~post by Joe T., Assistant Buyer
I don’t remember my first Stephen King novel. It was either Pet Sematary or Misery. I was 13, maybe 14, and my best friend brought one of those two books on a school trip and I had read the entire book by the time we reached our destination. I was amazed that fiction like this existed in the world and I was hooked. Middle school was the first flowering of love for the works of King, but it was short: Pet Sematary, Misery, It, and Tommyknockers. And with that final book it was over (Tommyknockers will always kill the things you love).
Though I’d quit reading his books, King’s influence stayed with me as I entered High School. H. P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker (“I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker” – Stephen King) filled that gaping hole of existential dread. Along with Ramsey Campbell, they made sex and the city the twin pillars of transgressiveness. It was with great shock and recognition that when I read Danse Macabre (King’s primer on the horror genre), it seems I’d been following his syllabus without knowing it.
But that was college, the second great Stephen King awakening. First came what I describe as my favorite King novel, the underappreciated Bag of Bones. A ghost story not unlike the work of Peter Straub (Ghost Story) that hits you in the gut with its portrayal of a burnt out writer suffering from years and years of writer’s block. A thinly veiled portrait of King himself, Mike Noonan wrote faster than publishers would allow him to publish, thus allowing himself a stockpile of manuscripts. Now that he is incapable of writing, Noonan pulls a book out of his chest and “Voila!” a brand new Mike Noonan novel. Reading it, one can’t help but wonder just how much of King’s ’90s output was pulled out of his own chest.
The next book was Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King’s history of the ’60s. Another novel that echoes the work of Peter Straub, this one forgoes supernaturalism (though it is always there just out of the corner of your eye) for that of man’s inhumanity to man. Vietnam and the radical politics of the Symbionese Liberation Army, along with Mad Men-esque mistreatments of women, are the sources of terror. Like Straub’s novel Koko and his short stories “Blue Rose” and “The Juniper Tree,” this is horror that is based on the real world and is all the more memorable for it.
Hearts In Atlantis not only ended my second great flowering of interest in Stephen King, it also proved to be the last new work of his that I’ve read right after it was published. The third great awakening occurred sometime around 2001, a good year for reacquainting oneself with King’s mix of Peyton Place and EC Comics. Instead of moving forward, I delved deep into catalog. The haunted buildings the Overlook Hotel and The Marsten House in The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot; the unhinged Greg Stilson and teacher-turned-terrorist Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone; and poor Carrie’s slaughter of her fellow students were the horrors we faced each day; these were the true terrors of the 21st century and during that first decade those were the books, the touchstones, I turned to in order to make sense of it all. Did it help? I don’t know, but I did eventually move on once again and put Stephen King aside.
So now here we are in 2014. We’ve got the television show based on the novel Under The Dome and I’ve heard nothing but good things about 11/22/63. The Frank Darabont film based on the novella The Mist was one of my favorite films of 2007. AND OH MY G-D! STEPHEN KING IS GONNA BE AT MY WORK THREE DAYS BEFORE BY 39th BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!! I don’t want to predict the future but there’s a good chance that Revival will be the first new Stephen King book I’ve read in 15 years and maybe, just maybe, it might kick off my the Fourth Great Awakening.
Copies of all the books mentioned in this post, and many more, are available on our shelves at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas) and via bookpeople.com.