stephen king

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mrmercedes

Stephen King’s newest novel departs from his expected universe of supernatural Maine and plops the reader down into the depressed Midwest as unemployed people seeking a reprieve from their current situations line up during the early hours in hopes of finding something better at a huge job fair. As the queue grows with more and more people, the sad calm is broken by a madman — complete in clown mask reminiscent of the evil Pennywise from It — running them down with a stolen Mercedes.

The crime goes unsolved and it appears as if the perpetrator is entirely out of reach. That is, of course, until a recently retired police detective, who spends his days holding a handgun and considering whether he would look better without his cranium intact, receives a long and boisterous letter purporting to be from the insane driver. The novel continues with back and forth sections between the detective and the unhinged killer, who takes a playing card from the Norman Bates deck and then goes way beyond.

Mr. Mercedes is advertised as a game of cat and mouse rolling forward just as fast as that Mercedes at the commencement of the novel. Yet, if I hadn’t been determined to find out the ending and write about the novel as part of my more highly anticipated summer reads, I would have put it down and moved on. The novel felt sloppy and awkward. None of the characters were particularly appealing and the dialogue between them felt so completely forced, it was cringe worthy. There were parts that I liked: the beginning was indeed intriguing as the initial crime is laid out along with the potential for a new maniacal villain and the final chapters sped up as both sides were attempting to get what they wanted, but there was a huge chunk of the middle (and this being a Stephen King novel, a chunk is hundreds of pages) that floundered. I couldn’t help but think that this book would have been much better if an editor went in a cut out about half of it.

I rarely make such bold recommendations as this, but skip it. Skip it if you’re a fan of Stephen King; skip it if you’re just looking for an entertaining summer read. I’m glad I didn’t take it along with me as I travel this summer, because it would have immediately been chucked and a new full price book would’ve been purchased at an airport gift shop.

I don’t often read reviews of books before I read them, so when I went in search of what the critics had to say, I was baffled by the overwhelmingly positive reviews. I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re reading the same novel. Now that I have finished this 400+ page dud, I can move onto the growing pile of TBR books that I’ve had my eye on for the past weeks.

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Throttle and Duel

Homages are an interesting thing. Often enough they are created to tickle our fancy for the original. With the short story, “Throttle,” the reader gets just that. I think we can all agree that Richard Matheson has produced some fine works (I am LegendThe Shrinking Man, episodes for The Twilight Zone to just name a few for the uninitiated). One of his great anxiety inducing stories is “Duel,” which also was adapted for television and film by Steven Spielberg.¹

If you’ve never read “Duel,” I suggest reading Matheson’s story first, not only for the references in King and Hill’s story, but for the sheer fact that it is highly enjoyable.²

It sounds simple and maybe not as horrifying as one would imagine, but “Duel” literally races down the highway taking the reader along with it, leading to intense page turning. The story is about Mann, our leading driver, who finds himself impatiently trying to pass a truck on the highway. What ensues is a death-defying cat and mouse duel between Mann and the truck driver, who Matheson focuses on as a truck and less like a man (Man vs. Machine?). Matheson strips the characters of their identifying humanity, creating battling creatures.

Then, unexpectedly, emotion came. Not dread, at first, and not regret; not the nausea that followed soon. It was a primeval  tumult in his mind: the cry of some ancestral beast above the body of its vanquished foe.

So, you can see why Stephen King and his son, author Joe Hill (who is a completely wonderful writer in his own right; I hope to have some reviews of his work soonish) would take on the task of creating a story influenced by “Duel.” Homages can be fun when done right (no one likes a copy cat) and this one certainly is just that. In “Throttle,”³ we have a gang of hard-living motorcyclists with more back story than Matheson’s Mann. While on the road, they must maneuver down the highway while outracing a dueling tractor trailer. The motorcyclists have a seedy story to hide and it all comes to deadly fruition during the final duel. Oh, and there are illustrations to supplement the spinning tires and Army tats.

I’ve never seen Sons of Anarchy, but I’m sure fans of the show will like this one. I know I certainly had a good time. Also, I kept thinking of the grumpy Hell’s Angels in the East Village who yell at tourists, who dare to sit on the bench outside of their clubhouse on East Third Street. For all non-New Yorkers, even though absolutely no member ever sits on that bench, they don’t want you to, either.

