Hail To The King: Working on Some “Night” Moves

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We have arrived to the first of Stephen King’s short story collections, Night Shift. This collection was published shortly after The Shining in 1978. Some of the stories had appeared previously in magazines like CosmopolitanGallery, and even Penthouse. Not to doubt the immense talent of Stephen King, but I don’t think many Penthouse readers were purchasing the magazine for spine-tingling tales. Maybe I’m wrong.

Some of King’s best short stories can be found in this collection. Two of my personal favourites expand upon the universe of one of my all-time favourite King novels, ‘Salem’s Lot. The very first story in the collection is, in fact, “Jerusalem’s Lot”, a look at the history of the town and where the evil within it originated. It is a period piece,  set in 1850, and is told through a series of letters from a new resident of The Lot to one of his friends. As the correspondence moves along, the letters get more intense and frightening as the terrible secrets of Jerusalem’s Lot are revealed. In the other ‘Salem’s Lot inspired entry, “One For The Road”, King tells the story from the perspective of Falmouth, Maine resident Booth, two years after the events of ‘Salem’s Lot. Booth and his bar-owning friend Tookey are confronted by Lumley, who begs them to help him find his wife and child. Booth and Tookey are horrified to discover that they have gone missing on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Lot. Let’s just say good vibes do not ensue.

Other standouts in this collection are “Night Surf”, a story of a group of young people who have apparently survived the Captain Trips pandemic, the basis of King’s epic The Stand. “The Boogeyman” is about a man accused of killing his children one by one while he tries to convince a psychiatrist it was the work of the titular Boogeyman. “Gray Matter” is a straightforward, simple story regarding a fausty beer that turns a man into a gelatinous monster. And let’s not forget “Sometimes They Come Back”, about a teacher haunted by his brother’s greaser murderers…decades after the murder was committed.

While all of these straight up horror offerings are expected, it’s important to remember that King doesn’t ever offer up schlock. His stories are about the every day people who deal with the horrors of every day life. Sometimes King will add a killer car, dog, or clown to spice up the proceedings, sure. Sometimes, however, he allows the all-too-human characters tell their own stories to haunting effect. One of the best examples is “The Last Rung on the Ladder”, a story about Larry, recounting the time when, as children, he saved the life of his sister Kitty by piling up hay underneath her to fall on as she dangled precariously from a ladder in the barn they were playing in. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t read it but it is a stinging, heartbreaking tale of siblings and the guilt inherent in the drifting apart of family.

Another heartwrenching tale is “The Woman in the Room” about a man grappling with whether or not he should assist his elderly mother in taking her life as she suffers with cancer. If ever you forget that King is so very much more than a genre (read: horror) writer, please return to stories such as these and experience the one-of-a-kind writing talent Stephen King truly is. Check these stories out. There’s something in this collection for everyone.

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Hail To The King: A Young Mr. Bachman Emerges

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For those unaware, Richard Bachman is a pseudonym Stephen King has used for several of his books in the past. In fact, some of his most entertaining works have come from his literary alter-ego, including The Long Walk  and Thinner. Sadly, Rage is not one of those entertaining works. The legend goes that King wrote the first forty pages of Rage as a senior in high school in 1966. He then pushed it to the side for several years before finally finishing the book in 1971.

King famous despises this book, mostly due to the fact that it depicts a school shooter as the protagonist. King has fought to have the book taken off shelves and if you intend to read it, you’ll have to find it on the shelves of secondhand bookstores or online (thanks, abebooks.com!). I would argue that King might be better served wanting this book erased more public memory simply because it isn’t a good book. In all fairness to King, it was one of his earliest efforts and that is quite clear as one reads this book. There’s a lot of teen angst wrapped up in this novel and you can almost hear a young King seething as you read each page.

Rage (originally titled Getting It On) is the story of Charlie Decker, an angry young man who comes from a violent home life who one May day decides to walk into his English class, shoot his teacher, and take his classmates hostage. Charlie thinks back to seminal moments in his life while he tortures his classmates mentally, while forcing them to harm one another mentally and physically. He pits popular girls against the not-so-popular (to put it mildly) and he continuously goads one of the popular guys in the class until he essentially has a mental breakdown.

I actually found the flashbacks to be interesting and they worked well as an explanation for why Charlie is so angry now. The hunting trip with his father and his father’s friends was especially effective. I just couldn’t get past the fact that Charlie was viewed as the hero of this story, that he was holding a mirror up to his classmates and teachers and they were crumbling at the sheer magnitude of his intellect and scorn.

