Twisted as only Joyce Carol Oates can do. A short, quick read, while densely layered and rich in detail. Oates' sustained interrogation of humanity'sTwisted as only Joyce Carol Oates can do. A short, quick read, while densely layered and rich in detail. Oates' sustained interrogation of humanity's dark heart is a vital contribution to American literature....more
Simple, direct, resonant. Thinner is perhaps the most popular of the Bachman books, while also feeling fairly different from earlier Bachman outings,Simple, direct, resonant. Thinner is perhaps the most popular of the Bachman books, while also feeling fairly different from earlier Bachman outings, collected in The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King. Thinner is, well, more of a Stephen King novel. But that's of minor significance really, being a bit here nor there, which is kind of how the book is; it walks a fine line between King and Bachman, being both and neither. It's relatively short, focused and punchy--all things I like about the Bachman books. But it also rambles a bit and runs into structural problems in the third quarter; familiar shortcomings in several King works. So it's pretty good and I like it, but I think the ideas and themes outpace the execution by a significant margin.
The problem with doing Gypsy curse stories is, of course, one of cultural sensitivity and not lapsing into tired, racist tropes. There are some lapses, and I'd say the story is a bit racist--the characters and King both trip up. But this also reminded me of some of those fantastic classic horror flicks like White Zombie and Hammer's Plague of the Zombie. Both films contain some racism by our contemporary standard. Yet they undercut that racism as well, highlighting how the dominant white colonial power is horribly racist and exploitative. King grew up on those shows, and, like John Carpenter, is now offering his 1980s take on the 30s-60s flicks that shaped his childhood. And by that measure, Thinner is quite a success. Our protagonist is a chump, and he’s never let off the hook for that. The mirroring of “hero” and “villain,” the ancient curses of gypsies versus the modern curses of white American capitalism, and, perhaps most significantly, the victims—all point us in the right direction, showing King to be on point in his critique. He has the right target and he’s not letting anyone weasel out. So for that I’m plenty happy to let some shortcomings slide, especially regarding a book so fixated on issues of justice, mercy, and forgiveness (or the lack thereof).
My biggest quibble is with that third quarter, chapter 22 specifically. Everything in that section is great, but how King structures and presents that moment puts too much drag on a series of events that need maximum propulsion. I wanted it to rip rather than jaunt along as some retrospective. The problem here is a common one in King. I’m not really sure why he does it, because it so often doesn’t work for me, and other sequences in King illustrate that he knows better. So I suspect something else is going on in those moments that either I’m not grasping, or am, but still just don’t care for.
King, however, recovers from this slump marvelously, and the payoff in this novel is spectacular. It’s a solid finish, albeit a slightly predictable one. But it’s King also drawing on morality tales and fables of old. Thinner as a bit of New England folklore, while sounding totally modern and of our world in the way King excels. He roots us firmly in a world we can see, touch, and believe, then twists it just enough to discomfort, poking holes in our self-serving notions of reality, certainty and fact. It’s an uncanny move, that is often remarkably subtle. How King pulls of this subtlety through his often hammishly unsubtle tone and approach is one of his great talents. What appears so obvious and one-dimensional will then slip into a multi-dimensional problem drawing on age-old quandaries of the human condition. Thinner’s conclusion dishes the goods beautifully....more
In the age of Trump, The Dead Zone looks uncannily prophetic, as if King himself carried some of Johnny's cursed ability to see into America's dark heIn the age of Trump, The Dead Zone looks uncannily prophetic, as if King himself carried some of Johnny's cursed ability to see into America's dark heart and future. Or, perhaps more plausible, he more perceptively read America's recent past, his current late-70s cultural moments, to speculate upon a plausible future. Strategists, futurists, and speculative fiction pros have done far worse at gauging what's coming than we have here.
When I first read this book in high school, I adored it, but thought Stillson was perhaps a bit too flat a villain. King can sometimes be a bit on the nose, with characters bordering a bit too close to caricature in some aspects. Until something like Trump's ascension happens and you realize that sometimes people aren't that complicated, their terribleness sometimes pretty obvious, with the real horror being how quickly we acclimate to their antics, normalize their behavior, and look the other way, hoping someone else will blow the whistle. This is the lurking horror of this story, the resonant power that quietly slips under your skin. Stillson may be the villain, but he's a by-product of a larger cultural framework and history that everyone plays a part in sustaining.
Yet the story presents a fascinating tension between divine power, God, fate, independence, and just old fashioned human intelligence. Johnny Smith's ability could be the work of fate, divine providence, or blind chance and chaos. It's impossible to know, and in some ways beside the point. King easily could have tipped his hand more one way or another on where exactly Johnny's ability resides, but he doesn't. What King is certain of, isn't what strings may or may not be holding the universe together, but that life is damn difficult, too often unfair, full of goodness and evil, and that despite our failings, our achievements can still be enough. It's a hopeful message. An important message.
I'd hoped to finish this book before the end of 2016. But I think finishing on Jan. 1, 2017 is strangely more appropriate for the road ahead, offering much needed comfort after a hard year. I began rereading this book somewhat worried that it might have lost some of its charm, that older me wouldn't find the same magic and power in this story that teenage me did. I didn't need to worry. This book remains one of my favorite King novels. There isn't another in his catalog quite like it, though its influence can be traced through several of his subsequent works. I think it's one of his very best....more
A fine debut collection. All the raw material that Cohen would draw upon throughout his career is present and seeing this early iteration of those theA fine debut collection. All the raw material that Cohen would draw upon throughout his career is present and seeing this early iteration of those themes is special to read. Out of these early poems would come remarkable things. There are some very fine moments in this collection, and others that are just nice and okay. But all of it shows where Cohen was headed. Glad we could follow along through his journey. ...more
Fans of the film should certainly read this. Film and horror people will also benefit from Kermode's contributions. The book largely follows and drawsFans of the film should certainly read this. Film and horror people will also benefit from Kermode's contributions. The book largely follows and draws on the history and creation of the film rather than pushing critical & theoretical examination. This is a fair approach, and the criticism and cultural components Kermode does offer are concise and illuminating--good entry points for those perhaps new to the discussion regarding this important film.
