This book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its cons...moreThis book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its constituent parts, I instead jotted down my thoughts about each story individually. Hopefully this helps give a better idea of what this collection has to offer.
MS. Found in a Bottle -- What a terrible choice to start off the book. I know this story won Poe a $50 prize way back in the Wayback, but frankly I think it's lame, and I would personally never have chosen it to lead off this collection. I mean, maybe it was really awesome and edgy and fear-inspiring back when Poe wrote it, and I, as a jaded modern reader, simply don't have the capacity to appreciate it, but I just don't think it's very good. It's kind of pointless, it's a little absurd, and it's decidedly not scary, though it tries very hard to convince you that it is.
Morella -- This is a bit of an unsettling story, though I wonder if it's for the reasons Poe intended. I suppose to know that, we would first have to decide what he was really saying here. Is this just a story meant to prey on Victorian fears, about a woman who dies in childbirth and lays a curse on the husband who never returned her affections? Or is it a story about a sort of vampire; a woman who, in her dying moments, figures out how to transfer her consciousness, her soul, into the body of her infant daughter and, in essence, become her? Or perhaps the child was already dead, and by passing into the empty vessel, Morella enabled a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think maybe the possibilities are creepier to think about than the story itself was.
Ligeia -- I'm not entirely sure what happened here. Perhaps it's because I read this story while in a stupor caused by my monthly battle with parasomnia, but I just couldn't figure out whether Ligeia was some kind of vampire, or if this was a case of ghostly possession, or what. Maybe dude was just balls-out insane and hallucinating, I don't know. At any rate, I thought it was a stupid choice for this story to be placed directly after Morella, considering how similar the two stories are. I would really like to know who got paid to put this thing together, and whether I can have his (or her) job. I could do better than this, apparently, after four days of no sleep.
The Fall of the House of Incest: or, Don't Fuck Your Sister Because You'll Go Crazy and Die -- Yep. That's basically it. Typical Victorian fare about the joys of premature burial. While I wouldn't necessarily say it's still relevant--after all, by the time you get put in a tomb or a coffin these days, there is a 0% chance you're still alive--it is absolutely still horrifying to think about.
William Wilson -- Called it. I'm not sure if it's another possible example of my privileged modern viewpoint--I've seen all these tropes before--or if it's that Poe was, well, a hack. I've heard the accusation before, and I can kind of see why. Poe had a tendency to be a bit cliched, a little purple, but then, maybe it was just the time period. Maybe to him, modern writers would seem like a bunch of barely literate plebeians vomiting words onto paper or mashing violently at our keyboards. But at any rate, the story itself is decent. It's interesting to think about--a man dogged and tormented by his own conscience. And if a man could kill his own conscience, as if it were a separate entity from him, would he indeed die as well? After all, sociopaths exist, however unfortunately, and one of the hallmarks of sociopathy is lack of conscience. Perhaps the fate of Wilson is meant to be taken figuratively, as an indictment on the quality of life if one had no conscience. In that respect, could a person truly live? Food for thought.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue -- Oh hey, a murder mystery. I'm down with that. I really enjoyed this story, though perhaps much of that enjoyment was because it's one of the few where the answer is, as Tim Minchin would say, decidedly not magic. It's a little bit exposition-y, true, but I can deal with that. I'm a sucker for a good old-fashioned denouement of this variety--probably because I'm so very bad at them myself. I always wanted to write a murder mystery, or a detective novel, that sort of thing, but I just don't have the mind for it, alas. Apparently I'm more of a "several thousand words of introspective angst" sort of writer. Oy. At any rate, my only problem with this story is that I'm not sure whether it offers an accurate portrayal of orangutan behavior. I know that they do have amazing strength, and I know that they can become violent if agitated, like chimpanzees, one of which ripped a lady's face off here in Ohio a few years ago. (No, seriously. It ripped her face off.) However, I'm just not sure that an orangutan would do much of what Poe claimed his fictional orangutan did. Probably Poe had never even seen an orangutan, except perhaps in drawings, and I don't think he knew very much about them at all. But then again, neither do I, so--pot, kettle.
The Oval Portrait -- Probably the shortest of Poe's short stories, but effectively so. Is this a story about a man whose obsession spurs him to paint the life of his young bride into a portrait? Or is it a warning not to succumb to our obsessions and lose sight of what's truly important, lest we lose the things that are dearest to us? You decide.
The Masque of the Red Death -- Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The old saying always creeps into my head whenever I think of this story, about a prince and his courtiers who hold a great masked ball while the rest of the country sickens and dies of a mysterious plague. But where Nero was a blundering, ineffectual narcissist who didn't know, at least at first, that Rome was burning, Prince Prospero is far more sinister. He deliberately shuts himself up in the abbey with his lords and ladies, intending to wait out the terrible plague, and leaves his subjects to their own devices--meaning, of course, he leaves them to suffer and die. But you cannot hide from death. Even the rich and the privileged are not immune. Darkness and decay and the Red Death hold dominion over all.
