Monday, May 20, 2019

Potluck time at The Truth Inside The Lie, part 2

Diving right in, let's have a look at:
  
  
  
  
You can probably guess why I bought this new anthology from Lawrence Block: yes, sure enough, it was for the Joe Hill story.  And we'll get to that in a few moments.
  
First, an apology to the many authors represented herein whose stories I didn't read.  My standing policy is to read anthologies cover to cover, but folks, I'm badly off my game right now in all sorts of ways, and I just didn't want to spend the amount of time it would take to read it all.  Nothing more complicated or nefarious to it than that; I'm being a time hoarder over here, plain and simple.  That said, I felt pretty bad about it, so I did read a couple of pages from every story, and pretty much every single one of them seemed interesting, so my feeling is that this is likely a very strong anthology.
  
I did, apart from Hill's, work my way through two additional stories in full.  
  

The first of those was Joe R. Lansdale's "The Senior Girls Bayonet Drill Team."  Here's why I read it: in my capacity as the sort of guy who reads anthologies cover to cover, I've read three other tales by Lansdale over the past few years.  One in particular ("Driving to Geronimo's Grave") was just wonderful.  So the bottom line is, I simply wanted to read "The Senior Girls Bayonet Drill Team."  And so I did.  It's weird and kind of great, and I'm not sure how I'd describe it without making a mess of things.  So I'll describe it in the manner Block does in his introduction to the book, and say merely that it's set in a dystopian future.  I'll also point out that Block is making an assumption about that; it seems a safe assumption, but Lansdale won't give you an answer one way or the other.  Good stuff.
  
The other story I read was Richard Chizmar's, "Whistling in the Dark."  Was this the first fiction by Chizmar I'd read other than Gwendy's Button Box?  I'm not sure -- I want to say I read something of his in some anthology or another, but I can't find any immediate evidence of it.  In any case, he's recently announced that he's written a solo sequel to Gwendy's, and I figure that if King is okay with that happening, it kind of makes Chizmar an important enough guy within the world of Stephen King that I ought to get at least somewhat familiar with him.  This was likely true already, but I'm kind of making it semi-official now.  So, the story -- pretty good, actually!  It's not very long, and it's a slice-of-life story about two homicide detectives who catch a body and go about the course of their day working it.  Weirdly, all of that is kind of just backgrounded to the detectives' lives.  Except it's not weird at all; this must be how all homicide detectives go about their business and their lives.  I thought it was a well-written, effective, and involving story.  Not gonna lie; I walked away from this with a better opinion of Chizmar than I had going into it.  I like that as a result.
  
The main event here for me, though, was of course Joe Hill's "Faun."  This story got some notoriety a while back when Netflix won a bidding war for the movie rights.  I can, after reading it, see why they'd want it; this is fairly dynamite stuff.  It's going to be included in his new story collection, Full Throttle, later this year, so I'm not going to say a whole heck of a lot about it at this time.  I can settle for a setup, though: it's about big-game hunting, but with a twist.  The title will probably tip you off a bit, and yes, sure enough, it does involve people paying extravagant sums of money to go through a door -- "the little door," its owner calls it -- into another world.  There, they can hunt all the ogres and Mr. Tumnuses their hearts desire.
  
I found it to be almost wholly successful, which is not unusual for a short story by Joe Hill.  Full Throttle is going to be a hell of a collection, y'all.  Look for it in October.
  
Speaking of books coming out this fall, let's talk about the aforementioned Chizmar book:
  
  
  
  
Way back in 2012, I fretted about the possibility of something like this.  Thus spake 2012 Bryant:

Once -- and let me be clear: I hope this doesn't happen for another thirty years, but it WILL happen eventually -- Stephen King reaches the clearing at the end of the path, there is almost certainly going to be interest in continuing his legacy in some way.  Some smart-aleck is going to want to write more Dark Tower novels, or a sequel to The Stand, or another Jack Sawyer adventure.  Under certain circumstances, I'd be okay with that: if it was Joe Hill or Owen King, for example, or Peter Straub, or even Scott Snyder.  Someone who had an actual connection to King.  I'd still be dubious, but I'd at least be interested to see what they did with the material.  And even if the writer is unconnected to King, but still a genuine talent, I'd try my best to give it a fair shot.
But what if it's just some Joe Blow type, some mook with good intentions but an insufficient talent level?  Would I be okay with it then?  Probably not.
The thing is, I don't know exactly why any of this should bother me.  If the worst-case scenario happens, and Stephen King were to die five years from now and somehow Stephenie Meyer were to get ahold of the rights to The Dark Tower and then rewrite the whole series, it would undoubtedly suck ... but so what?  It would infuriate me, but should it?  After all, nobody would be forcing me to read it, and it's not like my copies of the real books would disappear.
I had to think about all of this for a while before I finally figured it out: it makes me mad because I know that WHATEVER it ended up being, I'd still read it!  It's not that I wouldn't want to: I would want to not want to, but I'd still, despite my own potential distaste for it, read it.  I've got DVD copies of Creepshow III and The Mangler Reborn to prove it, sadly.


