Friday, July 24, 2009


if you had asked me two years ago to name my favorite writer, i would have said, without blinking a single eye, stephen king. 

however, i've broadened my reading these past two years. writers like annie dillard, flannery o' connor, raymond carver, billy collins, donald ray pollock, amber haines, joyce carol oates, and jonathon safron foer are reinventing the limits of my language. they just do. and they did. consequently, i now read stephen king under a new lamp. 

let's get one thing straight: stephen king is a good storyteller, and only a fool would deny his campfire mystique. and it is without shame that i confess still curling my toes near the bed and second guessing sleep sans light while thinking of stories like "the nightflier," "popsy," "the raft," "the mist," "i am the doorway," and "the boogeyman." not to mention, i learned the value of physical text-structure while reading the bachman novel, the long walk. and i still esteem  carrie and  salem's lot among the greatest novels i have read. plus i am haunted daily, sometimes more, by king's advice to young authors in his book on writing, titled on writing. stephen king is a great storyteller. he's a visionary, a plush garden crop of odd characters and dark wonder. and the man deserves every decibel of protesting baptist voice that he's ever received - praise God, he surely has.

and, if nothing else, stephen king has afforded a plethora of films fit for a site just like this. he's every hockey mask incorporated reviewers dream come true.

however, my beef with stephen king resides directly in his key charm: he is so overly prolific. all joking aside, the man has produced more work since announcing retirement than many writers produce during their careers. meanwhile, dedicated king readers have admitted to me that most king novels stretch 200 pages too long. likewise, many of king's short stories bulge 15-20 pages over the belt-line of good reason. when the man writes, he writes. and when he produces plot, he often produces more than we may need.

unfortunately, this level of abundance often steals from king's pacing, his tension, his ability to pull me taut and pluck me thin. he still hits all the minor keys. he still punches the light switch and makes the rabbits howl, but i find that he rarely devastates me the way i want literature to devastate me. and i want literature to devastate me. one way or the other - overjoyed or overkilled - i want to be devastated by art. 

with that said, imagine my surprise when king's newest story - "morality" - completely devastated me. 

published in the july 2009 issue of esquire, "morality" is a huge story. and it's huge because it's scope is so small, so precise, so taut and plucked thin. also, as myles and i have already discussed, king achieves a new understanding of violence with "morality" - perhaps a more theologically significant violence - than he has ever explored before. sure, i love the cell-phone infused zombies of cell, the shepherding shape-shifter of the cycle of the werewolf, the soul-slurping gas-guzzler in christine, and the crazy-lady with the riding lawnmower in misery; however, the monsters in "morality", as well as their broken retributions, are damn near biblical. 

consider this post a "5 dying favors out of 5" recommendation to follow the link for a free-reading of "morality" on the esquire website. i'm not sure how long the link will last, so brew a fresh pot and get there soon. if "morality" is any indication of king's future, retirement may be the best season of his career thus far.

ps. thanks to slayer and testament and fat tire amber ale for seeing me through this review.


Amber@theRunaMuck said...

You're just flat out encouraging.

On Writing is one of my favorite writerly books, and Man, I need to read that again. You've got me excited to read this short story, and I hope it sticks up for a while. It's a birthday here at the Haines' house. I've allowed myself this one read, and I'm so glad.


wonderstuff said...

I'm in the process - that's the best word for it - of reading The Dark Tower series. Aside from the fact that the genre twisting (sci-fi-melds-with-fantasy-and-meets-the-offspring-of-western-and-horror) only becomes more trippy with each book, it has been a fascinating read. You can see where a lot of Lost's ideas came from. Thanks for the link to "Morality." I just hope I don't overdose on King - what a way to go.