Saturday, September 29, 2007

Trying (again) to read Stephen King

Originally posted March 25, 2006

I didn't do myself a favor and tried again to read a Stephen King novel. He's wildly popular, his books are best sellers, and even my own brother likes his writing. What am I missing? King's latest, "Cell", seemed like something I could take on, described as sf of the technology-runs-amok, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-so-we-have-to-hike-to-the-countryside genre. So I checked it out of the library, despite the unpromising red blood on a white ground decorating the dust cover.

First, it's not science fiction. The plot is kludged together from a dozen better books; the technology that fails through some improbable terrorist botched plot is incoherently described and is apparently only there to highlight King's loathing of cell phones, or probably technology in general. And he feels the same about dogs.

Secondly, the writing is sloppy, repetitive, clumsy and -- distracting. To notice this, of course, brands me as an elitist snob.

As I pressed on through the book I discovered what must be part of King's appeal. So much of each chapter was either repetitive or did so little to advance the story that it was quite possible to put the book down and pick it up later, starting again on some random page, and not miss anything. Ideal for the reader who has no time, reads in five minute spurts, and doesn't want to have to pay too close attention.

Oh and he doesn't like ex-wives any better than he likes technology, or dogs. Or subtlety.

He does like gore, but that's not a valid criticism, it's just part of the gross-out horror genre he writes in. The cardboard characters and borrowed, tired plot are more annoying.

After the book lurched to it's idiotic ending, I put it down feeling like I needed to have my brain scrubbed out with soap.

Suggestion: Avoid. For a well written read in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it genre, try Richard Matheson's "My Name is Legend", or John Christopher's "No Blade of Grass", or Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower", or Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash", among others. If none of those appeal, try the latest edition of "Martha Stuart Living" magazine. Anything other than "Cell".

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