The Pit and the Pendulum -- Is there anybody who doesn't know this story? Even people who have never read it know about it, and with good reason. This scenario is one that really sticks with you, as it must have stuck in the minds of generations of readers, until it became a part of the greater American consciousness, this idea of such prolonged horror, the maddening, interminable wait as the specter of a gruesome and seemingly inescapable death looms over you. Honestly, I don't know that anyone could keep their head in such a situation, especially not enough to devise and implement a plan like the one our anonymous narrator does. But somehow it works--the exigence makes your awareness of the gradual, unalterable decent of the pendulum that much sharper. About the very end of the story, however, I'm not so forgiving. I guess Mr. Poe never heard the phrase deus ex machina.
The Tell-Tale Heart -- Nothing is more terrifying than a madman who thinks he's sane. In this story, the narrator is so tormented by an old man's pale blue eye that he's driven to murder, yet the most chilling part of the story is his repeated insistence in his own sanity. Each example he gives, however, proves him more insane than the one before. In the end, it's nothing more or less than his own madness--the same madness that drove him to kill an innocent man--that causes his downfall.
The Black Cat -- In this tale, a formerly kind and sensitive man takes to drink and becomes a monster who mistreats his wife and his pets. When he lets his irrational anger get the better of him and lashes out at his once-beloved cat, a specter of the wronged animal proceeds to torment the narrator. But is it really his murdered pet seeking vengeance, or is it only his own conscience that drives him to madness and ruin?
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar -- Hypnotism can suspend the laws of nature, apparently. Good to know. I'll be sure to remember that when I'm creating my zombie army in a final push for world domination. In all seriousness, though, I think Poe really missed the boat on this one. He took what could have been a really interesting concept and reduced it to its lowest common denominator, intending only to horrify and, failing that, to gross out the reader, rather than exploring the truly chilling conundrum of such a scenario--was Valdemar truly caught in that mysterious moment between life and death, or was it only his physical body that was suspended, serving as a prison for an echo of the consciousness that once lived there, a ghost in the shell?
The Cask of Amontillado -- For me, the most chilling, most terrifying stories are not the ones about the supernatural, but rather the ones that highlight the very worst of humanity. As in this tale, wherein Montresor is so offended by some perceived slight from Fortunato that he leads the drunk and ailing man into the catacombs beneath his house and walls him up there. Montresor leaves Fortunato to languish and suffer and die, alone, in the dark, and not once does he demonstrate even a glimmer of doubt whether he has any right to condemn the man, nor does he seem, even for a moment, to consider whether anyone truly deserves such a horrible end, regardless of his trespasses. And how many people like that are out there, in the real world? The answer is what makes this one of Poe's most effective stories, in my opinion, because the truth is that, for every mature and rational person who realizes that they don't have the right to take the life of another human being, there is another person who honestly believes so strongly in their own supremacy, that their own sense of ego is so sacrosanct, that they feel no compunction about harming or killing someone in cold blood. In reality, madmen and cutthroats lurk around every corner, and that is far scarier than any story about ghosts or ghouls.
Hop-Frog -- Nobody tosses a dwarf! Am I the only one who thinks Poe intended this as a thinly-veiled allusion to people who mistreated their slaves? Hop-Frog and Trippetta are abducted from their homes, shipped off to a foreign country, and are under complete control of the king and at the mercy of his every whim. Sounds familiar. The king, despite being a "joker", is also a cruel tyrant who forces Hop-Frog to drink even though he knows how it affects the dwarf, and who abuses poor Trippetta when she dares beg the king to spare her friend. In the end, it's this last offense that invokes the wrath of Hop-Frog and leads to the gruesome demise of the king and his sycophantic ministers, but what is the message here? Don't be cruel to those under your dominion or else this may happen to you? Or, people who abuse those at their mercy will get what's coming to them in the end? Perhaps both.
The Poems -- I'm not generally much of a poetry person, to be honest, and when I do enjoy it, it tends to be of the post-modern variety. Or maybe that's post-post-modern. Or post-post-post--you know what? Basically, if your poem rhymes, I probably think it sucks. Let's just put it that way. So, needless to say, Poe's poems aren't really my cup of tea. However, For Annie is actually pretty good; it's a total creepfest, and I do recommend that you read that one. And then you should read Lenore, The Raven, Annabel Lee, and The Bells, if only because they're classics.(less)
This one was actually pretty funny, surprisingly. I honestly can't remember if I found the Goosebumps books funny back when I was a kid, but as an adu...moreThis one was actually pretty funny, surprisingly. I honestly can't remember if I found the Goosebumps books funny back when I was a kid, but as an adult, Stine's "jokes" tend to fall flat. Matt's older brother's running commentary, a la Animal Planet, however, actually had me snickering. And I was also amused by Matt's rather snarky inner thoughts when he turned into a giant monster with a taste for metal. So nice of that gentleman to leave Matt his car.