***

  1. You can read a little recollection by Spielberg about the story and adapting it here.
  2. “Duel” is available to read for free online at Google Books.
  3. “Throttle” is available for a steal at .99 cents.

**Many thanks to Rory at Fourth Street Review for pointing this one out. I was a bit busy this month and I know I’m a day late and buck short, but maybe this one will count as my contribution to her month-long, King’s March.
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‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

“He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem’s Lot…”

Salem's Lot by Stephen KingThis is the first book read from my list for this year’s RIPXVIII. I very rarely get a chance to read anything that might be considered genre so I’m a bit naive when it comes to the challenge of finding something suitably horror that still retains some semblance of literary talent. I had read Carrie years ago (King’s first published book that is both enjoyable and well-written) and dabbled in some of his shorter works–short stories, an essay, and a novella or two. So, when I decided to take up this year’s RIPXIII, I went straight to Stephen King.

In the supplementary introduction and afterword, King talks about his love for Dracula, a book he read as a child and subsequently taught when he was briefly a high school teacher. This book was the catalyst for writing Salem’s Lot. He “wanted to tell a tale that inverted Dracula.” Where the “optimism of Victorian England shines through everything like the newly invented electric light” in Dracula, the characters of Salem’s Lot, fought off the evil with weapons and know-how from folklore.

In Salem’s Lot, King’s second novel, he is at the top of his game. He has always been a writer that takes something so ordinary in our lives and makes it incredibly creepy and evil. Also, being richly influenced by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, King takes us on our way. The book opens with the information that a small town in Maine has become abandoned. It’s as if all of the residents just blew away.

Ben Mears, a semi-successful writer, returns to the Lot, a town where he spent some of his childhood. He visits the Marsten House, which has a murderous history of its own, and is intent on renting it. However, Ben soon finds out it has been purchased already by a pair of mysterious out-of-towners. What King does so well is to set up a perfectly average place and then slyly unravels it, revealing all of the nasty bits.

I am always fascinated by the concept of penning a truly frightening book. I am a big lover of The Haunting of Hill House (along with other works by Jackson) and I was so impressed how she made the house pulsate like it was its own character. King does the same thing. The scariest moments were when you didn’t see anything at all. When two workmen are hired to bring boxes into the cellar of the Marsten House, I felt all of the anxiety that those two characters felt.

“There are evil men in the world, truly evil men. Sometimes we hear of them, but more often they work in absolute darkness.”

By not complicating the “rules” and the “evil,” King has written a book that truly does go bump in the night. His vampires are hissing, bloodsucking villains of yesteryear. It seems, lately, that many vampires are sexy, glowing creatures with a slight moral code. Not these baddies. For a while now, I have had an interest in Slavic folklore concerning vampires. It was a pleasure to see the protagonists grabbing bulbs of garlic and negotiating who will be staking whom.

In our culture, we have an unfortunate divide between literary and commercial and in most case, never the two shall meet. I’m of the belief that there are schlocky works of literature and commercial fiction, as well as highly merited of both category. Also, sometimes the divide is correct but I’ve always thought of Stephen King as one of those writers who can combine both.

I also recommend Viy by Nikolai Gogol for those interested in a tale of a more Slavic folklore vain. The story is available for FREE through Project Gutenberg and you can watch the 1967 Russian film adaptation for free online through YouTube (with English subtitles; also you might have to watch it directly on YouTube’s website).

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

Thanks to Rory at Fourth Street Review, I was made aware of this titillating reading challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. It runs for the months of September and October. The initial concept is for readers who share “Autumnal predilection for the works of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and other authors contemporary and classic who captured the spirit of Gothic literature” to come together for a mighty read.

Peril the First

I have never participated in a reading challenge but I thought this would put me right in the mood for Autumn (I am on a self-imposed writing retreat far away from New York in a tropical locale filled with palm trees, beaches, and HEAT and am certainly not feeling the lovely affinity I have for Fall with its orange leaves and hot spiced beverages).

There are a few different levels of the challenge, I have chosen Peril the First which is to read at least four books that fit into the criteria. But take a look at the website if you plan to join in the fun. There are various challenges. Here are the categories to choose from:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:

1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

I also thought this would be the perfect opportunity to finally sit down and read some moody classics that have been on my radar for some time. Here are my selections and I hope you join as well!

ripRosemary’s Baby, The Monk, The Private Memoirs of a Justified Sinner, Salem’s Lot