Again, it must be remembered that King began writing Rage in high school and some of the writing is startlingly powerful to be coming from a high school student. I just think King  would have been better served if he left this one in the drawer after those first forty pages.

Newfoundland Sweet and Crummey Reads

Hey everyone! I’ve been asked to be a guest author on BookSmartTV.com! I’m excited for this opportunity to get my posts out there to a wider audience. BookSmartTV is great because it not only provides reviews of books but also interviews with authors and information about writers and the writing process. There’s even a television program for my US readers! You’ll find my first post below. A huge thanks to Diana Belchase for all of her support and guidance. You rock, Diana!

 

by Darryl Keeping, Guest Author

Newfoundland’s Michael Crummey has a way of telling stories hat speak to the Newfoundland experience while also exploring universal themes that appeal to all readers. Awarded the Writer’s Trust Fellowship in 2015, Crummey’s poetry and prose – in multiple genres- have become some of Canada’s best-loved works.

The Canadian flag flies over the mountains(courtesy of Prexels)

Where is Newfoundland?

Newfoundland an island in the North Atlantic. Technically, the full name of this province of Canada is Newfoundland and Labrador, with Labrador connected to Quebec and, therefore, the rest of the country. It was the tenth and final province to join Canada in 1949. Depending on where in Newfoundland people come from, the influences …

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Hail To The King: Heeeere’s Stevie!

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Seems a little disingenuous to use this wholly unoriginal version of the original line from the film The Shining as the title of this review, mainly because this, among many other lines and plot points don’t actually appear in the book. I have used it as the title, however, because I feel The Shining, King’s third published novel, was where he hit his stride as an author who could combine psychological terror and atmospheric horror with every day struggles familiar to many families, even today.

The story of The Shining is one of anger, loss, and the pursuit of redemption. Jack Torrance is an English teacher (King trope alert!) who lost his job at a private school after an altercation with a student. Jack, who is an alcoholic with a history of violence, is offered the chance at a new position: the off-season caretaker of The Overlook Hotel. He, along with his wife Wendy and his young son Danny, head to the mountains of Colorado to look after the hotel while it’s shut down for the winter. It’s also a great opportunity for Jack to get the peace and quiet he needs to write his long-neglected play. Instead, Jack discovers information about the Overlook’s salacious history, including the mobsters who essentially ran the place in it’s early years and the massacre that occurred there involving said mobsters. Jack decides that the history of The Overlook is the real story and makes that his new project. Hence the beginning of his descent into madness.

King famously despises the Stanley Kubrick film based on The Shining. His reasoning: from the first glimpse of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, it’s clear that he is already most of the way toward insanity. King insists that the novel is an exploration of a man’s descent into madness, aided by the ghosts of his past and the ghosts of The Overlook. That is certainly King’s focus, so much so that I’m only now explaining the reason for the title: shining refers to a person’s ability to essentially predict the future, or at least get a glimpse of a possible future. This according to Dick Hallorann, the head chef at The Overlook who has a bit of the shine and sees an even greater amount of it in Danny Torrance.

Some of King’s most nerve-rattling prose can be found in this novel. His description of the hedge animals and their relentless pursuit of Danny is especially harrowing. King also writes Jack’s alcoholism quite effectively. One particular memory of Jack’s, the tricycle in the middle of the road, will make you sweat and fret as if YOU, Constant Reader, are the culprit.

I look at this novel as King’s arrival. Some critics and critical readers will sadly never give King the credit he deserves as a prolific writer. Those who would be willing to give his work a shot would do well to begin here.

Hail To The King: Salem’s Lot

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Thousands of miles away from the small township of ‘Salem’s Lot, two terrified people, a man and a boy, still share the secrets of those clapboard houses and tree-lined streets. They must return to ‘Salem’s Lot for a final confrontation with the unspeakable evil that lives on in the town.

While Carrie had some frightening moments, it focused mostly on the struggle of a young woman through the effects of puberty and bullying…with explosive results! With ‘Salem’s Lot, King really flexes his horror muscles. As I continue with these reviews, anyone not very familiar with King will insist he is a horror novelist, someone who writes gory, pulpy books that hold no meaning beyond the amount of blood spilled. That assumption is wrong for a couple reasons.