Aside from that, I'm not sure if this is one of the better installments in the Goosebumps series. The story itself is kind of silly, what with the idea of there being such a thing as the Reality Police--and if there were, I bet they'd name themselves something that wasn't so, you know, lame--and the absolutely ludicrous notion of a 12-year-old girl being a member of said police force. Then, there's the fact that they wanted to force-feed Matt a sleeping potion, which seems like a sudden, inexplicable, and unnecessary mixture of genres. And to be honest, none of Matt's forays into alternate realities, or whatever, were particularly frightening. I will admit that the idea of falling into a tear in the fabric of reality, or however you want to think of it, and not being able to get back to your specific reality, the one you think of as being real, or right, is a little unsettling. But considering that, apparently, all Matt had to do to set things right was sleep in his own room, which defies logic and probably some laws of the universe we're not entirely aware of, it's not altogether very scary, is it?
I would recommend this book to kids who like stories about people having interesting and kind of crazy adventures, especially if they're looking for something amusing to read. If you want a scary story, however, this isn't it.(less)
**spoiler alert** At first, I thought this one was actually really good, despite the annoying, whiny-ass protagonist. (I don't blame her roommates; I...more**spoiler alert** At first, I thought this one was actually really good, despite the annoying, whiny-ass protagonist. (I don't blame her roommates; I would've disliked her too. What a brat, honestly.) The ending was definitely a surprise, and I thought it was pretty neat, but then, the more I thought about it, the more I noticed the gaping plot holes. If Briana died the summer before, how is it Richard didn't notice he was talking to a dead girl? For that matter, why didn't any of the camp counselors, or the kids who'd been there the previous summer, notice something off? I mean, if a girl had died at their camp, they'd know about it. And even if they somehow didn't, surely her parents would've raised questions when she didn't come home at the end of the summer, and then there would've been an investigation, which would certainly have included a search of the camp and questioning her counselors and friends. Right? Okay, so it's a kids' book, I know. But I think even kids will have to wonder how exactly a ghost can get bitten by spiders. I'm pretty sure the nurse should've noticed that Briana was, you know, transparent. Incorporeal. That sort of thing.
Honestly, I think Stine was looking for a really snappy ending and didn't think things through very well. Continuity. It has foiled many a better writer. I think most kids will still enjoy the book, though, because hey, it's a ghost story, and who doesn't like those?(less)
This reminds me of that episode of Buffy where a curse--or a spell, or something, whatever it was--turns everyone into whatever they're dressed as for...moreThis reminds me of that episode of Buffy where a curse--or a spell, or something, whatever it was--turns everyone into whatever they're dressed as for Halloween. Except not as funny. Or as scary. And without the benefit of Giles getting all unexpectedly hot at the end and laying the smackdown. Mmm, Tony Head...
...what was I saying? Oh, right. This is still pretty good, for what it is. It's unsettling, the idea of putting something on for a while, only to realize too late that, not only can you not take it off, but it's actually become a part of you. There's a metaphor there that I think is likely to be lost on the target audience, but I enjoyed as an adult reader. What I really liked, though, was that, unlike on Buffy, where the trick-or-treaters of Sunnydale are changed because of the whims of The Bad Guy, Carly Beth is really the victim of her own inner demons. If she hadn't been so intent on being something she wasn't, scary and mean, and getting revenge on Chuck and Steve, she never would have put on that mask. And in the end, what saves her isn't just a symbol of love, but proof that she was loved for the way she was before.
One of the better installments in Stine's series, I think. It was actually pretty gruesome; first Amanda's dream, and then all the talk about skin fal...moreOne of the better installments in Stine's series, I think. It was actually pretty gruesome; first Amanda's dream, and then all the talk about skin falling off and skulls cracking open and bones disintegrating. Yum. It doesn't really go into great detail, but I still sat here with an "ew" look on my face as I was reading, so I imagine it should be gross and scary enough for the book's target audience. Also, for once it wasn't completely predictable. When Petey started going crazy, and with all the whispering sounds and moving curtains and mysterious appearing-then-disappearing children, I thought it would have something to do with ghosts, not the living dead. However, it's pretty obvious from the start that something is up with Mr. Dawes and all those weird ass kids, but then again, it is a kids' book. Maybe most kids won't notice, or something, I don't know. Also, I thought the ending was a nice touch, and really leaves you wondering.(less)
I thought this book was better than some of the others in the Goosebumps series. For one, Gabe was a lot less stupid than most of Stine's protagonists...moreI thought this book was better than some of the others in the Goosebumps series. For one, Gabe was a lot less stupid than most of Stine's protagonists, like Greg from Say Cheese and Die!, for example. And for another, it actually was kind of scary. The idea of being lost in a strange place--in a tomb, for Christ's sake--and at the mercy of some sociopath who wants to mummify you alive is even unsettling from an adult point of view. The only thing I didn't care for was the mummy hand being the deus ex machina that saves the day at the very last second. But then, it is a kids' book, and somehow I doubt the target audience is as discerning about plot devices. They may also not realize how ridiculous it is that, when Ahmed tried to kidnap Gabe and Sari, Uncle Ben didn't call the police. Seriously, who is that retarded? I'm willing to handwave it, though, on account of it being a kids' book, and because Stine generally tends to keep things short and sweet, and he was probably trying to wrap things up in a timely manner.
