Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rethinking Stephen King

How one book & one short story changed my view on the genre writer

I've stood on my literary pedestal long enough, insulted the "master" long enough. Or perhaps it's just a fluke. Perhaps, I'm wrong and Stephen King is still a dime-store novelist, the "literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries."* But I'm an arrogant tool/reader and I say I'm never wrong. Which means, I was wrong before - paradox much?

I blame my folly on my education, and I'm sure a friend of mine would agree. Every English professor I had all repeated the same thing as if some sort of sacrament: Stephen King isn't a writer. He might be an author, but he isn't a writer. His work shouldn't be taken seriously and we should never give him more credit than he deserves. He is the antithesis of what we are working towards in literature. He's simply a dime-store novelist, something you read on a plane trip, a long ride, at the back of the bus or when there is nothing else to read.

And I advocated such, having attempted to read King a few times before. His writings seemed simplistically complicated. Something that seems hard to read, but really not hard to grasp. The adult version of Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling. Even though I preached - merely repeated all I have been told, even though I knew in my heart that King wasn't a writer - I had more of his books that I liked. Most of them were freebies from Books -n- Things (a used book store in McAllen, TX), some of them gifts and hand-me-downs and at least two bought at my own accord.

And then I did something. Back when I was a kid, I saw this miniseries that I simply loved. The title? The Stand. Based on the novel by Stephen King of the same title. While venturing once again into the wonderful store of Books -n- Things, I found a used copy of the edited copy, the copy several King fans stated was more worth while over than the one on shelves now. Huffing, fighting my every moral fiber, I purchased the book and started reading it. A week later, I was done and my mind was reeling. What had I done? A part of me couldn't accept the fact that it was the best book I had read all year long.

The novel's premise is one we've all seen before: the battle between good and evil. Even at times, my mind was nostalgic of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile, the short story in the Transgressions series, "The Things They Left Behind," left me in awe with the magical realism used within the pages.

I didn't think he had it in him, and I probably wouldn't have ever given him the chance had it not been for the one book that echoed a childhood memory, a miniseries I didn't miss and attempted to watch every time it came on TV - I even purchased the DVD, but I have since misplaced in my house, or lent it to someone who hasn't returned it and will not reveal himself. Still, the fact remains, there is more to Stephen King than a dime-store writer, more than a Big Mac with fries. This guy isn't giving himself any slack. So what if he's a genre writer, H.P. Lovecraft was one as well and we all look up to him. Give it time, I suppose.

There was a time when only King's short stories had the power to capture my imagination, mostly because they ended and didn't go on for what felt like months (seriously, I have the same problem with Jack Kerouac). Now, however, I'm staring at my "horror shelf" and wondering exactly what book to read next. Will it be another King book? Surely, I have opened up to him. It just might be.

*According to the November 2009 Esquire, Stephen King once referred to himself as such.

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