Thursday, March 2, 2017

Catching Up with the Kings, Part 1: Stephen

If you follow this blog, then maybe you know that I've been putting off reading End of Watch (King's as-of-this-writing most recent novel).  The reasons for that are complicated and weird and not really of interest to anyone other than myself.  Despite that, I blabbed about them at length here.
They are not worth rehashing, so I won't rehash them, but it is worth mentioning again that the delay between the release of End of Watch and my sitting down to read it is by far the lengthiest on my personal record for a new King novel (assuming we are not counting King novels released prior to 1990 or so, when I became a Constant Reader).  That's been eating at me.  It's a thing that can no longer be tolerated, and so even though I have not achieved the weight-loss goals I informally set for myself as a prerequisite for reading End of Watch, I've decided to sit down with the novel and get current with King.
Thing is, I'd also fallen behind on a few other King books, such as the edited-by-King Six Scary Stories and the partially-by-King Hearts In Suspension.  Plus, there are also a few new short stories of his I haven't read, not to mention books and stories by the sons-of-King writers Joe Hill and Owen King.
Rather than dick around and try to write reviews of each of these things, I've decided to just run through all of it and leave some brief impressions of each here.  Not sure if that's the optimal way to do things, but it's what makes sense to me at this particular time.  I'll avoid spoilers in all cases; this is going to be fairly brief.
My first thought was to do it in chronological order by release date, but nah, damn that.  There's a novel by Stephen King in the world that I have not read yet.  There's no way to begin anywhere but there.
I was entertained by both Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, but I'd be a liar if I said that either one ranked highly on my list of favorite King novels.  Maybe that created a bit of trepidation to get into the third one...?  I don't really think it did, but let's not rule it all the way out.

In any case, having finished it I would conclude that this is easily one of my least favorite King novels.  It's not awful; I enjoyed reading it, at least for the first two-thirds or so, while King's writing still felt engaged.  I'm not a huge fan of Bill Hodges, but he's okay; same goes for Holly Gibney.  The reason for that, I think, is that King himself loves both characters, and that love comes through onto the pages and -- for me -- is somewhat infectious.  But only somewhat, and it can only get King so far.

Readers of Finders Keepers will know that in its final pages, King set up the concluding novel of the trilogy by reintroducing the first novel's villain and giving him what appeared to be psychic and/or telekinetic abilities.  Not a good development.  I was so disappointed by this that I may literally have thrown my hands into the air and spat out a few curse words.

End of Watch itself both alleviated and intensified that exasperation.  The novel alleviated the exasperation by virtue of making it clear fairly early on that King had placed the story firmly within the rest of the King multiverse; in other words, this novel exists -- indirectly, if not directly -- alongside other novels like The Shining and The Dead Zone.  The former gets an evocation (Brady's hospital room is 217), and the latter an indirect reference (the tabloid Inside View, so prominent there, is mentioned here).  There are also more than a few "19" occurrences, so King is hinting toward a sort of Dark Tower relevance.

With all that in mind, there's nothing here that ought to make a King fan feel like the author has played unfairly with the supernatural element.

And yet, I do feel that way.  I feel it even more strongly after finishing End of Watch than I did when the supernatural element was teased at the end of Finders Keepers.  Why?  Because that aspect of End of Watch is pointless.  It's a crutch, one the novelist who wrote the trilogy is using while he limps around searching for an excuse to have the concluding book feature a final showdown between his hero (Bill Hodges) and villain (Brady Hartsfield).

It doesn't work.  King writes a few good scenes involving Brady learning to use his newly-discovered telekinetic/telepathic powers, but in the end, it all feels entirely hollow to me.  This is King on autopilot, and while I'm not sure I'd say it's the worst novel he's ever published, I will say that (in my opinion) it's the least consequential.  He tells the story well, especially for the first third or so, but by the time the novel begins barreling toward its conclusion, it feels to me like the product of somebody who has gotten tired of what he's doing and is ready to be done with it so he can move on to the next thing.

Here's the thing: I'm a fan of King's.  So if he put out a novel a month that was as "bad" as this one is, I'd still read them all.  I'd be doing so with an ever-diminishing sense of excitement, but even a novel as lousy as this one offered me some enjoyment.  So there's that, and take it for what it's worth.

But among King novels, this one is a near-bottom-of-the-barrel type of experience for me.  I think he'd have been better off capping that trilogy at a single novel.  As a three-parter, it is a failure.

Despite this, King is evidently writing a spinoff that focuses on Holly.  I'm not sure what this obsession is that Uncle Stevie has developed, but for my part, I hope it breaks, and sooner rather than later.  Failing that, I hope the Holly standalone novel is a significant step upward in quality.

Next up in our sojourn through recent King:

The Spring 2016 issue of VQR included a new King short story, "Cookie Jar," which later in the year also appeared as a bonus story in the mass-market edition of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

The setup: a ninety-year-old man tells his great-grandson a story to help him out with a school project.  The story involves a cookie jar.

I could tell you more than that, but why bother?  Read it for yourself.  It's very good; it's not entirely dissimilar to End of Watch in that it sort of runs out of steam toward the end ... but only sort of, and comparatively, "Cookie Jar" is so much better than End of Watch that it's as if they had been written by two different authors.  I would never consider wishing End of Watch and its predecessors in the Hodges trilogy out of existence, but if I had a way to remove them from the King canon and replace them with 1200 pages worth of short stories as good as "Cookie Jar," I'd dial me up a genie and get to wishin'.

That'd be a lame use of a genie, but I feel we'd all benefit from it, so in that sense it'd be a more sensible wish than many another I might consider making.