It seemed like a thing that was bound to happen.  Gwendy's Magic Feather -- the King-less sequel to the King/Chimzar-authored Gwendy's Button Box -- isn't fully that, I will grant you.  However, it's close enough that I kind of feel the winds beginning to blow in the direction I was pre-grousing about in 2012.  Hulu's Castle Rock series is one step in that direction (and not one which pleases me), but at least that's film.  Prose is something else entirely; prose is what worries me.

There are, arguably, two extant novels that already fit the bill: the miniseries tie-ins The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer and The Journals of Eleanor Druse.  Those companions books to (respectively) Rose Red and Kingdom Hospital were (ghost-)written by Riddley Pearson and Richard Dooling, respectively; but Pearson's book was marketed in a way that made people think it might have been by King.  It wasn't, but it sold well enough that clearly plenty of folks were either fooled or willing to take the plunge based merely on the association.  And both are fairly good books in their own right (Ellen Rimbauer especially), so really, what's the problem?

The only book I've read by Chizmar is Gwendy's Button Box, which was decent; it didn't feel a whole lot like King to me, and for all I know it was more of a Chizmar book.  I didn't love it, but it was okay enough to have been worth the reading.  If Gwendy's Magic Feather is only as good as that, I suppose I'll be okay with it.

Mark my words, though: we may yet have to contend -- be it decades from now or mere years -- with sanctioned sequels to books that were entirely King's.  Will someone give us the story of what Charlie McGee has been up to all these years?  Will Pennywise return to haunt Derry yet again?  Will we find out what's transpired in the world of The Stand?  Will fucking Cujo have puppies with Christine or some bullshit like that?  Don't rule it out.  I'll say again what I said in 2012: in the right hands, maybe there's some merit to a few of those ideas.  I can't, and don't, rule it out.

But I worry.  I worry a lot.  I'd like to think that whenever -- fingers crossed it won't be until 2050 or so -- Uncle Steve calls it quits with living, his estate will be choosy as fuck how his legacy is handled.  Tabitha, Joe, and Owen, writers all, seem like good candidates to keep such scenarios as those I've outlined above from coming to pass.  So I'm hopeful that it won't be an issue.
  
You never know, though, and I'll confess that that was the first thing I thought of when news broke of Gwendy's Magic Feather being born into the world.  That's likely very unfair to Richard Chizmar, though, who, after all, did co-write the first Gwendy book.
  
And after reading his short story "Whistling in the Dark," mentioned earlier, I'm suddenly more interested in what he's up to on his own.  And if it turns out that he ends up being one of the bearers of King's legacy, maybe that's a better thing than it might be in some other folks' hands.
  
The book is out in November, so I guess we'll see how that goes first.
  
Speaking of Chizmar, let's now turn our attentions toward a new anthology from his press, Cemetery Dance:
  
  
  
  
I don't know if it's apparent, but Cemetery Dance sometimes makes me grumpy.  This is likely part of the reason why the invocation of Chizmar's name sometimes makes me a bit grumpy.  The company does great work, but they do it really slowly.  I mean, really slowly.  Case in point: Shivers VIII was announced and put up for pre-order way back in 2016, and only in the past few weeks did it finally come out.
  
I was halfway convinced it never would, and that would have been halfway amusing.  The reason?  It contains the first-ever appearance of the Stephen King short story "Squad D," which was written sometime in the late 1970s for Harlan Ellison's infamous anthology Last Dangerous Visions.  That anthology never came out; I wouldn't be surprised if some version of it finally did, now that Ellison has passed away -- but it was just a no-go for literal decades.
  
This didn't seem to have anything directly to do with "Squad D" itself, of course.  But wouldn't it be kind of funny if "Squad D" was supposed to also be in Shivers VIII and then Shivers VIII just ... never happened?  Wouldn't that kind of kick "Squad D" 's reputation up a notch?
  
Might be.  I'm glad it didn't, but there's a side of me that would have been amused by it.
  
Thing is, it's not a particularly great story.  I'm not sure it's even a good story.  Anyone who's been holding out hope that at some point in the late 1970s, Stephen King wrote a masterpiece that's been gathering dust ever since, just waiting for a chance to step into the world and announce itself, go on and give those hopes up now.  "Squad D" is not that story.  For all I know such a story does exist; what I'm sayin' is, "Squad D" ain't it.  Harlan Ellison agreed with me on that, by the way; he's on the record as saying he felt like King needed to get more out of it.
  
