Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Review of "The Running Man" (audiobook, narrated by Kevin Kenerly)

I'm a big fan of audiobooks, although that fact might have been obscured somewhat by some of the actual content I've posted on this blog.  For example, I'm on the record in numerous places championing the fact (and it IS a fact) that reading and listening are not the same thing.

If you want proof of that, here some is, excerpted from the nerd debate David at Talk Stephen King hosted:

There is more -- a LOT more, in fact -- to reading than the simple receipt of a story. Depending on one's personal opinions, the story may or may not be the most important element in reading, but whether it is or whether it isn't, it is certainly not the ONLY element. The visual arrangement of those words is also important, and can carry meanings which cannot be replicated aurally. This is especially true in the case of poetry, in which -- and this is also true of prose, but is ESPECIALLY true of poetry -- every punctuation mark, every line break, every juxtaposition of one letter with another can hold a world of meaning. Listening to poetry can sometimes rob one of those meanings, and while it may add elements -- via the emotions of the reader, or subtle vocal shadings -- it cannot replicate the visual impact of lines such as these:

I was ten years old
                           when Father, glistening,
                                                              slipped beneath the waters
and drowned.

That's a crap poem that I made up in ten seconds, but the offset of the final line carries a meaning. Someone reading it aloud would almost certainly pause for several seconds before delivering it, but that is not how I intended it to be read: you will note that I did not include a comma. Instead, I intend one to read it straight through, and to allow the empty page space to be something one has no choice but to ignore as though it wasn't there at all ... even though we know it very definitely IS there.

I stand by those sentiments 100%, but just in case it's never been made clear, let me try to do so now: I love audiobooks.  I am prone to disappointment in them (I so disliked Craig Wasson's narration of 11/22/63 that I never could force myself to write a review of the audiobook), but when one clicks with me, it clicks big-time.  Which brings us to:

I recently got around to listening to the 2010 audio release of The Running Man as narrated by Kevin Kenerly.

The Running Man is nowhere close to being one of my favorite King novels; when I ranked 'em all, it wound up somewhere in the fifties, as I recall.  This is not to say that I think it is a bad novel, though; I just think it loses some steam once the prelude ends and the actual competition beings.  More on that in a moment.

First, let's talk about the quality of the narration by Kevin Kenerly, which is superb.  He does a terrific job at delivering narration, and is just as good -- if not better -- with the dialogue.  He doesn't commit the sin of overacting, which is one of the things that will turn me the quickest when listening to a audiobook.  He does slightly different voices for each character, but he doesn't make them SO different that it takes the listener out of the story; instead, he delivers little change-ups, but more or less allows the material to speak for itself (pun intended).

But don't take my word for it; go check out the sample on Audible's page for the book.  You can find it here.

Kenerly does not have a huge number of credits to his name, but I'd love to hear his version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley at some point.  And I can promise you this: if I see his name on an audiobook in the future, it WILL catch my attention.


Now, some thoughts on the novel itself.  I didn't take any notes while listening to the audiobook, but a few things stand out.

  • First of all, I remain convinced that the novel loses a huge amount of steam once the actual Running Man competition begins.  Partly this is due to the fact that we are in Ben's point-of-view for the entire novel, so we don't have a particularly clear sense of the mechanics of how the game works.  We suspect that it must be rigged in some way due to the sheer speed with quick the Hunters catch up to him.  However, we don't really know.
  • More importantly, we have no real understanding of why the public treats the show as such a big deal.  Like, how often does it come on?  What does a typical episode consist of?  Does it follow the Hunters?  Is it speculation and commentary?  I'm just not sure that element comes across as clearly as it needs to.  To be fair, King's focus is on the characters more than on the mechanics, but as is, I think it reads a bit too much like a metaphor with no real-world validity.  King handled this MUCH better in The Long Walk.
  • There have been King fans who have pointed out that Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games owes a debt of gratitude to The Running Man.  If so, it's probably via the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie; there is virtually nothing of The Running Man in The Hunger Games; that argument needs to end.
  • From the section titled "...Minus 090 and Counting...":  "The cop suddenly jammed a hand into his jumper pocket and came up with a fistful of plastic coins.  He thrust two New Quarters at Richards, stuffed the rest of the money back in his pocket, and grabbed a handful of Richards's tunic.  'If you send anybody else over here because Charlie Grady is a soft touch, I'll beat your sonofabitching brains out, maggot.' "  The word "maggot" is used as an insult fairly frequently throughout the novel, and every single time, it made me think of Cort calling young Roland or one of his compatriots a maggot.  There's no connection there, but my mind insisted on making it nonetheless.
  • The audio version also includes a reading of "The Importance of Being Bachman," the introduction to The Bachman Books that debuted in the 1996 editions of that omnibus.  It's a good introduction, and Kenerly reads it well, but be warned: it includes spoilers for the novel you are about to listen to!  The producer really ought to have placed it after the book, rather than at the beginning, but I suppose they were trying to replicate the placement within the book itself.
  • I've got an interesting theory about how this novel might connect to 11/22/63.  However, I can't talk about it without spoiling 11/22/63, so if you haven't read that excellent novel yet, skip my next bullet point and scroll down past the amusing photo of a cat reading a Harper Lee novel.