We'll look at another short story from Stephen King in a bit, but first, a book of stories that he didn't write:

Released in America by Cemetery Dance and in the United Kingdom by Hodder & Stoughton, Six Scary Stories is the result of a contest The Guardian ran promoting The Bazaar of Bad Dreams in England.  The idea was that King would judge a short-story contest that anyone could enter.

Good idea, but, as King admits in his introduction to this book, it was a daunting thought that he might have to judge a huge number of Shining wannabes.  Sure enough, over 800 stories were submitted, but the good news is that a panel of judges winnowed it down to a mere six stories for King to read in selecting the winner.

And select that winner he did, but he was so impressed by all six of the finalists that he suggested an anthology of them -- with his name on the front cover in a sponsorship capacity -- might be a good idea.  As you might imagine, it wasn't too tough to find a publisher for that.

Six Scary Stories is the result.

King's introduction is about four pages long, and mostly consists of the story of how the book came to be.  It's fine, but, as with some of King's other recent nonfiction pieces (I'm thinking of his "essay" for Crush), I'd have liked it to be a bit more substantial.  For example, perhaps he could have said something about each of the stories...?  You'll find more from him in this article about the winning story.  He has very little to say of note, and to me, this seems like an invitation for an editor to have asked King to revise his introduction.  I get that editors are reluctant to criticize King's work, but when he doesn't deliver, somebody really ought to tell him so; he deserves their honesty, and they deserve his best, which he did not deliver here.

Anyways, the six titular stories are:

  • "Wild Swimming" by Elodie Harper -- A tourist in a former Soviet nation gets more than she bargained for when she goes for a dip in a local lake.  Good stuff; well-written, creepy, and King's pick as winning story in the contest that was the origin for this collection.
  • "Eau-de-Eric" by Manuela Saragosa -- A young girl gets a used teddy bear that smells rather a lot like her deceased father, whom her mother does not miss.  If anything, I preferred this one to "Wild Swimming."  It's very good.  Less good: the title of the story is misspelled as "Eu-de-Eric" at the tops of the pages on which it appears.  How'd you like to be the publisher who has to explain to an author how your company managed to fuck up their story's title that badly?  No thanks.  That's a bad day at work.
  • "The Spots" by Paul Bassett Davies -- How do you count a leopard's spots?  Three stories in, and I've enjoyed all three.  
  • "The Unpicking" by Michael Button -- Think Toy Story as it might have been written by Charles Manson, if Manson knew how to restrain his prose.  This is my favorite story in the book; nasty, awful stuff.
  • "La Mort de l'Amant" by Stuart Johnstone -- Police officer stops when he sees a man on a bridge who looks as if he might jump.  One question turns into another.  Probably my least favorite story in the book, but it's still good.  The title of this one is misspelled at the tops of the pages, too: as "Lamort de l'Amant," albeit entirely in caps.  So not misspelled so much as missing a space between the first two words, but still, how does that sort of thing happen in a professional publication?
  • "The Bear Trap" by Neil Hudson -- A little boy feeds his bears during the apocalypse.  Pretty good story, and seems like a fitting one to end on.

My final thoughts on Six Scary Stories: it's a very short book (126 pages, and by no means are all of them full of text), but I enjoyed reading all six stories.  Would I recommend it to King fans?  Yeah, I think most King fans would enjoy it.

It's iffy to consider it to be a King book in any way, though.  This must be said.  King contributed a brief and not especially engaging introduction, and did approve of all six stories being published in a manner associated with his name.  However, his introduction makes it clear that he did not even select the six stories to be the finalists for the competition; a panel of judges did that for him.  So where it says "selected and introduced by Stephen King" on the cover, that's ... kind of a lie.  "Approved of by Stephen King" might have been a more apt credit.  "Read and enjoyed by Stephen King," even.

But the stories are good, and it's hard to get too annoyed by King wanting to do a nice thing for six writers whose work he enjoyed.

Next up:

With Hearts In Suspension we have a second book that might be accused of putting King's name to not-entirely-appropriate use.  Granted, over half of Hearts In Suspension consists of writing by King ... but given that nearly three quarters of that writing is a reprint of the novella "Hearts In Atlantis," you can't help but conclude that passing this off as a Stephen King book rather than as an anthology is iffy.

Regardless, Hearts In Suspension is a highly worthwhile book, if only for the novella-length essay by King ("Five to One, One in Five"), which is handily among the best pieces of nonfiction of his career.  Comparatively, the four perfunctory and disengaged pages by King in Six Scary Stories seem all the more paltry.

"Five to One, One in Five" is good enough that it deserves to be read just as keenly as one of his short stories, and a part of me regrets not carving out the time to do that here.  We'll call it a project for some other day.

I mentioned earlier that the book contains a reprint of the novella "Hearts In Atlantis."  Well, it does, and that reprint does indeed take up more than a third of the book's length.  In many cases, this would gall me, but here, given how relevant all the material surrounding it is to the novella, its inclusion seems not only warranted but mandatory.  I had not initially intended to read it as it appeared here -- feeling that reading it outside its context in the novel was unfair to both the novella and the novel/collection -- but changed my mind during the course of reading King's essay.  That essay intrigued me so much that it made me WANT to reread "Hearts In Atlantis," and if it had not been included here, I'd likely have grabbed Hearts In Atlantis and read the novella anyways.

It was the right decision.  The context of the rest of Hearts In Atlantis might be missing, but the material on either side of the novella provided its own context, turning this into its own thing.  I have loved "Hearts In Atlantis" since I first read it in late 2000, and my opinion did not change this time.  However, given the new context I have for it, I can now say that it's seemingly one of the most autobiographical things King has ever written, and that is enough to make it essential.