It's by no means bad, of course.  Laws, no!  It's worth checking out, and my gut tells me that if you want to do so, you'd best run down a copy of Shivers VIII -- methinks the next King collection won't be counting "Squad D" among its contents.
  
The story is about a widower whose son died in Vietnam (and whose wife drank herself to death on account of it).  His son died in an explosion that claimed the lives of nine of the ten people in his squad; the surviving member sent the parents of the nine deceased soldiers a photo of the nine of them.  It's been hanging on this father's wall ever since, except today, he noticed something; it's now got a tenth person in it.  He calls the parents of the tenth and final solider, and finds out that he hung himself the day before; he's finally caught up with the rest of Squad D.
  
And that's pretty much it.  It's kind of an interesting idea, but there's no story behind it; it's got a few nice little touches, and if you inserted it into Skeleton Crew right after, say, "The Reaper's Image," it'd feel more or less right at home.  As a lower-tier story in an overall strong collection, yeah?  Sure, that'd work.  
  
So that ought to give you a decent idea of what we're talking about.  I'm glad it's finally in the world.
  
Now, how about the rest of Shivers VIII?  Let's take a look at the roster of contributors:
  
  
  
  
Some solid names on there; I recognize almost all of them, so just that in and of itself says something.  I am still in no-time-for-love-Doctor-Jones mode over here, apparently, so I'm not going to read most of this anthology; same's I did for At Home in the Dark, though, I read a couple of pages of each, and read all the way through a handful.
  
That handful consists of:
  
