Coming Clean About Stephen King
There was a time when, if you asked me to list my favorite novelists, you would have gotten half the truth. I would have certainly said Ivan Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Henry Miller. I might have added Kurt Vonnegut, Dave Eggers, or Ray Bradbury to the list if I was feeling brave. But there was no way in hell you could make me admit my love for Stephen King. What sort of self-respecting, English-majoring, intellect-having person lists Stephen King next to Virginia Woolf? Not I! But here’s the thing: when I get into one of those moods where reading a book for pleasure is about as appealing as scraping my fingernails off, I just need to pick up a Stephen King book to fall in love with reading all over again.
This happened recently: the semester is half over and I’ve had about all the required reading and analytical essays I can stand. I had started Catch-22 a few weeks prior and, while I was enjoying it, I had begun to feel like every page was a chore. Then I found an old copy of Needful Things on my bookshelf. I vaguely remembered the plot line: a creepy guy opens a store in a small Maine town, sells people things they think they need, and all hell breaks loose. Sorry, Joseph Heller, I really liked what you were doing, but it was time for some serious paperback therapy. As soon as I began reading, I felt those parts of my imagination that too much school had seemingly closed down open up again. King’s style, while not necessarily worth applause, is immediately recognizable and, in its own strange way, comforting (though, that might just be because I know it so well after having read and re-read so many of his books and short stories.) His writing is clear and often very clever. He might abuse simile once in a while, but his dialogue is pretty admirable and the man knows how to use language to build tension. But the joy I get from reading Stephen King is not from stylistic nuance: it’s the sheer fun of listening to someone tell you a story over a campfire or a good meal. It’s not being able to wait to hear what comes next. It’s knowing what comes next, but needing to find out every detail about it. It’s missing your stop because that damn bastard of an author is about to kill off that poor sweet lady – and her dog! Of course, King has his epic failures (Cujo and The Dead Zone come to mind,) but I dare you to put down The Stand or It halfway through.
So yes, world, I am willing to tell you that Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. Because beautiful prose and highly-charged themes are wonderful, important, necessary things – but a story so good you don’t leave your room for a day and a half? Now that’s needful.
--- Margie Sarsfield
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