However, two other things really struck me at various points.  First, the quasi-suicidal buffalo-stampeding-off-a-cliff plague of hearts games put me very much in mind of The Long Walk.  In that novel -- which was written while King was a student at UMO, it must be noted -- a group of young men are also committing a kind of suicide by engaging in behavior that, once begun, they are unable to stop.  Maybe that's a stretch on my part, but King's characters -- Pete Riley, Ronnie Malenfant, Skip Kirk, etc. -- in this novella talk and behave in a manner that is quite reminiscent of the Walkers.

Second, I flashed on Carrie during the scene toward the end of the novella in which Stoke makes his run across the icy slope.  The onlookers in the dorm watch him and a sort of herd mentality takes over; they all begin laughing hysterically for reasons that they don't comprehend then or later.  Something in that reminded me forcefully of Sue and the other girls turning into a sort of coordinated pack of animals while chanting at Carrie White.
All of that is worth exploring at length; that and much more besides.  But, again, it's a project for some other day.
After "Hearts In Atlantis," we get reprints of four of the King's Garbage Truck columns.  (King wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper during his senior year, in case you were unaware.)  Honestly, it's a shame King didn't see fit to have the entire run reprinted.  This stuff isn't exactly representative of the writer he would soon -- very soon -- become, but it's deeply fascinating for the hardcore King fan.  I was sent scans of the entire run of the column by a fellow fan a while back, and having read it all, I can say without hesitation that, taken as a whole, King's Garbage Truck is illuminating and entertaining.  The four selected examples bear that out; it's a shame they weren't all reprinted here, but it's cool to have a few of them officially in the world again.

The final two-fifths or so of the book are devoted to personal recollections from other University of Maine students who were in school at the same time as King.  As you'd expect, King flits in and out of these recollections; some of them are very King-centric indeed, and in others he exists merely as a background figure. 

It's all good stuff.  For example, David Bright, the editor who supervised King's Garbage Truck, tells how Steve went about writing the column each week.  (Bright has the distinction of having made cameo appearances in both The Dead Zone and The Tommyknockers.  He's got a killer story about something that happened in relation to the latter.  I will not spoil it here.)  Frank Kadi tells the story of how he took a photo of King wielding a shotgun and looking insane; that photo later appeared in the newspaper with a caption reading "STUDY, DAMMIT!"

Many of the essays are quite good even if you forget about the King-related content.  There are a couple of good ones that deal with draft-board reminiscences, and several have interesting things to say about poetry.

If I had one complaint about this section of the book, it's that Tabitha King did not contribute an essay.  She, too, makes a few cameo appearances in the reminiscences presented here; it would be nice to hear what she has to say about the era.

That's pretty much my only complaint, though.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  In the King-books-of-2016 footrace, it's out front by a mile so far as I'm concerned.

Next up:

I would assume most of you know this, but just in case, "Charlie the Choo-Choo" was a fictional children's book that featured heavily in the plot of King's 1991 novel The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands.  Allegedly written by Beryl Evans -- or by Claudia Inez Bachman, depending on what level of the tower you're on -- the entire text appeared within The Waste Lands.

This is King in pastiche mode, doing his version of a children's picture book.  He did a thoroughly credible job of it, too, capturing the cadences and charm of that genre perfectly.

Flash forward to 2016.  With the Dark Tower movie finally in production, some marketing genius had the idea of creating a fully-illustrated version as a separate book and handing it out to people at Comic Con.  The gambit worked: the book -- and the signing by author "Beryl Evans" -- got a goodish amount of attention in the entertainment press.  The copies disappeared quicker than you could say "Choo-Choo," and Simon & Schuster announced that they would be publishing a mass-market edition.

I don't have much of substance to say.  The text is fun, and is identical -- he said, not having actually held it up beside a copy of The Waste Lands to make 100% sure -- to the original Dark Tower version.  The illustrations are based on the one Ned Dameron did for The Waste Lands; no illustrator is credited, with the credit instead going to "Columbia TriStar Marketing Group."

Which brings me to what I'd like to talk about in this space.

Say, kids, remember when it seemed as if Sony was actually going to conduct a marketing campaign for their Dark Tower movie?  Over half a year before the movie was scheduled to come out (back when its original release date was in February), they were coordinating magazine covers and conducting sneakily awesome stunts like Charlie the Choo-Choo.  Then, eventually, the release date got pushed back to July 28, and the marketing campaign utterly ceased.  We don't have a trailer; we don't have a poster; we don't have much of anything apart from a release date.

This does not inspire confidence.

There are any number of reasons why it could be happening the way it's happening.  There are rumors that Sony's entire film division is in danger of being sold off, so that might have a lot to do with it.  But one thing sings out to me as a fact: that Sony does not feel it is in its best interests to be marketing The Dark Tower right now.  In other words, they don't feel there is any profit in doing so.

This need not mean the movie is going to be bad, nor does it necessarily mean the movie won't be a hit.  But I do think it indicates that Sony has a movie on their hands that they don't feel confident in.  Word at one point was that they hoped to turn this property into a franchise, one that they could make numerous sequels to.  You'd be hard-pressed to find any evidence that they are thinking along those lines currently.

Instead, it feels to me as if they are going to play this one close to the vest and merely hope not to take a loss on it.

Again, this need not spell financial disaster.  The movie might do well and end up spawning the hoped-for sequels, television series, etc.

But right now, I feel a bit like one of those squalling kids riding with Charlie the Choo-Choo; this is not shaping up to be what I was hoping for.

One book remains in this exploration:

There are some big names in this anthology, including that of Lawrence block himself.  I've never read anything by him, but he's one of those authors whose name I've been hearing for decades.  King certainly seems to be a fan, if that back-cover blurb is any indication.

