stephanie, about the mysterious appearance of a dead man, found by two high school sweethearts (one of whom is the current mayor) back in the spring of 1980. A reporter from the Boston Globe tried to get the information from them for his series of unexplained mysteries and failed.

The two editors (one of whom is improbably named David Bowie!) take turns passing on bits of information in a mystery style that ultimately goes nowhere. But King has bigger fish to fry (certainly different from the ones contained in the fish-and-chips platter the mystery man, nicknamed The Colorado Kid until his identity was discovered, did or did not eat that night at 5:30 pm).

Even though it will likely be the publisher's biggest seller by a long shot, purely based on the reputation of the author, The Colorado Kid is one of Hard Case Crime's lesser releases. It doesn't even compare well to the rest of King's work. Feeling a lot like a short story padded out to 180 pages, it is loaded with the sort of folksy ramblings that authors like James A. Moore try to mimic, only these prove to be just so much cornstarch in the cocaine.

But it's hard to fault the Hard Case folk. After all, who would pass up the opportunity to publish a Stephen King novel? Not me, certainly -- not even one with a plot as flimsy as this one (and one that doesn't even show its face for fifty-plus pages). No, you can't even say that the lack of editing is a problem, truly. This is simply a portrait of King at his most raw, with all his quirks present in sharp relief. That the fine cover painting (by Glen Orbik, also the artist of HCC's Branded Woman) has little or nothing to do with the story, and is sexy for the sake of being sexy (not that that's a bad thing!) is simply part of the fun.

But, despite all my complaints about The Colorado Kid I have to say that I kept turning the pages, and I was sucked (and suckered) all the way to the non-ending. King's flowing style is here in full force, and this is one that can be read in a single sitting. Fans of the author will no doubt flock to the bookstores to pick up this slim and engaging read (replete with King's signature Maine colloquialisms peppered throughout), but many will then (as King expects and encourages in his Afterword) subsequently write him nasty letters. Consider this mine.

Carrie by Stephen King Stephen King, Carrie

Puberty fully releases a teenage girl's telekinetic abilities, and an unknown author begins a career that will make him one of the best-selling authors of all time. The girl is Carrie White and the author is Stephen King.

King's debut horror novel Carrie is a wonderful introduction to his writings. All the aspects that make his works so readable are already there, and not in the bloated form that they would eventually develop: a horrific but completely plausible storyline, a character we can instantly relate to as a real person, and a runaway train of an ending that actually begins one-third of the way into the book. (The parenthetical asides that would become his trademark are also already present, though these would actually decrease over time.)

Carrie White is persecuted from all sides. Her mother is a religious zealot who believes that Carrie was a product of sin and therefore should have been killed at birth, and the popular kids at her high school invariably choose her as the subject of their pranks.

Carrie, at first, seems able to handle all this with relative aplomb, only occasionally resorting to her telekinetic powers for assistance. But all that changes on the night of the prom, as several small events lead up to one real cracker, and all bets are off.

King is excellent at depicting the stages of Carrie's storyline. Using fictitious newspaper clippings and quotes from books written afterwards, he tells a exciting tale of a girl who just couldn't take it anymore.

King's writing is very visually oriented, his description instantly translating into vivid images. It is no wonder that Brian De Palma saw in Carrie the potential for a film. Even though some changes were made, the film of Carrie is still one of the most faithful cinematic translations of King's work (although why someone thought it rated a sequel is beyond me).

Though by no means Stephen King's best book, Carrie nonetheless exhibits the markings of greatness. In many ways, it is like a child in whom one can see the potential for the adult that he will become.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King Stephen King, From a Buick 8

"Not another story about a scary car? Has the master of horror begun to repeat himself?" These are certainly legitimate questions, and are very similar to the ones I asked myself when I first heard the title of Stephen King's latest automobile-centered novel From a Buick 8. But these fears are unfounded. Not only is it completely different in tone and subject from his other haunted car book, Christine, but this is one of the best books to come from his fingers in recent years.

From a Buick 8 takes place in Pennsylvania. State Troop D has come into possession of a car, an eight-cylinder 1954 Buick. At least it looks like one, but on further inspection there is no way that, in its present form, it could possibly be driven anywhere.

But that is just what happened one day in 1979 when a man dressed in black drove it to the local gas station and then disappeared.

Sandy Dearborn (Man in black? Dearborn? Definite shades of The Dark Tower!) tells the story of the Buick to Ned Wilcox, who has taken to hanging around the barracks; Ned is the son of a deceased trooper who figures in the story prominently. And the story he tells is a zinger. Apparently, the temperature inside and around the car is always several degrees cooler than the air, and odd things keep appearing out of the Buick's trunk. And that's not even counting the lightning shows that come periodically.

