Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Review of "A Face in the Crowd"

The new short story "A Face in the Crowd" is on digital shelves today (here's a link), and yours truly stayed up late just so he could write a review.

And it really IS going to be a brief one, because, as with a great many short stories, there simply isn't a heck of a lot I could say without being more spoilery than I'd like to be.

So come along with me and let's see what I have to say.  Cause I, for one, damn sure don't know yet...

Well, I suppose the natural starting place would be to give a simple thumbs-up-thumbs-down opinion, so let's start there: thumbs up.  Thumbs definitely up.  Not AS much as they were earlier this year for the King/Hill story "In the Tall Grass," but it's an easy choice.

This is a good, solid story; in baseball terms, it's a leadoff double.

And with that sports analogy out of the way, allow me to answer a question many King fans -- especially fans not living in the U.S. of A. -- probably have: there is virtually no prior knowledge about baseball necessary to enjoying, or even understanding, this story.  Certainly less than was the case with "Blockade Billy," and probably even less than with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.  There are occasional baseball references, and the occasional bit of terminology, but they are purely background details, and are in no way vital to the story at hand.

Here's the setup: Dean Evers is a widower living in Florida.  He's a Boston Red Sox fan, but since he's relocated, he finds himself -- more and more frequently -- turning in to Tampa Bay Devil Rays games.  One day, while watching a game, he sees a former dentist of his sitting a bit behind home plate.  Which is odd, since the dentist, if he was still alive at all, would be in his nineties.  Thing is, he doesn't look that old...

And that's the point at which I stop giving you any details.

I should confess that I've never read any fiction by Stewart O'Nan before, so I can't tell you whether this story matches his work.  It matches King's pretty well, although as with "In the Tall Grass" (and "Throttle," which he also wrote with Joe Hill) there IS a slight sense that something seems different.  This is in no way a bad thing; King's voice and O'Nan's voice seem to match quite well, and at no point did I feel as if one had written this sentence and the other hand written that.  Instead, the whole story just flows, and does so smoothly.

I have a few final thoughts.  They aren't particularly spoilery in nature, although you could definitely make educated guesses about the story based on those thoughts.  So, if you really want to remain a blank-ish slate on the subject, you might want to bail out now.  I'll provide some amusing lolrus photos -- classics, these -- to serve as a transition.

Nooooooo!  My bukket!

Cracks me up every time.

Anyways, the final thoughts I wanted to put down (for now) are these:

For one thing, the story this reminds me of more than anything else is "You Know They've Got a Hell of a Band."  That and "The Reach."  Neither is a perfect comparison, but they both occurred to me at various points.  "A Face in the Crowd" is nowhere near as good as "The Reach," and it might not be as good as "Hell of a Band," either, but it's not too terribly far behind that one.

I was also reminded very vaguely of Duma Key, which is partially because of the Florida setting, but also partially because it is the story of a man on his own who begins seeing weird things.  "A Face in the Crowd" does not go to the same type of horror that Duma Key contains, but it, like that novel, is quite melancholy.  In some ways, this is one of the first times I've read a story by King and felt like it was the work of an old man.  There was some of that in "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," a story King published last year, but there it felt a bit like an old man feeling young; this feels like an old man feeling old.

This, of course, puts me in mind of the fact that some day, I'll probably turn on my computer and get online and see a headline -- or, more likely, 179 Facebook notifications -- informing me "STEPHEN KING DEAD AT AGE ___."  That's going to be a shit day, too.  It makes me even more appreciative of the fact that he's still working, still prolific as hell, still talented as hell, still stretching himself; to resort to another baseball metaphor, he's working on a complete game, and there's nobody warming up in the bullpen yet, because there's no need.

He's still pitching like a champ.

And hey, there's no rule that says I won't kick the bucket first.  None of us ever know quite what the day has in store, do we?

All I know is that this day brought me a perfectly fine new Stephen King story, and that makes it a pretty good day. 

And, for those of you worried about the lolrus:

Dontcha love a happy ending?


  1. Interesting. Hope to read this soon.

    About this being an old man's story.