Time was when I'd have just read King's story and ignored the rest, but I made a pact with myself a few years ago that I'm not going to do that with any anthology I buy going forward.  It's rude to the other writers, and it also deprives me of reading stories I'm likely to enjoy.  So I'll cover each one here in brief.

The conceit is simple: each of the stories is based on a painting by Edward Hopper.  Happily, full-color pages are included that show us each of the paintings (including one, "Cape Cod Morning," used only as a frontispiece owning to the fact that the author who'd decided to work from it found him/herself unable to actually write a corresponding story).

Block's introduction sets out the anthology's thesis: "Hopper was neither an illustrator nor a narrative painter.  His paintings don't tell stories.  What they do is suggest -- powerfully, irresistibly -- that there are stories within them, waiting to be told.  He shows us a moment in time, arrayed on a canvas; there's clearly a past and a future, but it's our task to find it for ourselves."

"Girlie Show" by Meagan Abbott (based on "The Girlie Show," 1941):  The leadoff story is about a wife who is forced to model for her painter husband.  He's not a particularly nice fellow, and Abbott does a good job of making you feel that.  She's not content to leave things there, though, and neither is her protagonist.  It's a very good story, and it fits the painting completely.

"The Story of Caroline" by Jill D. Block (based on "Summer Evening," 1947):  Block -- relation or no relation, I'm not sure which -- here spins the story of a woman who goes on a search for her birth mother, finds her, and then goes about meeting her in a rather odd way.  The story struck me as contrived and unlikely, but so would much of life, so it's fair game.  I enjoyed reading it, and would say that it's another case of the story fitting the painting. (Speaking of that painting, it is terrific.  I am sure I've seen a few Hopper paintings, and had certainly heard of him, but had not seen this one.  I can feel myself turning into a fan already, though.)

"Soir Bleu" by Robert Olen Butler (based on "Soir Bleu," 1914):  The name "Robert Olen Butler" rings a bell somewhere in my memory.  According to his bio, he has published quite a few books, including one Pulitzer winner.  I think perhaps I might have read something by him in college.  In a creative-writing course, perhaps?  Whatever the case may be, that dim tolling of the memory bell makes for an apt companion during the reading of this particular story.  Butler approaches Hopper's painting from a standpoint that is simultaneously literal and figurative, telling the story of a painter, a clown, and a woman.  It's also about a memory put to a unusual use.  Very enjoyable.

"The Truth About What Happened" by Lee Child (based on "Hotel Lobby," 1943):  It stands to reason that the creator of Jack Reacher would look at "Hotel Lobby" and think of FBI depositions.  And why not?  It's all fair game in an anthology like this one.  That said, Child's story is really more of a suggestion than an actual story; it's not bad, but it doesn't really go much of anywhere, in my opinion.

"Rooms by the Sea" by Nicholas Christopher (based on "Rooms by the Sea," 1951):  Christopher here spins a magical-realist tale of a house with ever-expanding rooms, a chef with a secret, and the descendants of Atlantis.  Yep, he sure does.  It's fairly intoxicating stuff, too.

"Nighthawks" by Michael Connelly (based on "Nighthawks," 1942):  I suspect if you are an American with functioning eyes, you have seen "Nighthawks."  If you are and you haven't, you've probably seen an imitation of it.  If you're unable to clear that bar, well, pal, that's on you.  Michael Connelly uses the painting as an opportunity to place his hard-boiled detective Harry Bosch on an investigation that leads him to the museum where it is hung.  I'd heard of Bosch via the Amazon series starring Titus Welliver (which I haven't seen but would like to), but I don't think I knew it was based on books by Connelly.  The things you learn!  I liked this story, although Connelly seems to have an off-putting tendency to have his characters say "you are" rather than "you're."  Still, good story; and one which tries not to solve the mystery of the painting, but to live within it.

"The Incident of 10 November" by Jeffery Deaver (based on "Hotel by a Railroad," 1952):   I've actually read a book by Deaver: the James Bond novel Carte Blanche, which I thought was really rather good, and which I'd have liked to see him sequelize.  That never came to pass.  007 doesn't show up here, either, but Deaver does submit a tale of Russian and American spies in East Germany.  I was somewhat resistant to the story, owing to its being told in a very formal style (it's a report by a Russian agent to his superior) that doesn't make for the most engaging reading.  However, I ended up enjoying the story fairly well, and Deaver puts the Hopper painting to good use.

"Taking Care of Business" by Craig Ferguson (based on "South Truro Church," 1930):  Yes, that Craig Ferguson.  Turns out he's rather a good writer, here spinning a tale that encompasses Elvis, whales, reefers, and religion, among other concerns.  It's too early in the book to say that I've got a favorite story, but this one is likely to be in the running.

"The Music Room" by Stephen King (based on "Room in New York," 1932):  King's story is a mere five and a half pages long, but don't let that confront ya none.  He brings his A-game here.  And that, my friends, is all I will say about that, apart from the fact that this instantly became my favorite story in the book.

"The Projectionist" by Joe R. Lansdale (based on "New York Movie," 1939):   I have a few things to say about this.  First: enjoyed the story.  Second: being as my career is in the movie-theatre business, any story set partially in a movie theatre is catnip to me.  Third: being as I used to be a projectionist (and happily still would be if digital cinema had not come along and put an end to such things), any story featuring a projection booth is like cocaine to me.  (Disclaimer: I've never actually used cocaine.)  Fourth: turn the projectionist into a sort of quasi-Punisher assassin and you've REALLY got me.  Fifth: I should read some more Lansdale.  That last is not exactly a surprise; he's yet another of those guys I've been aware of by reputation for years.  The people who like him seem to love him, and based on this story, I can see why.  Something tells me this isn't quite A+ Lansdale; probably more like B+ Lansdale, and if that's the case, then A+ Lansdale would be well worth reading.

