Laymon is my guilty pleasure, and I may as well confess to this now. He had already passed away by the time I discovered his books. For most of his wr...moreLaymon is my guilty pleasure, and I may as well confess to this now. He had already passed away by the time I discovered his books. For most of his writing career, Laymon was considerably more well-known in Europe (particularly the UK) than in North America. This all changed when an American publishing company -- Leisure Books -- began to re-release many of Laymon's novels in mass market paperback. Good news for horror fans -- because his books are now inexpensive and easy to find, a whole new generation of readers (myself included) discovered Laymon's "unique" storytelling style.
Laymon's writing is not for the faint of heart. His books are rip-roaring reads punctuated by graphic violence and sexual content. The best of escapist fiction, Laymon is not trying to save the world with his writing, nor offer any great moral insights. What he does do, and very well, is give readers a page-turning tale that will scare the bejesus out of them (most of the time). So if you're looking for a fine dining experience, keep away from Laymon; but if you long to indulge in a greasy cheeseburger with fries, then Laymon is your man. And who doesn't crave a greasy cheeseburger every now and again? That doesn't make us bad kids :-)
Ketchum's prose is tight and puts you right into the story. Considering the brutal content of this particular novel, that can prove for heart-rending,...moreKetchum's prose is tight and puts you right into the story. Considering the brutal content of this particular novel, that can prove for heart-rending, heart-stopping reading. This book is not for the squeamish, and I'll admit, there are a few places where I thought I would have to quit it for my own sanity. Gets under the skin.
The Girl Next Door is the harrowing tale of two sisters, Meg and Sarah, who lose their parents in a car accident. They are sent to live with a relative, Ruth, who over the course of one summer, begins to become "unhinged" shall we say. As her madness grows, Ruth's treatment of the girls degenerates into abuse, and then finally, torture. The real horror here is that Ruth's three young sons and their friends become participants to the torture. (less)
Not crazy about this latest Ketchum novel. The featured bonus novella Right To Life is especially gruesome, 150 pages of "torture porn" -- not my thin...moreNot crazy about this latest Ketchum novel. The featured bonus novella Right To Life is especially gruesome, 150 pages of "torture porn" -- not my thing. Ketchum is such a talented writer, there's no doubt about that but I felt like this latest effort was simply gratuitous for no good reason, unlike The Girl Next Door, which while horrific and also about torture, still had heart and empathic characters. (less)
3.5 stars I worried about starting this one. It's tough for a book with so much hype surrounding it to meet reader expectations, but it's doing that a...more3.5 stars I worried about starting this one. It's tough for a book with so much hype surrounding it to meet reader expectations, but it's doing that and more so far. Sigler's writing style is lean and mean. Several scenes rank among the grossest I've ever read, to the point where I'm laughing and cringing at the same time. Funny and scary, my favorite combination.
This book is 90% plot-driven. It moves from one action sequence to the next, and I usually tire of that type of story-telling pretty quickly. But not so with Sigler. What a ride. His powers of description are enormous. If Hollywood doesn't option this for a movie I'll be gob-smacked. So this book won't change your life or anything, but it's a fun, high-octane read, and there's nothing wrong with that.
I've been re-visiting some of my King All-star Team this year as audiobooks and am reminded yet again that Uncle Steve is The Man. No matter what assh...more I've been re-visiting some of my King All-star Team this year as audiobooks and am reminded yet again that Uncle Steve is The Man. No matter what asshats and embittered douchebags like "literary critic" Harold Bloom say, King is one of the greatest storytellers in any language of all time, full stop. Is everything he's written pure gold? Of course not. Given the sheer size of the man's canon, that's to be expected. But even when I think King has put up something less than stellar, I always feel his heart is in the right place. In other words, King -- unlike so many other bestselling authors these days -- has integrity to spare. The words, the story -- they come first always. Even after all these years, I really believe he does it for the love of the craft, not for the next bloated paycheck (*cough* James Patterson *cough* whore).
I first read Misery when I was seventeen years old. I started it about eight o'clock that evening, and finished it about four in the morning. Heart pounding, bleary eyed and afraid to open my closet door lest Annie Wilkes was waiting there for me with an axe or chainsaw raised over her head. Whenever we're excited about a book, readers will often say "OMG, I couldn't put it down!" but we probably did, at least once, to go to work, get supper, put the kids to bed, whatever. It's not meant to be a literal expression per se, though sometimes it is and whoah to the power of a book that can hold you in its ironclad grip with such uncompromising resolution. That will make you stay up til the wee hours of the morning even though you have work or school the next day. Or breakfast to make for a screaming brood of little ones.