    Heh-heh.  Lookit at that cat readin'.  Boy, cats is stupid.

  • Still here?  Alright, so as you recall, toward the end of 11/22/63, after Jake stops the Kennedy assassination and returns to the present, he finds a dystopian society in which the world seems to be on the verge of collapse.  There is a reference to "newbucks" and "oldbucks," which are also types of currency mentioned in The Running Man.  In The Running Man, there is also an important scene set in Derry, Maine!  Now, I don't think the connection tracks all that well, for the following reasons: (1) in 11/22/63, Maine has seceded from the United States, but is obviously still one of the 50 in The Running Man; that could conceivably be explained by saying that Maine rejoined the Union before 2025, but that would be just making shit up that isn't in the text; (2) there are no mentions in The Running Man of the massive disasters that seems to be sweeping the globe in 11/22/63; and (3) similarly, there are no mentions of Free-Vee, The Running Man, or The Network.
  • Despite all that, it is tempting for me to consider the possibility that the universe of The Running Man exists only within the pocket reality that is temporarily created by the actions taken by one Mr. Jake Epping.  I don't think the idea actually works (there is too much evidence against it), but it's fun to think about.

I'll be back sometime in the next few days with a spoiler-free review of part two of the King/Hill short story "In the Tall Grass," which appears in the new issue of Esquire.

Until then, just remember: rich folks smoke Dokes.


  1. Okay, here's my nerd theory about Running Man's relation to 11/22/63.

    I've said before that I'm convinced 11/22/63 is connected to the Dark Tower series, and later on I gave further reasons (however backhanded) by expressing my take on the whole series, which is that it's a fiction come to life on a writer and priest in Maine, who are in essence the only real characters of the story.

    I'm not asking for agreement, there's just my take, also in a sense Robin Furth's.

    Now with that in mind, here's how I see the end of 11/22/63.

    Warning, spoilers ahead.

    It involves a bit of quantum pysics as, for better or worse, that's part of what King summons in his creation of the Rabbit Hole.

    There's talk different strings of timelines, however my reading involves the basic idea that the Card Men don't know half of what they've got on their hands (which is true) and therefore no possible way of knowing if what they are trying to keep straight in their heads is real or just potential (which might possibly be true).

    Therefore, i believe that what the characters are dealing with aren't different timelines at all but different false scenarios, Mental Spaces on map if you will.

    To Be Continued.


  2. Therefore, my theory, which is more in line with real physics, is that you can't change any timeline.

    So what happens to Jake and the Card Men then?

    I posit that it might not be possible to create alternate timelines, however it might be possible to create fictional timelines, each one patterned nd modeled to reflect the indivdual's psyche.

    If I had to guess what mechanism of fictional "machine" powers such abilities, I'd have to say the same one that made the fictional Steve King unintentionally, on my reading, bring Roland, the Tower and Mid-World to life. The same one, in fact, that made it possilbe for Mort Rainey and Sam Landry to do the same with there characters.

    In conclusion, I posit that Jake never visits any alternate timeline, but that he has created his own little fictional spot on the map. This spot is made especially for him and him alone, and it's fitting that it's composed of every dystopian 1960s worst case scenario about Government and the envirnment.

    The Man's gone to far this, man.