"The Preacher Collects" by Gail Levin (based on "City Roofs," 1932):  This story's connection to "City Roofs" eludes me, but that's okay.  Levin is kind of a big deal in the story of Edward Hopper, in that she has written a biography of him, curated shows of his work, and is in general an "acknowledged authority" on the subject.  This is evidently her first published work of fiction, and it shows; which is not to say it's a bad story.  It isn't, and in fact, I suspect that most of the readers who have come to this book for the Hopper connection moreso than for the stories themselves will find "The Preacher Collects" to be a highpoint.  If I'm correctly interpreting what is going on here, Levin has actually achieved quite a notable feat of thumb-in-your-eye retribution, and if so, then it gets two thumbs up from yours truly.

"Office at Night" by Warren Moore (based on "Office at Night," 1940):  A good -- though decidedly unhorrific -- ghost story about a hillbilly girl in the big city.  I enjoyed this one, and could have stood it being twice as long as it is.

"The Woman in the Window" by Joyce Carol Oates (based on "Eleven A.M.," 1926):  He can't say for sure whether he has ever read anything by Oates, which seems like an odd thing to be unable to recall; odd until he considers that half the time he can't remember what he'd done a week ago, much less a decade, two decades, three decades ago.  He'd gotten a degree in reading, for fuck's sake; add all those classes together, all those stories and poems consumed, he'd be lucky to get a high F on a multiple-choice test consisting of "have you ever read" questions.  Probably there's nothing too unusual about that ... but he wonders.  None of the wondering clarifies the Oates issue, so he leans toward assuming "yes" and calls it good.  The next question: does "The Woman in the Window" entice him toward renewing the acquaintance?  He's not sure it does.  He actually wants to say it doesn't.  He didn't enjoy the story as he read it: a bit more than twenty pages' worth of a main character (female, self-loathing and distressed and potentially homicidal) too nutty to be respectable, occasional stopovers in the POV of that female's object of desire/hatred, tedium and more tedium.  And yet, somehow, by the end of the story he felt intrigued by it all; it had seemed to be true in some way, and it also seemed to capture the mood of the Hopper painting upon which it had been based.  He's reminded that on occasion he has to actually work as a reader; or if not go to work, precisely, then at least roll out of bed and walk around a bit rather than just sit there blinking.  This is what "The Woman in the Window" makes him think; he might not remember it next week, but in the now, there's something to it.

"Still Life 1931" by Kris Nelscott (based on "Hotel Room," 1931):  "Kris Nelscott" is a pseudonym for Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose name is familiar to me from a handful of Star Trek novels she wrote back in the day.  I never read any of them, but I remember the name, and am glad to see that she's gone on to apparently have a rather strong career.  I liked "Still Life 1931," which is set during the Great Depression and is about a woman with a bag money and several secrets.

"Night Windows" by Jonathan Santlofer (based on "Night Windows," 1928):  I spent the first few pages of this in a grump, wondering how anyone could look at the Hopper painting on which it was based and think that this was the way to go.  Then eventually it dawned on me that that was the point, and I was chastened.  Solid story; not one of my favorites in the collection, but solid.

"A Woman in the Sun" by Justin Scott (based on "A Woman in the Sun," 1961):  Naked woman plus man allegedly about to commit suicide equals this story.  Or vice versa, I guess.  This one didn't do a lot for me.

"Autumn at the Automat" by Lawrence Block (based on "Automat," 1927):  She seems perhaps a bit too well-dressed to be where she is.  Why, do you suppose?  Block brings the anthology to an end with a tale that might make ol' Slippin' Jimmy -- Better Call Saul fans know -- proud.

Overall, In Sunlight Or In Shadow is a very fine anthology.  King's "The Music Room" ended up being my favorite story, but I wonder if that isn't as much because of my home-team bias as it is to the excellence of the story itself.  There are at least three others that are as good, and if I had to put on my Hat Of Objectivity and declare which story was the best, I might go with Nicholas Christopher's "Rooms by the Sea."  Bottom line: this is a delightful book that is likely to have something for everyone.


And with that, I am once again caught up with the King.  That's how it oughtta be, and that's how I aim to keep it.

Part two of this post will find me catching up with the Kings Junior, Joe (Hill) and Owen.  So I'll be back with that in the time it takes me to get caught up with them, too.

See you then!


  1. I haven't read Hearts in Suspension yet, but I really wish he would put out a collection of some of his better non-fiction pieces over the years. It sounds like that essay would belong in it.

    1. He did a kinda/sorta version of that in 2000 with a Book-of-the-Month-Club exclusive book called "Secret Windows." But it wasn't a best-King-essays book so much as it was a King-on-writing collection of nonfiction intended to be a companion piece to "On Writing."

      But I agree 100% with you that a true collection of King nonfiction would be a great thing.

      Dang. I might need to write a post at some point pitching a hypothetical table of contents for such a book. "Five to One, One in Five" would definitely belong in it.

    2. I'd love to read a post like that. I won't post a full table of contents, but this is sort of a layout of how I envision it.

      Section One: LIFE

      Autobiographical pieces ("Five to One," "The Ring," "Cone Head," etc.) and pieces directly related to his family ("Head Down") or community ("Leaf Peepers").

      Section Two: WRITING

      A lot of the stuff from the Secret Windows collection, plus various reviews and essays he's written over the years on other authors and their work.

      Section Three: POP CULTURE

      Essays and reviews of movies, TV and music, probably most of them coming from his old EW column.