Other things worth noting: The story being set in an exotic foreign locale, and the descriptions of the different culture--the way people dress, the food, etc.--should be interesting to most kids, and may be enticing even for reluctant readers. The information about pyramids and mummies (and the extras about heiroglyphics, mummification, etc. at the back of the book, depending on what edition you read) may inspire kids to learn more about Ancient Egypt. And this book may just make your kids think twice about running off on their own the next time you go out of town on vacation.(less)
These books were a lot better when I was a kid. I don't think I necessarily found them scary, even back then. Well, okay, the one with the dummy freak...moreThese books were a lot better when I was a kid. I don't think I necessarily found them scary, even back then. Well, okay, the one with the dummy freaked me right the fuck out. But other than that, they weren't particularly frightening. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was scarier. Man, I miss that show. But I digress. What the Goosebumps books were, however, was fun, and though I was obviously less discerning about quality in my younger days, they're still fun for me as a grown-up, for the sake of nostalgia.
In this volume, we meet a boy named Greg, who just isn't that smart. It takes him, like, half the book the realize that, no, the camera he misappropriated is not broken; some seriously fucked-up shit is going on here. And then, instead of chucking the damn thing, he spends another few chapters quibbling over whether the pictures predict the future, or if the camera is somehow causing bad things to happen. Like it matters. God. Even after his Dad and all his friends get hurt, he still runs around town with the stupid thing and snaps pictures. Really, Greg? Someone's a slow learner. Finally, he puts it back where he found it, and sort of kills a guy in the process--Spidey, a former scientist or something, who was apparently so evil he chose a life of indigence and loneliness in order to protect people from the cursed camera--only to have the camera snatched up again two seconds later by a couple of local bullies. All of that, and for what? Nice cliffhanger, though, I guess.
Kids will probably like it, I think. But mostly it just made me want to smack myself in the face repeatedly. Fun!(less)
I didn't get a chance to finish reading this book before I had to take it back to the library, and considering the fact that it's been languishing on...moreI didn't get a chance to finish reading this book before I had to take it back to the library, and considering the fact that it's been languishing on my Currently Reading list since--what, 2008? 2009? Something like that. At any rate, I doubt I'll bother to check it out again so I can finish it. So my rating here is based on the parts of the book that I did finish, which were Carrie and Salems' Lot.
Carrie gets two stars from me. It's an interesting enough little story that I feel is largely allegorical; the chaos and destruction wrought outwardly by Carrie to me represents the anger and the negativity that gets internalized as self-destructive behavior by so many adolescents in similar situations. (Not the telekinetics with mommy issues who flip their shit and kill everybody situation, but the outcasts who just can't seem to catch a break no matter how hard they try situation. Just to be clear.) The problem is that, stylistically, it's obvious this is one of King's freshman efforts. His prose simply doesn't have the same fine-tuning and finesse as his later work, and I didn't particularly care for the narrative device he employed here. I heard somewhere that King added the faux newspaper articles and book excerpts after his editor, or someone, told him the story wasn't long enough to be published as a novel. If that's true, then I wish he had found a better way of lengthening the story, because this method just doesn't work for me. It gives away too much too soon and ruins any suspense or sense of build-up, since you go through the entire book already knowing what's going to happen.
Salems' Lot, on the other hand, only gets one and a half stars. The writing was better, in my opinion, and the story was both sufficiently creepy and intriguing, but unfortunately it seemed like only half a story to me. I was completely dismayed when I got to the end of it, and I actually spent some time investigating whether this was an abridged version of the book for the compilation, because it felt like I had just finished part one of what should have been a two-part novel. I was left wanting and unsatisfied, which displeases me greatly, and I cannot in good conscience give it a higher rating. Salems' Lot is not a novel; Salems' Lot is the set-up of a novel, which requires a lot more elements to make it complete.
So, since Goodreads doesn't allow half-scores, I give this book an adjusted score of three stars for the two-thirds I did finish.(less)
Jesus, what a mess. Duma Key is the worst Stephen King book I've read since Lisey's Story. In fact, I'...moreExcuse me, Mr. King, but what the hell is this?
Jesus, what a mess. Duma Key is the worst Stephen King book I've read since Lisey's Story. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's even worse than Lisey's Story, because while that book was, frankly, retarded and had the absolute WORST plot resolution of any book EVER, it at least had the benefit of suspense. There was a clear and present danger throughout, there was a recognizable Bad Guy (along with a few other things that go bump in the night, as you would expect from Stephen King), and even more important than the fact that you had at least a vague notion of where all this was going was the fact that you could be almost entirely sure that it was going somewhere. In other words, it was what a thriller should be, at least in that respect. Duma Key, on the other hand, was...about a dude painting.
This Freemantle dude gets maimed in an industrial accident, moves to Florida, and paints a bunch of pictures. Oh, and he meets this guy who speaks Spanglish even though he's a white dude from, like, Omaha or somewhere, and also an old lady with Alzheimer's. Aaand...yeah, that's about all that happens for almost four hundred pages; Freemantle paints, and everyone is just amazed by how good he is. You only faintly have a sense that some weird shit is going on, and that mostly just because it's freakin' Stephen King, come on. Nothing scary or even particularly interesting happens until about two-thirds of the way through the book, when some fucking creepy undead kids finally show up to scare the bejeezus out of this asshole. Unfortunately, that still doesn't save the reader the horror of what comes next.
