My Stephen King Problem.

Still the champ, but no longer the king?

I used to read a lot of books and now I barely read any books.   It’s not that I have less time to read.   It’s more that there are less books out there I want to read.   For this, I blame Stephen King.

Call him a prolific hack.  Call him the master of modern horror.  Call him the Microsoft of the literary world, but even if you don’t read his books,  you have to go out of your way to not to stumble across a film or television mini-series written by King or a host of wannabees all inspired by him (or just bitin’ off his style).

King is a goofy looking geek  who became The Man.    I would feast  upon a new King book the way a zombie devours some nice juicy brains.   Whenever Big Steve came around with his latest effort in horror, depravity and gore, I was there to get my stuff, scurry on back to my lair, and flop into a chair for several hours for a really good scare.  A really creepy book like Salem’s Lot wasn’t something I wanted as the last thing on my mind before going to sleep.

Lately though, King’s books have become a chore to get through instead of something to look forward to. I’m not sure exactly which book it was that did it, but at a certain point all the weak points of his writing style overwhelmed the virtues.  But that’s King.  He’s a successful writer who knows he’s not a great writer.   King admits it himself when he said,  “I don’t take notes.  I don’t outline.  I don’t do anything like that.  I just flail away at the goddamn thing.  I’m a salami writer.  I try to write good salami, but salami is salami.  You can’t sell it as caviar.”

King is a man uniquely familiar with his weaknesses and limits as a writer.  Never was that better demonstrated than in Dreamcatcher, a truly wretched novel King crapped out after his near-fatal auto accident in 1999.   King had to be high when he came up with this bizarre story of four friends fighting an alien invasion by “ass weasels.”     Yep, these booty snatchers take over their human hosts by going in through the out door while they’re on the crapper.  Priceless.

How can you not like someone who is richer than God and knows what  made him that way is writing books that are the literary equivalent of Big Macs?   King’s utter lack of pretension and awareness that he’s slinging cheeseburgers instead of art for the ages is part of his charm.   King wants so badly to be seen as just an ordinary guy who caught a break that he practically humps your leg to get you to like him.  At least when he’s not trying to scare the hell out of you.

King says he’s thinking about a sequel to 1977’s The Shining focusing on a 40-year-old Danny Torrance and what his life has been like since that very bad winter in the Overlook hotel.   King isn’t entirely certian that’s a story he really wants to tell saying, “Maybe if I keep talking about it I won’t have to write it.”

Keep talking Steve because if  while you’re not sure you want to write it, I’m already sure I don’t want to read it.

When you’re as prolific and popular as King is you’re going to crap out a book or two or three and a bad Stephen King book is a truly painful thing to get through.   The last book of his I completely finished was Cell, which started off scary enough with people driven into homicidal maniacs by a mysterious signal sent through their cell phones and ended up with King ripping off his own  far superior novel about a post-apocalypse journey across America, The Stand and ended with flying zombies and an ending so bad I literally found myself checking the pages to make sure one wasn’t missing.   My next trip to Half Price Books, Cell is going with me as a trade-in toward something else that doesn’t suck as hard.

My Stephen King library is made up of three categories: The ones I’ve read and love (Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Night Shift, The Shining)    The ones I’ve read and kept though I didn’t like them much (Rose Madder, It, The Tommyknockers, Christine) and the ones I bought and haven’t read (Hearts of Atlantis, Needful Things, Desperation, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon).    Then there’s books such as Insomnia, Duma Key, and Dreamcatcher, where their flop stench and bad reviews precede them and I don’t want to confirm how hard they blow.

King’s got a new novel, Under the Dome, that’s getting some good reviews, but it’s long and my experience is when King goes long it gets bad.  Here’s a list of his biggest behemoths:

The Stand: 1,153 pages
It: 1,138 pages
Under the Dome: 1,072 pages
Insomnia: 787 pages
Desperation: 690 pages
Needful Things: 690 pages
Dreamcatcher: 620 pages
Duma Key: 607 pages
The Tommyknockers: 558 pages
Bag of Bones: 529 pages

I’ve only read completely three out of the ten books so I’m not encouraged by Under the Dome coming in as the third longest book King has written.   The cost ($35) slows me down, but it’s the sheer size of the bastard that puts me on “pause.”   Any novel that long has got to grab me by the short and curlies and hold my attention from the jump otherwise that’s going to be a pretty expensive doorstop.

The last time I got jazzed for a King novel, he burnt me like toast with Cell.  Dare I give him the chance to break my heart (and bust my wallet) once again?

Hell, can I even attempt to read 1,072 pages without slipping into a coma?

Perhaps I can survive the experience if I follow the advice of another writer whose advice in how to approach Under the Dome was, “read fast and skip every other word.”