I couldn't put Misery down that first time. King has penned some page-turning mothers over the years, but the story of Paul Sheldon and his number one fan Annie Wilkes has got to be the most page-turning of them all. I guess you could classify this book as psychological suspense, since there are absolutely no supernatural elements introduced here, but for me Misery will remain classic horror because I really do feel like King's ultimate goal in writing it is to scare the shit out of us. And in this he succeeds brilliantly. We're trapped in that room with Paul Sheldon. The desire to escape is overwhelming. You begin to understand how an animal can chew its own leg off. And Annie Wilkes? Has there ever been a literary creation able to make you lose control of your bladder so effectively? She haunts my nightmares still.
(view spoiler)[One of the things I love about Annie is that she's not just "crazy as a shit-house rat". King writes her with real depth and nuance. Like Paul, we can see who she might have been if the chemicals in her brain were balanced, or her childhood was different, or all the other permutations that contribute to madness were absent. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when Paul discovers Annie's "Memory Lane" scrapbook, a collection of all her murders. I love that singular moment of pure, crystalline terror when Paul realizes what he's really up against. How deep her sickness really goes. How twisted her mind really is. (hide spoiler)]
King not only does an amazing job examining the sometimes deranged and twisted fan/creator relationship when a mental illness is introduced, but more significantly, the beating heart of the writing life. In Misery, King is able to inject a lot of what he knows and believes about the craft and all the tics and challenges that come along with it. Until he published On Writing, Misery was King's most passionate description of the weird and wonderful life of a fiction writer.
As always, the blessed relief of starting, a feeling that was like falling into a hole filled with bright light. As always, the glum knowledge that he would not write as well as he wanted to write. As always the terror of not being able to finish, of accelerating into a brick wall. As always, the marvelous joyful nervy feeling of journey begun.
I like to think one of my favorite passages is King's version of a big middle finger to the critics who have lambasted him (and likely will continue to do so into the afterlife) as a hack:
There's a million things in this world I can't do. Couldn't hit a curve ball, even back in high school. Can't fix a leaky faucet. Can't roller-skate or make an F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried to be married and couldn't do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.
Can he ever. Am I right, Constant Readers? Can I get a witness?
When I listened to Gerald's Game a few months back, I argued that it shared a lot more similarities to Misery than to the book it's always paired with Dolores Claiborne. In my review for Gerald's Game I write: "what King is really doing is looking at the human body under brutalizing physical duress... at the body in extremis and what humans are genetically hardwired to do to survive and go on living another day."
Like Jessie Burlingame in Gerald's Game, Paul Sheldon is a miserable animal caught in a trap. While Paul has the indomitable Annie Wilkes to contend with, Jessie has her own problems, but it all adds up to the same thing in the end: "In telling Jessie's story King uncovers all the nitty-gritty minutia of human physical suffering and the desperation of one woman's attempt to end it. How far is any one person willing to go to keep on taking his or her next breath? Stephen King knows pretty damn far. Just ask Paul Sheldon or Ray Garraty. Or the castaway in "Survivor Type" -- him most of all. King also knows that the human body has an amazing capacity for trauma. It can withstand a lot -- so much so that the mind often breaks first."
Yes it does.
I'm going to end this review the same way I ended my review for Gerald's Game, with a quote from Bondama made in the Stephen King Fans forum here on Goodreads. I keep coming back to this quote because I think it really captures what is so deeply disturbing and terrifying about both these novels. And what makes them so very hard to put down once begun. Each go:
straight to the oldest, reptilian part of the human brain: fight or flight -- but here, flight's out of the question. This is true horror -- helplessness.
International bestseller Dean Koontz, while most famous for his suspense thrillers, has published his fair share of horror too. A truly frightening ex...moreInternational bestseller Dean Koontz, while most famous for his suspense thrillers, has published his fair share of horror too. A truly frightening example of this is his 1995 novel Intensity. This grueling, gripping page-turner kept me engrossed for an entire evening. Once begun, it is almost impossible to put this book down.