Edgar's Big Damn Art Show.
Maybe I just have no stomach for a bunch of over-educated, over-privileged, pontificating, pretentious fucks standing around jerking each other off over art--or anything, actually--but the whole thing was nigh on painful for me, particularly when Elizabeth showed up and everyone was lauding the Great Patron of the Arts, and then she started giving this horrible, stilted, over-the-top art critique. Ugh. I was actually, literally rolling my eyes by that point. I mean, it all struck me as the sort of thing you'd find in some horrendous dime-store novel, the author of which clearly wishes this would happen to him or her, and who has always dreamed of being the recipient of this brand of exaggerated praise and adoration. Gross. I expect better of you, Stephen.
After that, the real story finally gets underway and King starts elucidating his convoluted plot. Like he could have done TWO HUNDRED FUCKING PAGES AGO. Seriously. And I could have excused the amount of time and unnecessary word-count it took to get there, because I feel like King could have salvaged the book at that point, but instead he chose the single STUPIDEST method of exposition EVER. EVER. And that's what pisses me off more than anything else about this book, to be honest; Duma Key COULD have been good. Perhaps not great, but it could have been pretty damn interesting. A casual inspection of the copyright page reveals the band Shark Puppy as consisting of R. Tozier and W. Denbrough. As in Richie and Bill of the Losers Club. A clear nod, I should think, to the idea that Perse is of a similar nature to Pennywise, the Awful Monster of Awfulness from It. It is one of my very favorite King novels, though I feel there was room for more explanation about the origins and nature of Pennywise, so I was extremely disappointed by what I see as a missed opportunity here to get really meta and expatiate on an existing mythology.
So, in short, unless you're a hardcore Stephen King fan, I would steer clear of this one. The writing isn't up to King's usual quality, and considering that, in most of the book, nothing happens, and the rest of the book is blindingly stupid exposition, Duma Key isn't worth your time.(less)
I have to say that I enjoyed this collection of King's short stories far more than the last one I read. Of course, I realize that Everything's Eventua...moreI have to say that I enjoyed this collection of King's short stories far more than the last one I read. Of course, I realize that Everything's Eventual and Skeleton Crew are far removed from one another chronologically, the latter having been published in 1985 and the former in 2002. So perhaps it's not really fair to even compare the two of them. But since these are the only short story anthologies of King's that I've read thus far, I'm gonna do it anyway. Sue me.
Whereas Skeleton Crew contained a lot of stories that seemed pointless at best, and at worst left me scratching my head in abject confusion, Everything's Eventual is rock-solid from start to finish. None of these offerings left me with that half-inflated feeling of incompleteness, nor is there anything I would recommend skipping over. These are all fully-fledged and well-executed tales that kept me engaged all the way through.
My favorite is probably the title story. Everyone else seems to have come to this book for 1408, which is also a decent story, of course, if a bit shorter than I expected. (My niece made me watch the movie with her a while back, which probably explains why I imagined it would be slightly more involved and drawn-out.) But personally, I found Everything's Eventual to be a far more compelling piece. The premise alone is a lot fresher and more intriguing than the standard haunted hotel trope: a naive young kid, an outcast down on his luck, gets recruited by a secret agency because of his special gift and trained to be a sort of supernatural assassin. Badass, right? It's the execution, though, that really makes the story; the set-up that makes it seem like these people have saved poor Dink from a life that can't even boast mediocrity, and then the gradual realization that all their talk about making the world a better place is just a bunch of bullshit and what they're really doing is using Dink for their own nefarious purposes. And he has no way out. Or so it would seem.
I can totally understand why Stephen King felt compelled to write a story around an image he had, inexplicably, of somebody pouring change into a storm drain. It's an image that really grabs you, that sticks with you, this picture of someone tossing money down a drain, of Dink carefully and robotically feeding his freedom to the garbage disposal. You can feel the hopelessness and the sense of being trapped. But then, unexpectedly, a message: Do you want out? And typically I don't care for ambiguous endings, but in this case I feel like it was the perfect touch to break the still life feeling of the piece and bring the story to a close. The only thing wrong with this story, as far as I'm concerned, is that there isn't more of it. I know Dink shows up again in the Dark Tower series, but come on, a premise like this totally deserves a full-length novel of its own.
Do you hear that, Mr. King? Shut up and take my money!
So anyway, the reason that I gave this book four stars instead of five is that I reserve five-star ratings for books that are just balls-out amazing. The kind of amazing where I feel like I'm better for having read them, you know? And while these are all excellent short stories, as I said, none of them particularly make me feel as if I would be missing out on something had I never picked up this book. Not that you should let that stop you from reading it, of course. These are great tales that are sure to keep you entertained, even if they won't change your life.(less)
I work in a call center, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Glamorous, right? Don't answer that. Anyway, toward the end of the night, when...moreThe following is a true story.