      Section Four: SOCIETY

      "Guns," one of the several pieces he's written on censorship, maybe some of the King's Garbage Truck columns, etc.

    3. The more I think about it, the more I'm thinking that that post is going to happen. Probably no time soon, though.

      Arranging the book into themed sections would make sense. And I agree with all the pieces you picked.

  2. ..and then coming soon is this...

    loving the cover! Would rank pretty highly on my King covers list!

    1. Yeah, it's not bad; not bad at all, especially compared to some of the dreck we've gotten from the major publishers lately.

    2. And then I was reading the quickview for this new title, and caught this excerpt:

      "At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

      One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: "Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me."

      On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat..."

      Looks like RF is showing his face again. Possibly a new addition to the Dark Tower connections list? Not sure how tangential it will be, but seems plausible from a 30-second glimpse!

    3. It does indeed. I don't remember Flagg ever wearing a hat before, but he tends to be a little different every time.

    4. EDIT:

      He wore one as the Convenant Man in "The Wind Through The Keyhole".

      Besides, who else wears THAT much black and tells some kid they "ought to palaver"?

    5. I definitely agree that the description is designed to make us think of Flagg, even if it isn't literally him. We'll find out soon enough, I guess.

      I didn't remember him wearing a hat in "Keyhole," but that may be because I was thinking of Jae Lee's depiction of him. Thanks for the reminder!

    6. For the record: after reading the novella, I don't think there's any way to not think this is Flagg, or at least some aspect of him. But I'll say this: he seems nothing like the Flagg of "The Stand," or of "The Dark Tower," or of "The Eyes of the Dragon." This is something else entirely; and yet obviously related.

      Matters to ponder at length, eventually!

  3. I've haven't even gotten around to "End of Watch" yet, and this review makes me wonder if that might be a blessing in disguise.

    From what I've read of the Hodges story, I'd say the first was okay, yet nothing special. The irony is the same elements wind spoiling "Finders Keepers" for me. It's just that he made the story of the kid and the thief, and the book cache so fun that it really should have stood as its own story. Tacking on Hodges and Co. just seemed to weigh things down.

    I haven't gotten hold of a copy of "Hearts in Suspension" yet, however its been on my to get list for some while. It's a question of time and money.

    The Edward Hopper collection sounds like a surprise sleeper hit. All interesting items to add to the list.

    1. Based on your stated feelings about the Hodges stories, I think you'd be very unimpressed by "End of Watch." I certainly was. It's handily one of my new least-favorite King novels. Not that it doesn't have good moments; it does. Just not many of them, compared to the average King book.

    2. I like the Hodges books, especially the first two, but they are "King Lite" in my opinion. I hate to say it, but his plans to continue with the Holly character and the fact that his next two books will be collaborations has me a little worried that he's stuck in a bit of a rut these days. I'm still excited about what's coming, but I'd love to hear that he's working on a new solo, non-series novel or see a handful of short stories come out this year.

    3. I hear ya. I've had some of the same thoughts. And, by the way, if it turns out that he and Straub get the third "Talisman" novel going -- a thing it was rumored was going to start happening early in 2017, if things lined up just right -- then it might well be THREE consecutive books that are collaborations. And so be it, I guess. But yeah, I kinda hope there's another "Under the Dome" or "11/22/63" type of solo book on the way soon after that.

      Aren't we King fans greedy? Jeez. But hey, we've been spoiled by the best.

  4. All of this sounds fantastic. I definitely have to make room in the budget for Hearts in Suspension and the Hopper book, at the very least, but the Six Stories sound up my alley, as well.

    Quite enjoyed the Joyce Carol Oates paragraph. She has one short story in an anthology I have that is great, but I've never been able to get into her writing, but I've always enjoyed the affection she and King seem to have for one another. A strategic alliance on both their parts, perhaps, though the affection seems genuine. Who could blame them anyway - writers should network!

    1. And congratulations on getting King-current!

      I'm less than enthused about the Holly spinoff, but I'm somewhat charmed by his being so obsessed with this character. I'm convinced he's working out some years-running argument/routine with Tabitha while watching NCIS and 24.

    2. He's on the record as being a fan of Chloe from "24." He may even have mentioned her as being a sort of inspiration for Holly. I'm not positive about that last, but it seems likely. And why not? Chloe is adorable. If King has a thing for her, I don't begrudge him that thing. So bring on the Holly book, Uncle Steve.

      I'm pretty sure there's a e-book version of "Six Scary Stories," so you can save a few books on that one if you only want to read it. I think it's worth having, but maybe not at the full $25 price.

      It IS kind of cool to think about King and Oates being friendly. Very different writers; but (seemingly) following their own muses, so in that sense not different at all.

    3. No one begrudges anyone for liking Holly. Or her NCIS / a-dozen-other-shows-and-stories equivalent. She's a fun trope. I just hope he finds some non-cliche / recycling way in the new one. King's given me reasonable cause to be optimistic in this regard, so hey, fingers crossed.

      Good call on the Kindle version - I've got to get into the habit of breaking that thing out. The thing is, my regular-old-book queue is always 10 or 11 deep, so I never think of it except in the theoretical.

      Oh, I didn't mention the Dark Tower thing. As we discussed a little elsewhere, I have little confidence in Sony and its execs. Any property that ends up at Sony has to deal with all the regular problems of filmmaking, plus what it's like to have incompetent bosses with too much money who are ruled, like Governor-Generals in some crown colony in days of old, by oligarchs far removed from things. It's too bad Roland got mixed up with them! But, sooner or later, the proof will have to be in the pudding, and let's hope they serve that up with pistachios and whipped cream soon enough.