Watch the French horror flick High Tension and tell me that it isn't a rip-off of this novel...it's uncanny the similarities. Save for the twist at the end of the movie it's almost identical.(less)
I read this book when I was a teenager and can hardly remember a thing about it other than that it scared the crap out of me at the time. Small town,...moreI read this book when I was a teenager and can hardly remember a thing about it other than that it scared the crap out of me at the time. Small town, evil kid, and a horrible, dreadful scene involving a cat that I've completely blocked from my mind. (less)
Haven't read early John Saul since I was a teenager. Can't remember hardly a thing other than they scared me at the time and contributed to my love of...moreHaven't read early John Saul since I was a teenager. Can't remember hardly a thing other than they scared me at the time and contributed to my love of horror. I can't imagine any of his books would have the same effect on me now. John Saul just isn't that good of a writer, even all these years later, I don't think he's gotten any better. (less)
This is a tough book to "enjoy"; it's incredibly violent and none of the characters are very likable. But it is scary; no matter what you may think of...moreThis is a tough book to "enjoy"; it's incredibly violent and none of the characters are very likable. But it is scary; no matter what you may think of Laymon's abilities as a writer, his stories always manage to scare the living bejesus out of me. Trapped in the woods with a bunch of cannibalistic lunatics hunting me down has got to rank up there with one of the WORST ways to buy the farm. I can definitely see this one getting made into a movie. Pretty intense, but Laymon has written better.(less)
Disturbing and very upsetting, but ultimately compelling. It gets four stars for that, not because I enjoyed it in any way. The reading experience rem...moreDisturbing and very upsetting, but ultimately compelling. It gets four stars for that, not because I enjoyed it in any way. The reading experience reminded me of Tobacco Road. Can people really be that cruel and savage towards one another? Of course they can, I just don't like to be reminded of it especially by a writer with such obvious talents. (less)
I'm a huge fan of dystopian books, where the future is bleak and infinitely dangerous and if you're gonna survive, you better check your morals at the...moreI'm a huge fan of dystopian books, where the future is bleak and infinitely dangerous and if you're gonna survive, you better check your morals at the door. With reality TV everywhere we look these days, and the UFC a mainstream pastime, it's easy to imagine a Survivor where tribe members voted out don't go home, but are executed instead. I figure society's perpetual blood lust is never as deeply buried as we think (or hope).
Stephen King describes Battle Royale as "an insanely entertaining pulp riff that combines Survivor with World Wrestling Entertainment. Or maybe Royale is just insane." It really is a crazy, page-turning reading experience that's driven by raw emotion and a rollicking series of action sequences. There's tons of blood and gore, so if that's not your thing, stay away.
I was pleasantly surprised to care about the six major characters Takami spends the most time developing. I thought he did an excellent job considering the main point of the story is to shock and jolt, not to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings. I'm sure the writing lost something in translation -- certain parts are choppy and a bit crude, but that didn't detract from the overall intensity of what was unfolding on the page. I was on the island with these kids, and freaked out the whole time. Battle Royale is a pulse-pounding, adrenaline ride! Not "high literature" mind you, but a great big greasy cheeseburger with fries. Yum!
This one was a bit weird for me, but I found it compulsive reading anyway. The content is a little brutal at times, falls on this side of disturbing,...moreThis one was a bit weird for me, but I found it compulsive reading anyway. The content is a little brutal at times, falls on this side of disturbing, and plays mind games to boot. The six interconnected stories are essentially mysteries; there is a puzzle to solve for each one and the explanations can be fun. But that's not quite my thing.
What did intrigue me were the two main characters, and the parade of killers they cross paths with. Upon reading the author's afterword, I'm convinced now that these stories are not meant to be taken as "an exploration of humanity's dark side". The killers we meet are inhuman and for the most part, lack human motivation. They have a desire and compulsion to kill that is inexplicable -- and this is what separates them from the rest of us. At one point the narrator explains to the reader:
It was clear enough that some humans killed other people or wanted to kill people, for no reason at all. I didn't know if they became that way as they grew up, or if they were simply born that way. The problem was, these people hid their true nature and lived ordinary lives. They were hidden in the world, appearing no different from ordinary humans. But one day they would have no choice but to kill. They would have to leave their acceptable lives and go hunting.
This is a chilling observation that may carry a fair amount of truth in it. Sociopathic killers who walk among us bereft of any moral compass or empathy may not be broken humans, but an entirely different species; in fact, not human at all. They've just learned to walk and talk like us. Thinking about that scared the crap out of me and why the world Otsuichi creates is one in which I was eager to escape from, and one I'm not eager to return to. (less)