I work in a call center, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Glamorous, right? Don't answer that. Anyway, toward the end of the night, when the calls slow down, there can be stretches of up to five or ten minutes, sometimes longer, where there's nothing to do but stare blankly at the computer screen. And since we're not allowed to use said computers to amuse ourselves in any way--even a simple game of solitaire is strictly verboten--it gets so fucking boring I've seriously considered strangling myself with my own headset cord just for the excitement. So we've all found ways of keeping entertained, at least to some small degree, because we can't exactly go killing ourselves over our shitty job. Some people knit, some nerds people work on their D&D character sheets, some people...do whatever it is that they do, I don't even know. Me? I read. Go figure.
So, one night, around about midnight, I was reading this book between calls when my supervisor decided to sneak up behind me and scare the everlasting piss out of me. Because she is, essentially, a horrible fucking person. And I say that with love, of course. So then I was like, "What the fuck, L?" in a voice perhaps inching close to that frequency only dogs can hear. And she was like, "That's what you get for reading that creepy-ass book." Somewhere deep down, I'm sure she's a very sweet girl.
And then, naturally, the shift manager had to come over and see what all the squealing and flailing and wicked witch laughing was about, which somehow led to a discussion about the relative merits of Stephen King's work. Don't ask me how. It's hard to keep track of these things when you're having a fucking heart attack. At any rate, the aforementioned shift manager, whom we'll call E, declared King's to be the weakest brand of horror, or something more or less to that effect. And seeing as how I've been a fan of Stephen King for longer than I've even been old enough to read his books*, one might expect me to have gotten my panties all twisted up over such an assertion. The problem is that E's position is one I can neither support nor refute, for the simple fact that I've never actually read King for the horror.
That seems a little weird, right? I mean, Stephen King is a horror writer. Primarily, anyway. It's what he's famous for. The Master of the Macabre, they call him. But here's the thing: I don't scare easily. (Aside from when I'm being sneaked up on by little midget ninjas, that is.) And what does scare me isn't the usual stuff that scares other people, nor do I get tend to get grossed out by blood and guts and gore and all that. So I've honestly never picked up one of King's books with the intention of getting good and scared, or whatever, and the only book of his that ever did freak me out was The Tommyknockers, which played into certain phobias of mine. My point being that, clearly, I am a poor judge of whether or not King is a good horror writer.
I suppose it all comes down to a matter of personal taste, really, like anything else. But personally, I think if you're reading Stephen King for the horror--only for the horror, that is--you're doing it wrong. If you're reading King only for the horror, then you might as well be reading, I don't know, Dean Koontz or something. Because here's the thing: Stephen King doesn't write horror, he uses horror as a tool to show us all those things about the world we'd rather not think about. All the worst things about humanity, all the worst things about ourselves, and the best too--he holds a mirror up to them. Stephen King writes social commentary while using horror to keep us engaged, to keep us from being scared away when he shines a light on the ugliest aspects about us and the world we live in.
As in the first short story in this anthology, The Mist. It stands as a prime example of the reason why I read Stephen King. In the story, a mysterious mist descends over a small Maine town, trapping David Drayton and his son, along with several other townsfolk, in the local grocery store. They are cut off from their homes, from their families, and from safety, besieged by the eldritch abominations lurking outside, lying in wait for any poor bastards unlucky enough to wander into their clutches. Sounds pretty fucking terrifying, right? But in true Stephen King style, the scariest part of this story is not the enemy outside, it's the enemy within. It's not the unknown element, but the human element.
While Drayton and a handful of allies are doing their level best to ensure everyone's continued survival, the friendly neighborhood religious zealot, Mrs. Carmody, is doing her best to twist the situation to her own advantage. It's the way of the charlatan. God sent this disaster, they say, because you're all sinful and damned, but if you listen to me, all will be well. And the problem is that there's always folks crazy, stupid, or just plain scared enough to listen. In this case, there are plenty of all three--everyone is scared, and several people come unhinged, and others are just weak-willed and drawn to Mrs. Carmody's strong personality like moths to flame. So, as the situation worsens, the hellfire and brimstone old bat amasses a considerable following.
The problem is that Mrs. Carmody isn't just crazy, she's dangerous. She sets her sights on Drayton and anyone else who dares to oppose her, painting them as the enemy, as Other, as evil, until they find themselves in a terrible dilemma: face the danger outside, or face certain death at the hands of their own. In the end, Drayton and his allies choose to brave the unspeakable horror waiting for them in the mist. And it's because of this that The Mist really encapsulates the unique way Stephen King uses horror--no matter how many horrible monsters are in his stories, no matter what gruesome scenarios, what he shows us about ourselves is always far worse. The alien is never as scary as the devil you know.
Now, whenever I review anthologies, I usually try to say a little something about each story. But there are an awful lot of stories in Skeleton Crew, and to be honest, not all of them are very good. In fact, The Mist is the best out of the whole book. I won't pretend it doesn't have its problems--like the ending, which I personally didn't care for--but overall, it's a great piece of standalone fiction. And I would be tempted to advise anyone still reading this stupidly longwinded review to read The Mist and skip the rest, if it weren't for two other stories.