    4. At this point, I'm not even confident that they're going to do well with the new Spider-Man. As a studio, they are thoroughly in the doldrums right now.

    5. Interestingly, news broke this week that reshoots on the movie were happening.

      The lead photo shows Elba eating what is described as a baguette, ostensibly between takes. I'm not sure. Looks like a hot dog to me, and there's a memorable scene in The Drawing of the Three (right? somebody correct me if I'm wrong) in which "Roland" freaks out for hot dogs and Pepsi. I'm a coca-Cola man, so it pleases me to see that the Pepsi has been jettisoned in favor of a Coke. Until it's not in the movie, I'm assuming this is an actual scene.

      If so, cool! I'm very negative on the marketing (or lack thereof), but I'm still hoping for the best from this movie. I saw an inane comment recently on another site about how the movie was dead to them because Roland's costume is different than the books. And seriously, if that's how you look at such things, there's no helping you.

  5. I'm going to replicate a comment I left elsewhere just now, since it has relevance to this post as well as to that one:

    I'd not bought the mass-market paperback of "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," but I saw it in the grocery store today and thought it'd make a good companion to my steaks, cat food, and potato chips. I'd been wanting to get a copy because it contains the story "Cookie Jar," which was previously only available in VQR.

    This isn't the first time King has inserted a bonus story into a paperback version of one of his collections. "Under the Weather" made its debut in the trade paperback of "Full Dark, No Stars." However, it was inserted into the end as a bonus story.

    It's a different story with "Cookie Jar," which is integrated into the book between "The Little Green God of Agony" and "That Bus Is Another World."

    This sort of thing causes fits among those of us who keep track of such things. Does it mean that "Cookie Jar" should be considered to have been collected, or not? My inclination is to say "not," unless the next collection comes along and does not include it.

    What say you?

  6. "Hearts in Atlantis" is to my mind, one of King's most underrated works. It's got some of his best writing and character development. It's also one of his most intelligent books. It's a shame then that it never got the respect it deserves then or now.

    Still, I'm glad to see King revisit the "Hearts" story in this new "Suspension" collection. It's been on my to read list for a while, and now I'm just going to have to step up the pace a bit.

    King's reminiscence on the ^0s have always been something of a high-point in his writings. That said, he also made this observation in "Bazaar":

    "Beatles or Stones?

    "For me it was always the Stones - the Beatles were just too soft once they became Jupiter in the solar system of pop music. (My wife used to refer to Sir Paul McCartney as "old dog eyes", and that kind of summed up how I felt (97)".

    Ummmm, yeah, no. As far as I'm concerned, it's either all on the table, or there's nothing at all. Anger and aggression may have their place in musical expression, however, in terms of influence and artistry, it's the Beatles all the way for me.

    If I had to give a more cohesive counter-argument, then I'd have to turn it over to the Who in song:

    Still, to each their own, and I've definitely still got "Hearts in Suspension" in the line up.


    1. "Hearts In Atlantis" probably would rank on the list of underrated King books. (Which makes me wonder what my #1 on such a list would be. I'm going to tentatively say "Roadwork.") And as for King's feelings on the '60s, "Hearts In Suspension" joins "Atlantis" as being an indispensable text.

      I'm not quite knowledgeable enough on the Stones' discography to make a truly informed opinion on the Beatles vs. Stones issue. And yet, I have no qualms in saying that the obvious answer is The Beatles. This is not to deny that the Stones are great; they are. At their best, they might even be as inspired as The Beatles; "Gimme Shelter" comes to mind, and "Sympathy for the Devil," and "Paint It Black," and so forth.

      Still: Beatles all the way, and by a mile. "Too soft" my ass.

    2. Beatles 100% - however, anyone who claims to like the Beatles and not the Stones (...or the Kinks or The Who for that matter) should not be trusted.

    3. I have to confess to not being a fan of The Who. But this is primarily based on hating "Who Are You" and "Pinball Wizard." I'm shockingly unfamiliar with most of their stuff. ("Baba O'Riley," of course, is a masterpiece, so I'm not totally averse to them.)

      I like what I know by The Kinks, but I only know a few.

      Apologies if this shreds my cred!

    4. Cool news, just dug up a song by Julian Lennon. How's this for soft?


    5. That's not a half-bad song! I've heard a few of Julian's songs that I liked fairly well.

    6. Too soft? Check this from Macca at his best!

      saw Julian live a few years ago now...I think he's great!

      also saw Paul's son James live a few times, pretty good stuff to be honest!

    7. Yeah, this "too soft" allegation holds no water with me at all. I mean ... "Revolution"?!? "Helter Skelter"?!? Among others, not to mention various solo projects.

      That's like claiming the Stones are too hard. I mean, even I know that's crap.

      Bless old Uncle Steve. Like all of us, he can't be right all the time.

      "Soily" is terrific. I'd never heard that before! Ah, man, I've really got to work my way through all the Beatles' non-Beatles stuff one of these days.

    8. "Soily, Soily..the cat in the satin trousers says its Oily"

      Like all the great rock 'n' roll lyrics, it means absolutely nothing.

      He didn't even release the studio version of this back in the day, only came out 2 years ago on an archive box set. Too many great songs I suppose!

    9. I increasingly feel that that's how you can best separate the legends from the merely talented: by examining the ephemera. If it yields up treasures of this sort, then it really does put you in a higher echelon than most rock gods.

    10. couldn't agree this, track 4 on an early 90s CD single...

    11. I know a trio of ephemera from Sir Paul that knock it right out of the ballpark.

      "Beware My Love:

      If you wanna:

      and "Used to be Bad" (with Steve Miller, how's that for hardcore?):


    12. Bless you, Aaron - that "Hope of Deliverance" CD single is 4 of my favorite Macca tunes. At that stage in his career, too, all the more impressive. (Hell, I even love The Firemen.)