First, while a number of King’s novels can be deemed “horror”, many of his works are not. If you haven’t read any King at all, you would probably be surprised to learn that The Shawshank RedemptionStand By Me, and The Green Mile are all films based on King novels. While there are some supernatural elements to The Green Mile, none of these novels or films could be deemed “horror”. They are stories of every day people doing their best to triumph over difficult situations. Andy Dufresne is a man wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a novella from King’s collection Four Seasons. Another novella from that collection is The Body, a story of four young friends on the cusp of their teenage years taking a journey along some railroad tracks to find the body of a kid presumably hit by a train. That novella became the aforementioned Stand By Me. Such was the stigma placed upon King as “only a genre writer” that the story goes that the name of the film was different than that of the novella it is based on to ensure that the connection to King wasn’t too strong and people would get the “wrong idea”. as it were, about the movie and it’s categorization. As the film, novella, and many other King works make clear, however, this prolific author is much, much more than just a “horror novelist”.

Secondly, even in a book such as ‘Salem’s Lot, a horror novel on it’s surface, King still incorporates themes that many authors of the genre would not think to include. One of the overarching themes of the novel is the xenophobic nature of people living in small towns. What King does here, and what he will perfect in about 10 years from this point with IT, is make the titular community a character. King devotes chapters of the novel to the goings on around Jerusalem’s Lot, the people who live there and the lives they live. It becomes apparent early that there are some shady characters in the town, just like you would find in any other community in America and beyond. Although I’m not sure they necessarily deserve the fate that awaits them when Barlow moves into the Marsten House on the hill.

Another theme prevalent in the novel is the death of the small town; in the case of Jerusalem’s Lot, that death is a literal one. As more and more people are bitten and transformed into a vampire, the community becomes more and more desolate. The parallels are there with people leaving small towns for bigger cities and bigger dreams in real life.

Our hero in this novel is Ben Mears, a novelist (along with teachers, King’s go-to for a protagonist’s profession) who is returning to his hometown to write a novel about the Marsten House, a large home on the hill overlooking town with more than a few stories to tell. Ben himself had a terrifying experience in the house as a child and he feels as though the house is drawing him to it by sheer supernatural force. Ben discovers that the house has been purchased by a Kurt Barlow, who also has an antiques store in town being run by his proxy, Richard Straker (the first two in a long list of awesome King-created names). It soon becomes apparent to Ben that the new guys in town are not what they appear to be. He teams up with a number of locals: Susan Norton, a fan of Mears’ who meets him while reading one of his books (okaaaaaaay…) and Mark Petrie, a young man wise beyond his years. King is sure to include a teacher (of English, natch!) by the name of Matt Burke to help round out the vampire hunters. There are some chills along the way along with the odd surprising and heart-wrenching death. This is also the first of King’s novels that lays the foundation for the Kingverse as characters here will pop up in other King works in the future, most notably the Dark Tower series.

I really enjoyed this novel. King is the master of suspenseful scenes and one in particular with Mark and a race against time to freedom is particularly nerve-wracking. This is one of those novels that will stay in your memory, whether you want it to or not, for quite a while after reading.

Hail To The King

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I’m finally getting the opportunity to review the Stephen King books I’ve read to this point in my re-read of all of his works in order. Some of these I have read previously, a lot of them (I’m sad to say) I’m reading for the first time. I’m currently reading Firestarter so I’ve officially left the seventies behind and am firmly entrenched in the go-go eighties! However, for the sake of consistency, I will be providing reviews of each of King’s work in the order they were published, beginning with everyone’s favourite telekinetic prom queen, Carrie!

***SPOILERS AHEAD*** If you haven’t read Carrie, first of all what are you waiting for?!? Second, if you don’t want plot points ruined for you, don’t read this until you read the novel first!

 

Carrie was published in 1974 and was King’s first published novel. The writing style was unique, not just for King himself compared to his other works but for the time period he was writing in. King sprinkles the story with newspaper clippings describing the events of the novel. It is an effective choice and it displays King’s confidence at such a young age.