Gramma is probably the most chilling story in the entire book, and anyone who has been alone with a loved one when they died will understand why. I was alone with my father when he died, and even though I was an adult at the time, this story still got under my skin in a way I'm not even sure I can describe. The artfully drawn-out psychological horror is, on its own, enough to make this story worth a read; the nods at the Chtulhu mythos are just icing.
The other story that I enjoyed was The Reach, which is beautifully written and atmospheric. It is both a story about dying and a metaphor for dying, and I'm not sure whether that makes Stephen King a genius or a hack, but his prose is so lovely and almost-poetic that it doesn't even matter. I liked the tone, I liked the style, I liked the imagery, and yes, I even liked the metaphor. Not everything has to be obscure and impenetrable and couched in so much careful, artistic language that you have be an English major to even begin to comprehend it, okay?
So, in conclusion, this book is worth reading for The Mist, Gramma, and The Reach, but I would recommend skipping the rest. Perhaps it's because I'm not a great reader of short stories, and therefore lack a certain necessary appreciation for them, but in my humble opinion, most of these are poorly thought-out, poorly written, and lacking any sort of a point. So unless you're a diehard Stephen King fan hell-bent on reading his entire body of work, or unless you have absolutely nothing better to do, then don't waste your time. You're not going to be missing anything by passing over the other offerings in this anthology.
*I read Gerald's Game when I was ten. My mother was not amused. It's the only book I can remember her ever trying to keep me from reading. Then she found out I'd also stolen her copy of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and read it, and she gave up. "Precocious" doesn't even begin to describe me as a child.(less)
It's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren'...moreIt's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren't even alive for? This book was published eight years before I was even born. But whatever. I still pine for the fjords glory days, back when King actually had something to say, and he used horror mainly as a vehicle for the underlying social commentary. Or human commentary, perhaps, since King has a way of using horror to strip away all of the social conditioning, all the ego, the posturing, of laying a person bare as an animal of base instinct and little else, and showing us the very worst about ourselves--but also, sometimes, the very best--and thus highlighting certain truths about the human condition.
Or I should say, he had a way of doing that. These days, it seems like King has gotten to point where he's writing just to write, and writing horror because it's what's expected of him. His recent works--in my admittedly limited experience, that is, I've by no means read them all--are mostly stories that go nowhere and say nothing, offering the reader cheap chills and thrills, but nothing to feel or to think too deeply about. And after having read such abortions as Duma Key (a steaming pile of shit) and Under the Dome (socially astute, perhaps, but seriously lacking in resolution and, well, a fucking point), getting back to roots and reading one of King's early novels is an almost painful reminder of the writer he can be.
Part of what makes The Shining so good is that, unlike most novels of this type, which offer a slow build meant to maximize suspense, this is instead a novel of constant terror. Even when the characters are going about their daily lives, more or less, there is an undercurrent of dread running just beneath the surface that really gets under your skin and is punctuated only by scenes of balls-out fear and panic.
And another thing that makes this book so good, what makes it truly scary, I think, is that you can never be entirely sure what's really going on. Is Danny actually having visions, or is he just a lonely little boy with an overactive imagination? Is the hotel haunted--or possessed, or whatever--or are these imaginings simply the result of fear and stress and isolation? Is the hotel really bad, an evil entity twisting Jack's mind, or is he simply going mad? The story is a constantly and subtly evolving thing you can't quite pin down until the very last chapters.
But even in the end, you have to wonder: is this really a story about an evil hotel, or is it a story about a man's descent into insanity? On the surface, it's both, of course, but personally I feel that, deeper than that, it's an analogy for a man being destroyed by his own inner-demons. After all, there is a reason the Overlook chooses Jack as its instrument. He's an asshole. Jack Torrance is a self-righteous, self-assured, over-educated, pompous, entitled prick, who holds to the belief that everything has been done to him, rather than accepting that he is in any way responsible for his own failures and misfortunes. He is a self-destructive alcoholic with a bad temper who nevertheless refuses to entirely shoulder the blame for the situation his family now faces. And when the hotel begins to prey on his alcoholism and irrational anger, and his behavior becomes erratic and even dangerous, he refuses to leave, or to at least send Wendy and Danny away, because ultimately he cares more about his goddamn self-image than about his wife and son.
In the end, Jack Torrance is the architect of his own destruction. And that is one of the best things about this book. From a literary standpoint, anyway. It's exactly what I mean when I say that Stephen King used to have something to say. Because in the real world, there are no haunted hotels--or evil hotels, whatever--despite what the History Channel might try to sell you when they're not busy covering Bigfoot or this fucking guy .There are no malevolent supernatural forces hell-bent on bringing you to ruin for whatever mysterious reason. In the real world, the only evil forces that exist are all too human, and we don't need to encounter any possessed real estate for our inner-demons to get the better of us. And that is exactly what King shows us with this book. By making Jack ultimately responsible for his own downfall, even in the face of an evil supernatural force, King is highlighting an essential human truth: there is darkness and evil all around us all the time, and inside of us all the time, but we are the only ones who can allow it to destroy us, and we are the only ones who can save ourselves from it.(less)
Cell is vastly different, stylistically, from the other King novels I've read, and as a result, it took me awhile to really get into this book. Overal...moreCell is vastly different, stylistically, from the other King novels I've read, and as a result, it took me awhile to really get into this book. Overall, however, I think the change in technique really worked for this story. Cell is extremely fast-paced and action-driven, with a more simplistic and linear plot than I've come across in a Stephen King book; a rather spare story, in other words, which might have broken down under the strain of his typical web of intricacies and complex subplots, colorful histories, and verbose prose.