    Tolkien once said the same thing about a book he wrote, "Smith of Wooten Major." It was the last thing he ever published...................

    Okay enough with the morbidity.

    I think you're right that King' still at the top of his game. I also think that time and tide do catch up with him on occasion. King recently wrote:

    I'm writing but I'm writing at a much slower pace than previously and I think that if I come up with something really, really good, I would be perfectly willing to publish it because that still feels like the final act of the creative process, publishing it so people can read it and you can get feedback and people can talk about it with each other and with you, the writer, but the force of my invention has slowed down a lot over the years and that's as it should be.

    - Stephen King.

    In all fairness, i think it's just the combination of age and, unfortunately, a side effect of the accident. This is not to say he still doesn't got it, a look at 11/22/63 or his recent short stories will put lie to that. It's just that now he has as good days (1922) and bad (Under the Dome, Duma Key). Still I think he's doing fine enough.


    1. Ooh, I don't agree with you AT ALL about "Duma Key"; I think that's one of the best novels he has ever written. I also like "Under the Dome" a lot, although I find it more difficult to defend. We are in agreement on the subject of "1922," though; that one is awesome.

  2. I know this is sort of way off topic, however I came across this article from Popmatters entitled "Fanboy Fury and Authoring 'Before Watchmen'.

    It's base is the fury surrounding the before Watchman Comics and touches on such topics as, the responsibility of Author to Story and Audience, Meaning and Interpretation in fiction, and the potential relation among them all.

    Now as I've said elsewhere, I'm not what you'd call a comic book geek, however the stuff this article brought was so interesting that here's the link below. Just highlight, copy, paste in search window and hit enter:



    1. Off-topic, yes, but that's fine by me: as you know, I'm interested in (though not necessarily eloquent about) this sort of thing. Plus, I've got a keen interest in the Watchmen vs. Before Watchmen thing.

      I'd actually seen that article pop up in my Google Alerts feed for Alan Moore, and bookmarked it for later perusal. I appreciate the link, though!


      Just skimmed the article a bit, and it seems highly interesting and relevant. I wrote a piece back when "Before Watchmen" was announced that tried -- and mostly failed -- to get at some of the same ideas, and my hook that I hung it all on was that I worried a bit about two things: (1) the likelihood that similar things would eventually happen with Stephen King's work and (2) the certainty that while that would annoy me, I would probably end up buying it anyways.

      Just as I've ended up buying "Before Watchmen." I know I'm doing a bad thing, but I've gone right ahead and done it.

      And yet, I sometimes find it quite easy to NOT fall into that trap. I'm a big fan of "Jaws" and "The Exorcist" (the movies, not the novels), but I've never been even slightly tempted to watch any of the sequels. Why have I successfully staved off those, but can't seem to do the same for "Before Watchmen"?

      Good question.

  3. In regards to the articles take on "Fanboy" dedication, my guess is that's something that takes on different aspects for different people.

    How much conscious choice plays a part is question worth looking into. All I can say is the majority must be onto something if there is a near group consensus about what stories are and how they should be handled. I'll also admit there was satisfaction in hearing view similar to my own brought up in the course of the article. There are links in that article to papers by other writers, one of them J. Michael Straczynski, that also talk about this subject that are worth looking into on a second read through.

    As for the Jaws and Exorcist sequels, I admit I've never once given any of much thought about them. The one Ex spin off I have seen is Dominion. What surprised me was how well done it was, like a late sixties B movie given some heart.

    My thinking on Dominion is the same for Prometheus, it's basically a retelling of the same story in a slightly different setting. Plus, being Catholic, i'm a natural sucker for this kind of flick.

    And, for those feeling left out, now it's Judaisms turn with Sam Raimi's upcoming "Possession." That's right, the Jewish version of the Exorcist.

    There's a bit of interesting side light to that film, apparently it's based on an item called the Dybbuk Box. A funeral box said to contain a spirit from Hebraic folklore. This is probably pure self BS-ing, but is it possible Joe Hill found about it and based Heart Shaped Box on it? Enough rambling.


    1. That movie looks decent. I probably won't see it, but if it gets good reviews I might.