As the tale is told entirely in flashbacks, there is no present danger, but that did not keep From a Buick 8 from holding me entirely in its thrall. There may be no "horror" -- per se -- in this book, but there are tension, eerieness, and gruesome moments galore. King is still a master of colloquialism and dialogue, and these are some of his best characterizations. I could easily imagine walking into the Troop D barracks and meeting each and every one of these people.

Even the ending is perfect, and I am very picky about whether an ending truly works (a complaint I've had with King in the past). Although the best thing I can say about it is that I didn't want it to end. Taken as a whole, From a Buick 8 is a terrific example of why I believe that Stephen King is still at the top of his craft.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Stephen King [writing as Richard Bachman], Roadwork

An early Bachman originally published under that pseudonym, and then in an omnibus called The Bachman Books (no longer in print due to the removal of Rage from circulation), Roadwork is a far cry from the normal Stephen King novel (but, then again, that was part of the point, wasn't it?).

It is the story of one man's response to the news that a new freeway is being built through where his house stands (shades of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, anyone?). To be short, he doesn't like it; and after a while, he decides to do something about it.

I won't say anymore about the story, but Roadwork is in many ways a character study more than a horror novel. It is not plot driven; a lot of it is just watching this guy go about his daily activities and getting a bead on what he is thinking while he does them. Things happen, but they are not "important" things. This is much more low-key than the other Bachman books, but still satisfying.

Stephen King, Rose Madder

I was really enjoying Rose Madder, the story of a woman and how she eventually gets free of her abusive marriage. The story was barreling along towards the denouement, when King dropped this absolute schlock of an ending on my head. It has ruined the whole book for me.

And it's not like he couldn't do better.

I've read most of his books (however, I've only begun reviewing them recently, thus the limited pickings on this page), and I guess I just expected more. Up until the end, Rose Madder was gripping and inspiring, at least a four-star read (probably five). However, given how picky I am about endings, this was just the pits!

The Wavedancer Benefit: A Tribute to Frank Muller by Stephen King, Pat Conroy, John Grisham, and Peter Straub Stephen King, Pat Conroy, John Grisham, and Peter Straub,
The Wavedancer Benefit: A Tribute to Frank Muller

Some time ago, audiobook reader Frank Muller--probably the closest thing to a superstar the audiobook industry has ever had, and a personal favorite of myself and these four authors--was in a terrible motorcycle accident, almost killing him. He has had a long recovery and may never work again, and The Wavedancer Benefit was made to raise funds for Muller and other disabled readers through The Wavedancer Foundation.

Recorded live at New York's Town Hall, these four authors gave a benefit reading from their own books as further fundraising. Two cassettes comprise the package, with each author taking up one side of a tape. Grisham starts off by reading a chapter from his novel The Summons. His slight Southern speech takes you right into the world of his novel, sounding like a kind uncle telling you a story. Next Peter Straub comes to the stage and reads a suspenseful piece from Black House, the second novel he has coauthored with King and the sequel to their popular fantasy The Talisman.

Next, Stephen King takes the microphone and reads a short story included in his novella "The Body" (from Different Seasons) the title of which I do not feel comfortable transcribing on a family-oriented website, but fans will likely get a kick out a blueberry pie-eating contest that goes horribly awry. I've never liked King's readings of his own works. His glottal L's always take me right out of the story. Tongue behind the teeth, Stephen.

To end, Pat Conroy comes onstage and talks for a while about the practice of writing. All the authors are congenial, and surprisingly funny, making The Wavedancer Benefit a real treat. Recommended particularly to those who enjoyed King's live recording of LT's Theory of Pets, as this has a similar feel.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on Ex Libris Reviews. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The first writing instruction book from the bestselling author, Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is divided into three parts. The first part is the memoir, interlaced with bits about King's early publishing history. The second is the writing instruction (in which he advises you to read -- a lot!). And the third section regards his recent accident and recovery--his climb back to writing and how writing helped him recover.

One thing that surprised me was how funny On Writing is. I knew that he wrote this during his recovery, so I expected that the prose would be dry, and perhaps a bit jaded. But King's signature sense of humor shines throughout.

I can't say I was inspired to do more writing by On Writing, but I flew through it in two days (a feat for me) and enjoyed every page as if it had been a novel. I'm sure that's one of the reasons why King sells so well: you can't put his book down even when he's just talking about himself. However, he gives a lot of credit for this to his wife Tabitha, who -- when he has written a particularly descriptive piece that stopped the flow of the work -- admonishes him "do you have to bore me?"

Any fan of King's should pick up On Writing for an education into the mind of the man, and any writer should read it because you can enjoy yourself and still tell yourself you're honing your craft.

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