  • "Summer" by Tananarive Due -- Such an excellent name sticks in the mind, so though I have no idea where I first encountered it, I know I've been seeing it for a while now.  She (along with her husband, Steven Barnes) was interviewed recently for an episode of The Losers' Club, and she sounded like someone I'd enjoy reading.  So I checked out her story "Summer" (the second in Shivers VIII, coming right after King's "Squad D").  And I thought it was quite good!  It's about a young mother whose husband is away in the military.  She lives near a swamp, and finds out in no uncertain terms that local legends about "swamp leeches" (demons) inhabiting the bodies of infants during the summer months are certainly not mere legends.  If I had a problem with "Summer," it's the same problem I had with the Lansdale story in At Home in the Dark: I wished it kept right on going once it ended.
  • "The Shrieking Woman" by Bev Vincent -- Vincent, as you almost certainly know, is one of the most noted King scholars in all the world.  He's also a fiction writer in his own right, and a good one.  This story is about a brother and sister -- named, in what might be a nod toward "Children of the Corn," Vicky and Burt -- who break into a deserted mental hospital.  Vicky sees a ghost while there.  That's it; nothing complicated, just a basic scary scenario.  But it's executed vividly and effectively, and Vincent proves that he's got the goods.
  • "Transfiguration" by Richard Christian Matheson -- I've never read anything by the junior Matheson, but he wrote the screenplay for the television adaptation of "Battleground," and based on that King connection I thought I'd give this story a shot.  It's the tale of a serial-killing ice-road trucker who may or may not also be an avenging angel.  I'm not sure how much I actually liked the story, but it was well-written and involving, so I guess bare minimum I liked it alright.
  • "Gorilla in My Room" by Jack Ketchum -- This short-short is about having and being a pet, I think.  Why'd I read it?  Because King is a Ketchum fan.  Are you noticing a trend with my story selections?  Guilty.
  • "Spice" by David Gerrold -- No King connection here, though, even a tenuous one like the Ketchum one.  Instead, I read this because Gerrold is best known (to me) as an occasional Star Trek writer; he wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles" and was instrumental in the development of The Next Generation, for example.  But he also writes prose, and though this isn't a King connection, I will say that I also always think of Gerrold as a guy whose work freaked me out once upon a time when I was a kid.  I've got no specifics, but I remember reading a story of his (actually, I think it was an excerpt from a novel) in some magazine long ago.  Was it a Starlog?  Likely.  I remember nothing about it except that it had some bit of violence that shocked and frightened me, and the feeling has stuck with me ever since, long after the details escaped me.  How odd.  I'm sure some research could yield an answer as to what this was, but I'm content to let it lie.  In any case, "Spice" is a disconcerting story -- and I'm about to spoil the whole thing, so heads up -- in which an adolescent girl, dressed as an adolescent boy, tries to seduce a serial killer.  I think that's the idea, at least.  Just when you think you're reading a story about a young girl raping a would-be pedo rapist, the girl turns into, like, a giant spider or something and kills the guy.  It feels as if the story wants to be boundary-pushing, and since I don't read a hugely varied amount of fiction, I guess in some ways it did push my boundaries and therefore counts as a success.  Maybe?  It's not bad at all, unless one were to be morally outraged by it, in which case it's probably very bad indeed.  I myself sat on the cusp of being morally outraged, but never quite tipped over.  Hold that thought in mind for the remainder of my discussion of my sampling of Shivers VIII.
  • "The Hour In Between" by Adam-Troy Castro -- I've got a miserable memory, and it seems to be getting worse with every passing year.  Something tells me this is not apt to change, either.  But such is life, and so it is that when I saw the name "Adam-Troy Castro" in the table of contents, I had a suspicion that I had read something by him, but could conjure no specifics.  A generality did come to mind: I knew it was a story in the Joe Hill edited The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, but whether I'd liked or disliked the story was unclear.  So I thought hey, let's give this a read and just see how it goes.  "The Hour In Between" is about as grisly a tale as I've read recently, and kind of impressed me as well as disgusted me.  It's about an old man who's decided life is no longer worth living; not because it's become awful, but because it simply holds no promise of actual happiness any longer.  So he decides to beat his wife's skull in while she's sleeping; he does so in the story's first paragraph, and the remainder of the tale is about how he spends the time between this act and his own suicide by revolver.  For a while, I was uneasy with and a little indignant at the notion that the story seemed to be sympathetic toward a man who would reduce his wife's head to literal pulp.  I was afraid that maybe it wasn't judging him harshly enough.  Then I wondered if I was being so closed-minded that I was caving in to "outrage-culture"-type concerns; this is to be avoided.  And yet, it leads to things like me feeling sorrier for the guy who done the skull-bashing than for the lady whose skull got bashed, so that's no good.  The story's got a nicely sick little button on the end of that ameliorated some of these concerns, though, and what conflictedness I feel about the stance Castro is taking is balanced by the quality of the writing.  Good stuff, now pardon me while I go vomit.
  • "Mama's Sleeping" by Brian James Freeman -- Freeman is a publisher and author who has handled books both by and about Stephen King.  He's putting out a lavishly-illustrated new edition of Revival soon, for example.  This story is yet another in which pedophilia arguably happens.  Look, y'all; I get it, it's a go-to when you want to bring a bad person onto the stage.  But it's gross and I'd kind of rather not have it in my head, if it's all the same to you.  Anyways, this one's about an ex-con cable-repairman who goes on a service call and finds a little girl whose mother has been "sleeping" for three days.  As with Gerrold's "Spice," I'm about to spoil the story's twist, so read on at your own peril.  Anyways, the cable guy ascertains that the mother is indeed dead, and he sickly decides to use the occasion as an opportunity to indulge in some inside-the-dress explorations with the little girl.  All the while, there's a radio blaring on in the background, and the narrator thinks something like how he hasn't heard a radiocast sounding so urgent since 9/11.  This isn't enough to get to not be a pedo, though, so he's getting that car started ... and then, a cold hand falls on him from behind.  Somewhere, George Romero laughs appreciatively.  It's a very good end to an uncomfortable story, and I have to confess that without the sicker aspects of it, the punchline wouldn't have landed as well as it did.

    There you have it; a cursory look at a few of the stories in Shivers VIII.  I'm sure I skipped some winners, but I definitely read a few, and even a mediocre new ("new") King story is cause for celebration round these parts.
      
    Moving on, let's check out a King movie you might not know about:
      
      
      
      
    To the extent it is known at all, this is probably best known as the first film by writer/director Josh Boone, who would go on to helm The Fault In Our Stars and the still-unreleased X-Men spinoff New Mutants.  He made a mild splash with The Fault In Our Stars, and put the notoriety to work for him in an effort to make himself a new go-to guy for Stephen King adaptations.  He toyed with Lisey's Story for a while, and then let it go; he got into heavy pre-production on a feature adaptation of Revival that is backburnered but is still evidently a possibility.
      
    Most notably, however, he was at the head of an ambitious plan to turn The Stand into a four-part series of movies.  That never happened, but it morphed into a ten-episode miniseries for CBS All Access, which Boone is overseeing and will presumably direct.
      
    Stuck in love?  Stuck in development hell, more like.  I'll believe The Stand is actually happening when it begins filming.  Until then, it's a rumor.
      
    Boone himself seems genuine in his love for King, though.  He did a podcast with Kevin Smith where he sounds about as sincere about such things as anyone could ever wish for.  So I wish him well; it'd be great if we got another talented filmmaker who wanted to bring King to the masses.
      
