Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Minutes About "It" by Stephen King

I've been listening to "It" on audiobook off and on this spring & summer.  "Off and on" because I borrow it from the library on audio and you only get it for fourteen days, tops. If someone else has requested it during that time you have to wait until your turn comes around again.  So the last time I listened to the book was at the end of April during my trips to and from my trial up north.  I got about 1/3 of the way through and continued this latest time, when I got through another 1/3 before my time expired.

I'm enjoying the book pretty well; I like Stephen King, and King has become sort of the de facto horror guy for me, to the point where I don't think much about other horror authors at all.  I like King's stuff so much that many horror books suffer by comparsion -- even those of his son, Joe Hill.  (I like Hill's collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts much more than I liked his novel Heart Shaped Box, which I found to be pedestrian in concept and execution.)  King tends to go for the gross-out too much (his "shit weasels" almost made me give up on Dreamcatcher) and when he's bad he's really bad (Dreamcatcher, again) but when he's good he's worth all the bad stuff.

Bad stuff like the current, interminable, part of It that I was slogging through when my turn expired for the book.  And bad stuff like the 'flashback nature' of the story.

First the slog: I'm at the part of the book where one of the main characters is recounting a story his dad told him back when he was fifteen (so it's the guy telling the story telling a story about how someone else told a story, which is never a good way to tell a story. You've heard show don't tell? If you're three removes from the action, it's always boring.)  But this story goes on FOREVER. And EVER AND EVER AND EVER. Seriously, I was on it for about three days of audiobook time (audiobook time is when I go for my occasional exercise walks, or driving).  And the point of the story apparently was to get to the part [SPOILER ALERT!] where the guy's dad saw the same "it" monster the guy did, only 60 years ago or something.

YAWN.  The whole point of the story has been that this thing is making the entire town evil, etc., so to say oh yeah it was around sixty years ago too? We get it.  If this part of the story is going somewhere, I can't see it.

PLUS, the other part of this flashback to a flashback that really stuck me -- jarred me right out of the story-- was that the kid listening to his dad had, about 4 years before, encountered the monster himself.  Then he's listening to his dad tell this story, and when dad gets to the I saw a monster part, the kid says how he had totally forgotten that he'd seen a monster until then.

Now, I am willing to suspend my disbelief to read a story and believe that there will be a monster haunting Derry, New Hampshire.  But 'suspension of disbelief' doesn't extend to "believe any old stupid thing thrown in for narrative purposes."  Am I supposed to think an 11-year-old has a run in with a giant monster that tries to kill him and he narrowly escapes and he forgot it entirely within four years?

Back when I was 18, I had a car accident in which I had a near-miss with a tree: a guy cut me off and I swerved and I skidded on ice and I nearly hit a tree off the road and came this close to dying.  I remember it vividly, 28 years later ... and there were no giant monsters there to help keep things fresh in my brain.

I'm assuming King was going for something there, with the Oh yeah I forgot until my dad mentioned a monster that I'd seen one too, but whatever it was, I don't get it and it was annoying enough that I can't believe it survived into the final version of the novel.

PLUS, another [SPOILER ALERT!]: the kid was sent to the place where he saw the monster by his dad.  So when dad spills the beans about having seen the monster earlier, the kid thinks oh yeah hey I saw a monster too, I forgot that! but not HEY WAIT DAD YOU KNEW THERE WAS A MONSTER AND SENT ME THERE?

That's 10 minutes, but I don't want to risk forgetting about the other part of the story that bugs me: the telling it in flashback part.  This has been bothering me all year, since I read The Last Summer Of The Camperdowns, which otherwise was a very good book, and now when I read It, and both of the stories do the same thing: they present a story in which the main character faces mortal danger, but the story is being told by that character in a flashback.

In Camperdowns, the main character is an adult and remembers when she was 11 and various terrible things happened, including a guy trying to murder her.  A kid goes missing in their neighborhood and she suspects the guy and the guy is harassing her and tormenting her and we are seemingly to believe that he means her no good, but the fact that she is an adult looking back removes every bit of suspense from the story.  And I thought well maybe suspense wasn't really the point except I'm pretty sure it was.

Then there's It, where I am sure suspense is the point.  The story is told in flashbacks back-and-forth: present day (i.e. 1985) Derry, and 1957 Derry, when the main characters first became aware there is a monster.  Each kid in 1957 is introduced also as an adult, and then we flash back to 1957 where they all ran into the monster, and there are plenty of scenes where the monster is after them, scenes which could be very suspenseful and terrifying except that we already know each of these kids survives their own particular brush with the monster in 1957, and now have to come back to fight the monster in 1985.

I keep thinking, as I listen to it, how much better the book would be if I didn't know the kids survive.  I mean, it's bad enough when you're reading a horror story or watching a movie and you know, intellectually, that the main character will survive, because they are the main character, but at least your face isn't rubbed in it by telling the story in flashback.

Anyway, this all makes it sound like the book is no good, and in fact it's really very good. I'm enjoying it a lot.  That's kind of a testament to how great King is when he's on, because a book with those kind of significant flaws has to be really awesome to make it over those hurdles.  Still, how much better would it be if I didn't have to work so hard to get to the parts of the book that don't suck?

That's 10 21 minutes.

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