The King is dead to me, long live the King

I have a complex relationship with Stephen King.

I started reading his books when I was 11 or 12. It, The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot – they were formative for me, deepening my love of books and horror in my most impressionable years.

I spent a big part of my teens in his twisted version of New England, at once folksy and mysterious and terrifying. I devoured everything he wrote – every novel, every short story, everything he wrote under his Richard Bachman psuedonym. I even read his non-fiction – although his baseball essays were interminably boring even for a young superfan.

Then something happened: he got hit by a van and almost died. I was about 17 or 18 at the time and for the first few days just about everyone in the world thought he was done for.

It was my Princess Di moment – I was devastated.

But he pulled through and a couple of years later he released Dreamcatcher. I’d disliked some of his books before – Christine was silly, Insomnia was boring and Rose Madder was lame – but this was the first time I’d ever thought to myself: this guy can’t write. It was complete and utter trash.

I was shocked. My favourite writer couldn’t fucking write!

Did the van knock the talent out of him? Was the pain warping his judgement about what was publishable and what should end up in a drawer? Did the crash change him psychologically, so that he just wasn’t prepared to try anymore? Had he just run out of ideas?

Maybe. Or maybe I’d just outgrown him. I’d started reading much more widely – both in the horror genre and well outside it – and suddenly had a lot more to compare him to.

Most of his noughties books were similarly subpar. But I kept reading them. Partly through habit, partly because I’m a natural completionist. Partly through morbid fascination with his waning talent, partly because the 15-year-old inside me still wanted him to be good.

Anyway, I’m still afflicted with this terrible reading disease. Every year he releases a new book and every year I read it. And more often than not, I hate it. At least it deepens my appreciation for the good stuff.

All of which is to preface my next post: a review of the TV adaptation of King’s JFK time travel thriller, 11.22.63. I’ll be doing this from time to time, passing judgement on the adaptations of books I’ve read. Coming soon!

Author: adamgartrell

Political journalist drowning in books

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