    The filmmaker has spoken about how he wrote King a letter when he was young, and about how he received a reply that had a huge impact on him.  In making his first film, he included a fictionalized version of the incident, in which one of the movie's main characters, an aspiring young writer, receives a life-changing telephone call from the King himself.  Boone was able to parlay his real-life experience with King into getting the author to record a vocal cameo for the film, which is pretty cool.
      
    Is that enough to make this count as a Stephen King movie?  Nah, of course not.  But assuming Boone is ever able to get his King-adaptation career going, it makes Stuck In Love an essential part of that story.  And that's kind of cool.
      
    Anyways, I'd never actually watched the movie itself until now.  I don't know that it's a great movie or whatever, but I'll say this: I totally dug it.
      
    The story is about a family of writers -- in fact, the film's original title was Writers -- led by Greg Kinnear, an acclaimed novelist who is divorced from his wife, who cheated on him in spectacular fashion.  He's got two kids, a girl in college whose first novel is about to come out, and a son in high school who is resisting the pull he feels to write.  After all, that's his dad's thing, not his.  Right?  Well...
      
    The opening is fairly clunky, and shows these three writers pursuing their own disparate ways of experiencing romance.  Rusty (Nat Wolff) pines after a girl in his class who has no idea he exists; Samantha (Lily Collins) goes to college parties and more or less just picks a guy out and fucks him with no strings attached; and Bill (Kinnear) goes to his ex-wife's house and engages in a bit of harmless backyard spying/stalking.  It's all forced and weird, and I thought uh-oh, this is gonna be shit.
      
    Then, the opening credits played, and over them was placed a song I'd never heard before but that 100% captured my attention.  I present to you now Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros playing their hit song "Home":
      
      

      
      
    And hey, why not a live one, too?
      
      

      
      
      
      
    That, my friends, is a bunch of hippy nonsense.  So why am I sitting here at two in the goddamn morning playing it repeatedly and demanding that these tears that seem to be in my eyes stay in place HEY YOU GET BACK IN THERE YOU GODDAMN TEARS I DIDN'T TELL YOU YOU COULD COME OUT OHAAAHAHAHA BLUBBER BLUBBER and not really having a whole lot of luck with that?  I mean, what's that all about?

    I've got a confession to make: I myself am composed of approximately 65% hippy nonsense.  I just never had the courage to go be that person; or never knew how to be.  Maybe both.  But it calls to me, you dig?  Boy does it.

    So you got me with that song, Josh Boone, you rascal.  I don't know how you knew it would work, but you got me, no doubt about it.

    Anyways, my strong reaction to that song might well explain why I liked the movie as much as I did.  I can't always be objective, and I'm not really in a mood for it right this moment anyways.  The movie doesn't rewrite the book on anything, and there are moments that feel a bit contrived and/or forced in the same way the opening trio of scenes do.  But by halfway or so, it had me in its clutches.  The acting is solid across the board; Kinnear is, as usual, effortlessly charming, even when playing a stalker.  His ex-wife is played by Jennifer Connelly, who is impossibly gorgeous here, but who also gets to play some really great moments; you may or not not think the way her side of the story ends is realistic, but I, in my capacity as a hippy, got a big smile out of it.  Collins plays her daughter, and she's lovely enough to pull off that aspect of it.  But she's also determinedly feisty, and I bought her budding relationship with Logan Lerman.  Nat Wolff is also good as Rusty.

    Speaking of Rusty:





    Now, I mentioned earlier that this call from Stephen King was life-changing for Rusty, but that's not entirely true.  Rusty's already decided to change his life before the call even takes place.  It's doing so that puts him in the position to take a phone call such as that one.  Pretty cool.

    This is not the full extent of the Kingian presence in the film, though.  It's the only bit in which Uncle Steve himself puts in a personal appearance, but his books pop up numerous times, as Rusty's love of King's work is a running theme.  Samantha's disdain for it is, too, which makes the fact that it's her who gives King the story (she's being published by Scribner so she has connections) even sweeter than it sounds.  In her first scene, when she cuts a stunt-dick out of the crowd and insists that he take her to his room for to fuck, here's what she sees:




    The books belong to the stunt-dick's roommate; "I'm not much of a reader," he confesses.

    A few other places where King books pop up:


    Not sure what arrangement theme Rusty is using here; I can't support it, but it's given Duma Key a prominent place, so that's fine.

    Notice the Dark Tower art on the wall, as well as the copy on On Writing on the desk.

    More DT art.