    It's kind of hard to get to see where I'm coming from here on this point. Just trust me as a connesiur of the Sixties when I say there were all kinds of stoned worse case scenarios tossed around faster than joitn at Woodstock during those years, most of them to do the Bomb and government control. And, novels like Running Man and Long Walk are derived from all those stoned out years.

    It's these fictional scenarios Jake has walked into during the final sequences, it's another fiction made real based on dem ol Cozmic Sixties Paranoia Blues. Believe it or not, I'm convinced the Dark Tower series was originally born out of such fears as well.

    Thus neatly explaining both references to the Tower and Running Man.

    There's one take, anyway.


  3. (1) I'm with you. I simply don't see any way to interpret "11/22/63" except to link it with "The Dark Tower."

    (2) The whole multiverse(s)-built-by-the-power of fiction thing ... man, that is complex stuff. I'm honestly not sure I'm smart enough to deal with that idea properly. What I'll say, though, is that the idea rings mostly true to me, and I think King's work actively encourages the reader to make associations like that. He was on record at one point saying something along the lines of the Tower universe being a storytelling device that did not merely contain multiple worlds, but contained ALL worlds. It's a massive idea, and it's going to be one of King's true legacies, I'd imagine. Along those same lines...

    (3) Have you read any of Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" comics? If not, I think you should. They contain some similar ideas, which become more pronounced as the series progresses. It is fascinating (and ridiculously entertaining) stuff.

    (4) The idea that you can't change a timeline but CAN theoretically cause a new one to form as a replica that then splinters off from the original is a fascinating idea. It's also the scientific rationale behind the 2009 movie "Star Trek," and is the explanation for why that movie doesn't actually alter any of the stories in the chronologically-later Trek series such as "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine."

    (5) I need a gigantic wall that I can start building an intricate Stephen King multiverse timeline on. Yeah ... cause THAT wouldn't make me look crazy at ALL. Seriously, though, I do need one, so if anyone has a huge house complete with huge walls that they would like to donate to me, please contact me at honkmahfah@yahoo.com. I'm lookin' at you, Bill Gates...

    (6) GREAT comments, Chris! You really class up this joint, and I'm always happy when you stop by.

  4. I'm a big fan of audiobooks myself, as they allow me to take in stories while driving to and from work.
    My favorite King audiobook thus far has been the one for Dolores Claiborne, read by Frances Sternhagen. It lends itself well to the audio format, as the tale is all told from Dolores' mouth, in the police station. But, they have nice touches, such as the sound of water being poured for her when she asks for some, and a strange audio cue when Dolores discusses thinking about Gerald as a child from Gerald's Game.
    For non-King books, I enjoy...
    Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker read by Doug Bradley
    Off Season by Jack Ketchum read by Richard Davidson
    and because I hopped on the bandwagon...
    A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin read by Roy Dotrice
    I'm on the fence about the Dark Tower audiobooks read by Frank Muller and George Guidall

    1. I haven't listened to that "Dolores Claiborne" audiobook in years, but I remember loving it.

      I hear great things about "It" read by Steven Webber; I think that'll be the next one I pick up.

  5. I don't even know if you'll see this since this post is now four years old, but I have to say THANK YOU for this: "I so disliked Craig Wasson's narration of 11/22/63 that I never could force myself to write a review of the audiobook."

    I absolutely abhorred his narration for several reasons, but have yet to find ANYONE who agreed with me! It was only the strength of Stephen King's writing and my pre-existing love for the story itself that kept his performance from ruining the whole book for me. I ran across your blog while doing some research on Kevin Kenerly, not wanting another bad narrator to mess with my memories of a story I enjoyed, and was so grateful to finally find someone else who didn't like Wasson's narration. So... thank you for putting that out there and letting me know I'm not alone! :)

    1. Hey, you bet! I'm glad for somebody else to do the same for me in return.

      I've gotten so hot-and-cold when it comes to audiobooks that I almost never listen to them anymore. Not to keep dumping on Wasson, but it was his "11/22/63" that put me over the edge in that regard. I loved the novel quite a bit, and found that love dissipating as I listened to the audiobook. So now, I mostly steer clear of them.

      That's probably a mistake, though, because when they click with me, they click big-time. For example, the Kevin Kenerly version of "The Running Man."

      I appreciate you reminding me of that!