Despite being sparser than his typical offerings, Cell is still wonderfully (or terribly, if you prefer) vivid and full of that quintessential King imagery. My only complaints are these:
You never learn who or what caused the Pulse. Was it really terrorists? A ghost in the machine? Just some freak glitch in the technology? Personally, I'm not too big a fan of this sort of "come to your own conclusion" bullshit.
Similarly, after three-hundred-plus pages of following and becoming invested in Clay's harrowing journey to find his son, you never find out whether the patch, or whatever, actually works. I mean, really. A little closure, please, Mr. King? See above.
Three stars for the story, which was good, though it could have been great if King had done more with it. Two stars for the subtle social commentary lurking beneath the obvious social commentary. Minus one star for the aforementioned "draw your own conclusions" bullshit.(less)
I kind of love my coworkers. Some of them. You make one Zombieland reference in the break room and suddenly you're embroiled in a serious discussion...moreI kind of love my coworkers. Some of them. You make one Zombieland reference in the break room and suddenly you're embroiled in a serious discussion about your plans for the zombie apocalypse and trading weapons tips and book recommendations. Of course, I'd already had this book on my "to read" list for quite a while before it was mentioned at the Round Table of Fearless Zombie Killers, but when one of my brothers-in-arms lent me his battered copy (by way of pitching it at my head while I was on a call with a customer, the little shit, I'm tripping him when the zombies come) I no longer had an excuse not to read it, despite the fact that I was already in the middle of reading about four other books. But really, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, what's going to help me--Two Gentlemen of Verona, or this?
The Zombie Survival Guide is a thorough run-down of the best and worst methods of weathering a zombie-related catastrophe, from a short encounter to a years-long siege. It details the ideal terrain, weather conditions, vehicles, fortifications, and most importantly, weapons. There are sections that discuss not only the most effective ways of avoiding the undead legions, but also of eradicating said legions, as well as long-term survival in the eventuality of a post-apocalyptic Crapsack World where the zombies have won. If a non-sentient species can really be said to win anything, as such, but let's not get into that now. The point is that the amount of thought Brooks put into this--the amount of careful, logical consideration of the subject and all its related aspects--is pretty amazing, and even a little mind-boggling. Clearly, Brooks is nerdlier-than-thou.
So imagine my surprise when I happened to glance at the back of this book and noticed that it's listed as humor. Humor? Really? I didn't find anything particularly funny about it, myself. It may contain a few amusing lines here and there, but honestly, I've read funnier throw-away quips in Stephen King novels, which sure as hell aren't categorized thus. Not that there's anything wrong with humor, of course, don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of it, naturally, but this book? Is not it. And I can't help but feel like, in this case, its being listed as humor is a little demeaning to the idea behind a book like this, because it says, "This is something improbable, therefore it is silly and amusing and not to be taken seriously." But what makes it that much different from any other book whose premise is improbable and outlandish and even, maybe, unscientific? Despite what we're apparently meant to believe, this book is science fiction at least, and speculative fiction at best. And personally, I think it's our best bet for not ending up as snacks for a bunch of dead guys with the munchies.
My only problem with this book is that Brooks based the entire work around his fictional zombie virus Solanum, and therefore focused solely on a single type of zombie. If this had been any other book--like his World War Z, for example--I wouldn't have minded, but I happen to feel that, if you're going to call your book the Zombie Survival Guide, you should offer the reader guidance for surviving whatever type of zombie they may, however improbably, face. I mean, maybe I'm asking too much, and probably I should just let the book be without imposing my own inclinations and desires on it, but regardless, I can't help letting it color my opinion of the book. Hence why I adjusted my initial rating from five stars to four. Sorry, Max.
Other than that, however, I can't find much at all wrong with this book. I even enjoyed the "historical" accounts at the end. At first, I thought that section was extraneous and detracted from the non-fiction reference style of the first quarter of the book, but by the time I finished, I'd changed my mind. I like how each story allows for a more detailed example of the principles laid out in the first part of the book. And I thought it was a nice touch how the apparently increasing frequency of zombie encounters over time lends the work a sense of exigence, like this could happen any time--you could wake up tomorrow and find yourself in the zombie apocalypse--rather than just being something amusing to think about.
All in all, the Zombie Survival Guide is an interesting, insightful, and useful read, which I would recommend to zombie enthusiasts everywhere, as well as anyone who hopes to last more than five minutes if and when the End Times come.(less)