    Rusty later succeeds in getting Kate, the girl in his class, to notice him.  Meanwhile, what I'm noticing is more Dark Tower art.  And about that: rusty is obviously a book-destroying heathen, but who among us has not been tempted to do exactly the same thing with the illustrations in those books?  I can only hope that he left the hardcover copies that we saw earlier intact, and that the ones on the wall came from secondary copies, preferably trade paperbacks.

    Rusty gives Kate a Christmas present: a copy of the Cemetery Dance edition of It.  She could sell that sucker on eBay for, like, $700 right now!  "This is the biggest book I've ever seen," she says warily.  Rusty charmingly explains that it's going to be so much more than what she expects it to be; and by the end of the movie, we'll have found out whether she agreed with him.


    I'd be curious to know how all of that plays to someone who (A) is not themselves also a King fan and/or (B) who knew nothing of Boone's own King fandom.  Would this stuff seem a bit out of left field?  I think it might, but it's also weirdly specific and personal enough to Rusty that I think maybe it works.  I mean, it works on me either way, but in an objective sense, I think it probably also gets by reasonably well.

    So yeah, all things considered, I thought this movie was pretty solid.  It's probably not to everyone's tastes; a bit contrived and treacly, perhaps.  But if you have a contrived and treacly side, like I do, I think you might be able to get on board with this.

    I'm pulling for ol' Josh Boone.  I hope The Stand is a home run for multiple reasons, and now one of them is that I think it'd be a nice thing to happen to the guy who made Stuck In Love.

    A few more notes about this movie:

    • It was filmed in Wilmington, and while I can't imagine that that's due to the Stephen King connection, there certainly IS a King connection: that's where Firestarter, Silver Bullet, and Maximum Overdrive -- plus the entirety of Under the Dome -- were filmed.  I guarantee you that Josh Boone knew that was pleased that he directed his first movie in the same town where King directed his first movie.
    • I forgot to mention that Kristen Bell is in the movie, playing Greg Kinnear's fuck-buddy.  This is not as offensive an idea as it seems; they've actually got a sweet and caring non-relationship.  Also, Kristen Bell wears a sports bra in most of her scenes, so there's that.
    • A high-school rival of Rusty's is played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, and I'm going to pretend that Boone cast him so he could get one degree closer to the star of The Running Man.  I mean, wouldn't you?
    • The Blu-ray has a commentary track with Boone and Wolff, both of whom I liked even more after it than I had going in.

    Moving on, we come to:




    I figured this was worth mentioning -- a new illustrated edition of The Colorado Kid from Hard Case Crime.  It's been out of print for years, so for some King fans, this may be the first opportunity they've had to own a copy.  And some King fans would say they haven't been missing out on much.

    I don't entirely agree, but then again, I only read the book once.

    And what happened after I wrote that sentence was, I decided to grab my copy of this new illustrated edition and reread the novel.  It's so short it's barely a time commitment at all (I finished it in a single night), and hey, I'm in the midst of nine days off from work, so why not?

    The results: I'm still a fan.  It's not, like, an A+ King novel or anything like that, but I think it's a solid and worthy piece of work.

    I took very few notes, but a few things stood out to me and seem worth mentioning:

    • I was struck throughout by just how completely King seemed to have created the setting for the novel.  I'm sure it's very like places he's been many times (perhaps even one specific place, for all I know), but his ability to communicate that to readers is impressive.  Is that enough to make this slim book a success?  For me, it kind of is.
    • Many, many people have hollered "j'accuse!" at King for the purposefully unresolved mystery that lies at the center of the book.  McMolo at Dog Star Omnibus, for instance, has taken The Colorado Kid to task on those grounds.  In the novel's afterword, King himself confesses that it's going to alienate a lot of people.  You've got to wonder why he would put a book into the world if he knew in advance that it wouldn't satisfy many people.  The answers are probably these: because he could; and because it felt like what he saying was important enough to risk it.
    • It's important to fix this novel within its chronological place in King's fiction.  It was his first novel to be released after the binge of the final three Dark Tower books, which, you may recall, came amidst strong rumors that he was calling it quits.  Those were always inflated and inaccurate rumors, but they were persistent, and we had no way of knowing how things would turn out.  I find The Colorado Kid to be a neat little timecapsule of those between-times months.  It is very much about the pull of storytelling, and the necessity of storytelling, and it includes both a very old character who seems as though he may (albeit not literally) live forever AND a very young character who feels the magnetic draw toward a life devoted to shaping words.  King seems to be wrestling with notions of imminent mortality as well as rejuvenated resumption, and in the end I think the book's thesis is this: death and eternal mystery are inevitable, and being drawn toward them is as well, but if you can't look at it and be cheerful nonetheless then you are truly lost.  "Got to laugh at the Reaper," Vince says at one point, and it is this quality that seems to have put him in a position to be ninety but look seventy.
    • It frustrates most people, but I admire King's ability to have created a completely unresolvable mystery.  I don't think he cheats anyone, except perhaps via the means of the book's publication (as a standalone novel that is ostensibly a crime/mystery tale); he tells us pretty quick that the story isn't even a story at all.  Vince and Dave remind Steffi of it repeatedly; it only draws her further in, and me right along with her.  I don't blame anyone else for rolling their eyes, waving their hand dismissively, and moving on; it's just not my reaction.  I think that's due to King explaining quickly that it was going to be like that, but also having created a setting and characters that drew me in and made me want to spend time there.
    • If you want to get really hifalutin' and/or pretentious, you could make the claim that this novel serves as a fitting potential epitaph for King's entire career.  Here's a guy who's been exploring the mysteries of death via proxy for decades, but he's got this one novel where he butts right up as close to it as he can get by saying, essentially, "Look, there are some things it's simply not possible to know.  You can want to know, you can need to know; but you'll never know.  That's why we crave story so much: it gives us answers.  Not to the questions we most earnestly have, but any answers to any questions, even answers we know to be false, are comforting in their way."  I think that's what's going on here.  Viewed that way, I think this becomes a rather profound little metaphor for what King has spent his entire life doing.  I'm obviously glad he continued well beyond The Colorado Kid, but wouldn't this have made kind of a neat (if polarizing) little coda to his career?
    • Another real-life mystery might lie somewhere within the motivation of the book.  It's revealed that the "Colorado Kid," James Cogan, left a wife and infant behind him.  This is by no means anywhere close to a 1:1 for King's own father abandoning the family, but any dad-walks-out-for-good story pings that radar, I think.  And for King, that's likely its own kind of permanently unsolvable mystery, I suspect.
    • I was hit hard by a line toward the end where Steffi tells Vince and Dave, "You guys'll go on for years," and we receive almost immediate refutation in the next sentence from the narration, which reveals that Vince will be dead in six months.  King does shit like this all the time, and it almost always lands with me.
    • The cover art is typical of Hard Case Crime in its salacious depiction of a sexy woman.  I'd forgotten that this scene does come straight from the book: the body is discovered by two joggers, one of whom is a 17-year-old girl in very short, very red shorts.  The book has 21 interior black-and-white illustrations, including one that seems to take place after the novel and one that depicts a scene from Joyland (of which there is an excerpt at the end).  Some are better than others, but none are bad, and I enjoy seeing illustrations in books.  So for me, this is now the definitive edition of this book.

    Finally, I'll add that I think the novel's reputation might be better if King had released it as a novella within a collection.  It's short enough to have been used in that way.  I think that if it had been, most people who were frustrated by it would simply have shrugged it off and moved on to the next thing; freed of the need for it to be complete in the way of most stories, I think the theme might have come through a bit better.  On the other hand, it might have been mostly forgotten, the way "The Breathing Method" is mostly an obscurity for most King readers.

    I'm not sure that would have been a bad thing.

    *****

    I'll end with a plug: I was on the most recent episode of Lou Sytsma's podcast, talking about Joe Hill and about the new movie version of Pet Sematary.  You can hear that here, if you're interested.  If I sucked, don't tell me.  It was a fun conversation on my end either way!
     
    And that's it for this post.  Not sure what's on the horizon.  Who ever is?

      8 comments:

      1. Thanks for mentioning my story from SHIVERS VIII. I didn't consciously name the characters after those in "Children of the Corn." This is my third story featuring this brother/sister duo, who have a tendency to show up in abandoned places. The other two are "Centralia Is Still Burning" and "The Blue Plume."

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        1. Oh, interesting! I'll have to track those down. Thanks for letting us know!

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      2. (1) Nice to hear you on that podcast! As I mentioned earlier domestic fate(s) intervened and I was unable to listen too closely, but it did sound like a fun conversation.

        (2) The non-King sequels to King works problem will be an interesting one for sure. Will it all turn out like BEFORE WATCHMEN ? Or ALIENS ? Hopefully at least some will be like the latter.

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        1. (2) Good call on "Aliens." Heck, I even liked some of "Before Watchmen." But that is indeed the kind of thing I'd prefer never happen with King's work. Not in prose form, at least. "Gwendy's Magic Feather" likely isn't that, but it makes me afraid that the door might be opening.

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      3. (1) I managed to discover Hill's "Faun" sometime before this post was even made. It was related to some promotion for the movie adaptation, ironically enough.

        I remember Hill saying the whole idea was what if the wrong person got into a fantastic secondary world, rather than the standard child protagonists. A good way to phrase it might be what if Dr. Lector or Heisenberg found their way to Wonderland, rather than Alice?