I can only approach this novel from a male perspective but I feel that King does a good job describing Carrie White’s daily obstacles as a young woman travelling through puberty and defending herself against bullies. Her religious fanatic mother isn’t much help so Carrie is forced to go it alone. Carrie is truly an outcast. Her mother’s fanaticism has made Carrie’s upbringing a terrifying and stilted one. In school, she is abused by her peers and pitied by the teachers and administration. This brings us to Sue Snell, a girl who joined others in teasing Carrie but who eventually attempts to befriend her by convincing her (Sue’s) boyfriend Tommy Ross to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue’s intentions are left deliberately ambiguous. While it’s fairly certain Sue is truly trying to help Carrie, it’s difficult to know if she’s doing so for Carrie’s benefit or for her own. She also slowly descends into jealousy as the prom rolls along and she isn’t there to celebrate with Tommy.

Count the couple Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan among those who still do not accept Carrie. These are the true villains of King’s tale. Billy is the one, with the help of a few lackies, who goes to a farm to gather the famed pig’s blood for Carrie’s coronation. Billy revels in the slaughtering of the pig to retrieve the blood, a sign of his burgeoning psychopathy. Chris is his girlfriend, a prototypical Mean Girl who judges her own self-worth based on the feelings of others. A typical bully, in other words.

Prom night arrives and all hell breaks loose. Carrie’s latent telekinetic power is unleashed when she is named prom queen to Tommy’s prom king and proceeds to have the bucket of blood dumped on her by Chris and Billy. Something I did not expect was the death of Tommy in this moment. King did well to describe the frozen pail the blood was in and that pail usher in the end of Tommy’s life. When it falls, it hits Tommy in the head, killing him. It seemed a mundane yet entirely plausible way for him to die. It worked beautifully for me.

Carrie proceeds to lay waste to her town, with a quick stop on the way to literally stop her mother’s heart. The destructive path she leaves is described admirably by King. This, for me, is where he shines. He makes you feel fear of and pity for Carrie White all at once. It isn’t an easy thing to pull off but King seems to do so with ease.

For a debut novel (at least in terms of publication), this was a solid first entry into the Kingverse. Carrie is a formidable protagonist, with that combination of good and bad qualities that King writes so well.

Join me next time for King’s take on the vampire novel, the chilling ‘Salem’s Lot!

In The Beginning, There Was Bond

Forever and a Day

A spy is dead. A legend is born. This is how it all began. The explosive prequel to Casino Royale, from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

Forever and a Day is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera, taking readers into the very beginning of James Bond’s illustrious career and the formation of his identity.

***

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.”

“’It’s Bond, sir,'” the Chief of Staff replied. “James Bond.”

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time.

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organized crime.

It’s time for James Bond to earn his license to kill.

************

 

In Forever And A Day, Anthony Horowitz returns to the world of  James Bond, made famous by it’s creator Sir Ian Fleming. This time, Horowitz takes us all the way back to the beginning, when Bond first receives his 00 status and becomes the international spy we all know and love.

The original 007 is found floating in the water in Marseilles, killed by three gunshots to the chest. Bond is enlisted by M. to replace him, with Bond insisting he take the 007 designation in honour of his fallen comrade and friend. Bond must travel to the French Riviera where he will use his considerable skills and charm to find out exactly what is happening in the south of France and how he can stop it.

Those skills and that charm, however, are not in as ample a supply as they will be in the future. This is what makes Horowitz’s origin story so intriguing and different from other Bond novels. Bond is raw here. He puts himself in dangerous situations that a little pre-planning would have helped him avoid. He is blunt and petulant with his love interest (of course there’s a love interest, it’s still Bond!) Madame Sixtine, a mysterious femme fatale who has information regarding the death of the original 007 as well as the plans of the local baddie, Jean-Paul Scipio.

Scipio is a classic Bond villain. Due to an injury sustained when he was nearly murdered as a young man, Scipio is morbidly obese. Horowitz relishes in describing exactly how big Scipio is and it works extremely well. While the reader might expect Scipio to use his considerable girth to subdue Bond, he prefers to play a more psychological game with our hero. The results are unsettling and make for riveting reading.

The Fleming Estate entrusted Anthony Horowitz with the Bond legacy when he was tasked to write Trigger Mortis, a novel set at a time when Bond’s career as international spy was more established. That trust in Horowitz continued with this novel and it is safe to say that the right decision was made. Horowitz combines page-turning action with the tropes of a Bond novel that we have become familiar with, albeit with the new spin of it being Bond’s first foray into this new world. This novel is highly recommended as an introduction to the Bond world as well as a welcome origin story for Bond veterans.

Special thanks to Ashley Posluns and everyone at Harper-Collins Canada for my ARC of this novel!!