      "Big Boys Bickering," "Long Leather Coat," and "Kicked Around No More" = top shelf Paul.

    13. It's a great set of songs on the hope of deliverance.

      Love the b sides from Cmon people and off the ground too...

      Sweet sweet memories

      Style style

      Cosmically conscious

  7. King's take on that Beatles/ Stones one reminds me of his opinions re: movies more often than not. But it comes down to drug-choice, perhaps. The Beatles were always the choice of the pot-and-acid sort of heads; the Stones more for the boozers and the speeders. Although King's copped to using both weed and acid, he (according to his interviews/ confessions) vastly preferred booze and coke.

    Just throwing it out there.

    1. That's a very persuasive insight, actually. If you want to extend it a bit farther, you could even rope Kubrick into this: his movies tended to be more for the psychedlics than for the drunks.

      There's a great essay on all that waiting to be written, I suspect.

  8. The Unpicking was my favourite too! I am surprised it didn't win to be honest. I also agree with your perspective on End of watch.


    1. Nice to hear from you, Mircalla!

      Glad to hear you enjoyed "The Unpicking" as much as I did. I suspect that if Joe Hill had chosen the winner, that would have been it. But I liked the story King picked, too. Good collection in general.

  9. Great stuff as usual dude. I can't wait to read Suspension but it's like 5th in line at this point.
    BTW Joyce Carol Oates wrote one of my favorite stories ever, "Where you going where you been?" It's one of only 4 stories I read by her but this story has stuck with me for years and years. Very Creepy.
    Check it out:


    1. Sounds intriguing. Will do!

      [I opened it briefly and find that it is written "for Bob Dylan," so this is a good sign.]

    2. I read that last night. Creepy stuff, no doubt about it. Thanks for pointing me toward it!

  10. Bryant what was the essay on "Crush" you mentioned?


  11. I've been meaning to comment a lot sooner than this. I'm always happy when I notice a new post. On the Hodges trilogy, I guess I'm more forgiving than you. The sudden appearance of the supernatural was puzzling to me at first, and I can see why it would bother some folks, but by the end, I really didn't feel it detracted from the story when it was all said and done. I appreciated that he phased out Jerome's slave alter ego. And overall, I thought King acquitted himself remarkably in the crime genre. Don't know if you've looked at the casting for the HBO miniseries they're making out of it, but I think they may be on to something. I love me some Brendan Gleeson, and the kid they have playing Brady could potentially be great. I don't know if he can act, but in his IMDB profile pic he looks like a sick fuck. Add Mary Louise Parker and Kelly Lynch... they really may have nailed it.

    Now, I'm not sure about a Holly spinoff (in fact, I'd probably prefer that one peters out). But I like the character, and I think I get why Uncle Stevie has such an affection for her. I've often felt like some of the people with that kind of mental illness are frequently capable of making real contributions to society, but due to family factors or other complications, never get that chance. I think some of her just-in-time epiphanies were a bit much, but I've seen people who suddenly come alive when they find a purpose in life, so that resonated with me a little bit.

    Hoping to see more soon. Especially wondering what you thought of that It trailer. I thought it delivered in every way even the biggest fanboy could fairly expect.

  12. "I really didn't feel it detracted from the story when it was all said and done." -- You're probably in the majority with that. But, to play devil's advocate, I'd have to ask: but did it actually ADD anything, either? I don't think it did, except for a few moderately cool scenes in which Brady was learning how to use that new ability.

    Your thoughts about Holly make sense. I like her, too, so I won't mind reading a book with her as the hero.

    I thought the "It" trailer was pretty great. I generally avoid covering King news here. There are a bunch of other places that do it better than I'd do it, and would do so in a more timely fashion. I can't help myself every once in a while, but for the most part, that's just not the sort of thing I'm into doing here.

    Glad you dug it too, though! I hopehopehope the movie measures up.

    1. The telekinesis really didn't add much, and at first it was weird, but I guess it wasn't enough to find it off-putting. King novels without any otherworldly stuff are few. I do think the original title of End of Watch would have been better (The Suicide Prince). Not only is End of Watch already taken as the name of a movie, but it's one that's recent, pretty popular, and IMO quite good. On top of that, to me it's a little spoiler-y. You find out early in the novel that Hodges is dying, but the title lives little doubt.

      Your post makes it sound like you don't much care for Holly. Even I'm not sure whether she'd be a good lead character, and at this point using her in that way would feel like your standard mystery-of-the-week novels that are somehow bestsellers, but King is way better than that. Although I had the same concerns about Better Call Saul, which has turned out to be much better than I would have ever expected, even from Vince Gilligan. Saul was almost comic relief for most of Breaking Bad. Anyway, here's hoping you find something soon that you find interesting enough to muse about.

    2. Oh, the issue is never not having something interesting to muse about. I'm currently working my way through the Owen King and Joe Hill books/stories I had not gotten around to reading. I'd planned on beginning "The Fireman" yesterday, actually, but it didn't happen for work reasons. Anyways, there'll be a post about that, and then I'll be on to a post about "The Fifth Quarter."

      I liked "The Suicide Prince" as a title, too. "End of Watch" should not have been allowed, for exactly the reasons you mention.

      I'm fine with Holly. She's not a favorite character or anything, but she's okay. I'll be curious to see what King has in store for her. He's said that her novel will be a horror novel, which intrigues me.

      I was VERY skeptical about "Better Call Saul," even with Gilligan working on it. But it's turned out to be terrific, and -- at least so far -- stands proudly alongside "Breaking Bad." That's an achievement.