        To me it all sounds like a parable for the way Hollywood, or just the business side of the arts in general seems to be operating at the moment. This brings me to my second point.

        (2) From what I've seen, your 2012 grouse just seems to be growing more accurate by the day, unfortunately.

        It reminds me of what I said a few days ago, about the changing nature of the publishing business. I speculated that maybe a lot of popular authors like King might be finding themselves in a lower-rung position on the showbiz totem pole. This would mean that people like King or Neil Gaiman could potentially find themselves being forced to write made-to-order stories strictly for interests concerned with a bottom line, rather than creativity.

        I know you say that King could just walk away, based on his celebrity clout. However, I've read reports of artists higher up the ladder than King. In each case, the picture was the same, they no longer had as much artistic mobility to publish or screen like they usually would due to market demands. For instance, Pixar seems to be in a decline:

        https://getpocket.com/explore/item/how-pixar-lost-its-way?utm_source=pocket-newtab

        Also, Martin Scorsese had this to say about the nature of the business right now: "...the current climate reminds him of 50s of his youth. 'I'm worried about double-think or triple-think, which is to make you believe you have the freedom, but they can make it very difficult to get the picture shown, to get it made, ruin reputations. It's happened before".

        https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/movies/2016/12/29/martin-scorsese-cinema-gone/s4ekJjONfrxyjZO4pkONqL/story.html

        It helps to remember that guys like Scorsese are much higher up the showbiz totem-pole than King. If someone with as much clout as Scorsese is saying he can't rely on it, I'm inclined to believe it might be worse for artists like King, who are book people first,and movie folk second.

        (3) I may have had a passing familiarity with "Stuck in Love". If so, it was one of those corner of the eye things that you note without paying much attention to. Now, to see how King connected the whole thing is makes me sort of wish I'd paid more attention. Though to be fair, none of this was probably apparent from the promotion, so I don't see how I could have known at all about this.

        (4) The Edward Sharpe song sounds interesting. I can't anything was in mine eye, though I am able to recognize talent, and this band sounds like the got it.

        (5) I think I've regarded myself as something of a Hippy style thinker ever since seeing my first Beatles documentary really. I can't see a reason why not to think of oneself as being just that. In fact, the more one takes a look around, the more all kinds of reasons seem t oexist for thinking like a Hippy.

        ChrisC

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        1. (2) The argument could be made that King has more clout of a type than Scorsese, simply because he's not dependent upon people having to bankroll his artistic endeavors. It costs him nothing to sit down and write whatever he wishes to write. And if he wants to publish it, someone will publish it, and pay him for the privilege, no matter what the book is.

          Scorsese is in a different position altogether altogether. If he wants to make a movie, he's got to find someone to pay for him to make it. If it were of sufficiently small budget, I suppose he could pay for it out of pocket and take all the risk on his own back; and he might even be able to make such a venture profitable. But for something like his normal movie, he's got to get approval beforehand, simply to make his own form of art. King does not.

          And there's simply nothing in his career that indicates to me that he'd even entertain the notion of being forced to write to demand by a publisher. He wouldn't walk away from that because he has the celebrity clout to do so, he'd walk away because he has the artistic integrity to have never put himself in the position where he's beholden to the system in that way. He had enough success quick enough that he avoided the need on his end for that to ever be a consideration.

          As for Pixar, I'm not sure I believe they're in a decline; not a serious one, at least. Sure, they're making more sequels than many people would like, but all of those sequels have been good with the possible exception of the two "Cars" followups. And they are still putting out the occasional "Inside Out" or "Coco," i.e. original films that are massive hits, critically acclaimed, and showered with awards. This, to me, is not much of a decline.

          The industry -- as with all culture -- is certainly changing, though. No denying that.

          (3) Solid flick. I dug it, and would have even without the King connections.

          (5) All you need is love, and love is all you need. The Beatles get mentioned a couple of times in "Stuck In Love," by the way, and McCartney (by Nat Wolff) on the commentary track.

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      4. Heh interesting to see the IT 25th edition there. I personally would not give that to someone as a reading copy. Wonder if he gave her the slipcase as well.

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        1. I know you see the slipcase at some point -- on his own bookcase, I think. I had the theory that Boone had probably used his own copy for filming purposes (I wouldn't do that, either!), but on the commentary track he actually addresses this. Turns out, he's friends with Richard Chizmar, and Chizmar sent Boone a number of copies for the production to use as gifts to the crew.

          It actually kind of works for the character, though, that Rusty gives that expensive a present. His father is a notable author, and presumably has quite a bit of money. So Rusty could likely afford to be that generous. Must be nice!

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