I appreciate how Kermode juggles the challenge of reflecting on Blatty's original novel (which I don't find very impressive), the original theatrical release (astonishing) and the eventual extended version (also quite good, but not essential viewing). The tensions between these different texts are fascinating and Kermode offers some decent thoughts about them all, though I do wish he'd gone a touch further, particularly in his analysis of the extended cut. He seems to mostly side with Blatty and Friedkin's justifications for the re-edit, which I find a bit slouchy, where the more dynamic critical perspective of early chapters acquiesces to the creators more than necessary. But overall I think it's still good stuff, competently rendered.
Admittedly, I would have preferred a bit more cultural criticism (to Friedkin's condescending bemusement, I'm sure). And I never felt like Kermode dealt with the shortcomings of Blatty's deep conviction to a singular meaning (a point that kills the book and hampers the re-edit a bit). The brilliance of the film's original form is in the tensions between its creators. As Kermode states, the movie is "at war with itself" (10), which is absolutely true, and I wish he'd fleshed out that issue more, especially in regards to the re-edit. This internal conflict is what makes Blatty uncomfortable, but it's what I think keeps the movie relevant and resonant with viewers. A dash of additional cultural criticism may have given this just the right balance, offering greater insight into why viewers responded as they did/do. The creators mull over the audience's response, offering Kermode a fine opportunity to shine light on that topic, yet he mostly doesn't; his space is limited.
Where the book excels most is the close readings of the opening sequence in Iraq and Karras' dream. This is where Kermode's attention to cinematic language--through image, sound, and editing--shines brightest. His attention to detail illuminates the density of these sequences and how they relate to the whole narrative and thematic. These two moments, along with his examination of the sequencing of events in the film's first half, are the most compelling arguments against the re-edits, validating Friedkin's early arguments that the message was obvious already and didn't need the redundant additions of Merrin & Karras talking and the closing bit with Kinderman & Dyer. Kermode never quite acknowledges how his own analysis challenges the reinsertion of these moments. It's a minor quibble of mine, not only because I tend to agree with Friedkin's early position and favor the original version, but because this oversight also does Kermode's own critical work (which affirms the film's value and power) a disservice. Such is the way of things sometimes.
Overall, I don't think interested readers will be disappointed in this book. As with the best in the BFI Modern Classics series, Kermode's book delivers a solid reflection on a vital film. It makes good connections, raises fascinating questions, offers quality analysis, and leaves plenty of room for further contribution from others. Nice stuff. ...more
Nope. Not great. Not really close. It hit at the right historical moment, when America was gripped with high socio-political anxiety and a resurgent fNope. Not great. Not really close. It hit at the right historical moment, when America was gripped with high socio-political anxiety and a resurgent fixation on demons and the devil's potential power to corrupt everything the American Dream held sacred. This blockbuster was further aided by Friedkin's brilliant adaptation, which trims and focuses the story, thus giving it more tension and punch. Furthermore, the film benefits from the fascinating merger of a major Hollywood studio looking for a hit, a spiritually skeptical Jewish director, powerful performances from the principle cast (von Sydow can turn the blandest line into performance gold), and finally the devoutly Christian Blatty. It's a blend that works masterfully, but is totally absent in the book, where all we have is Blatty's overly sincere desire to write a thriller that'll scare us into believing in God. It's too on the nose in its objective to really come alive as good storytelling or literature, and too certain in its world view to be terrifying. Blatty has a great subject and occasionally offers some decent prose. But this book really should be shorter. Most of the time the dramatic tension is all but absent, though you can see Blatty trying to create it. Unfortunately, there's no mystery here, despite Blatty constantly trying to show and tell us how elusive and mysterious the whole thing is. The question of possession is never really a question for the reader--the book's called The Exorcist after all--yet instead of the knowledge working as dramatic tension it mostly just makes the characters look dumber than they are, and the constant expository descriptions of medicine and religious & spiritual history hollowly laborious. The characters are also much flatter, with Chris almost obnoxiously hysterical and incapable of doing anything other than making coffee and screaming at people. Dull stuff. Father Merrin becomes so obviously saintlike as to have little dimension at all. And his lines, while some quite good, are perhaps done an unintentional disservice by von Sydow's solid performance. Just reading the lines renders them fairly flat, where von Sydow injects depth, weight and dimension into everything. Kinderman, is here mostly an unnecessary distraction. He's fine but doesn't deliver the narrative and thematic heft to justify the space he takes up on the page. The spiritual questions are there, and they're valid, good questions; but Blatty hasn't the guts to really probe their depths, his spiritual conviction too firm. Thus is The Exorcist basically the Uncle Tom's Cabin of horror. A preachy tract posturing as Important Literature. It collapses under the weight of its own pretense. The slight bits of ambiguity in some ways only expose the narrative and thematic shortcomings of Blatty's vision, as well as reconfirming and validating American paranoia, hysteria and anxiety. I'm sympathetic to Blatty's confining sincerity. I understand his conviction and intent. It's commendable. And many folks relate to this book in a big way. Fair enough. I'm grateful he wrote it because it gave us Friedkin's film, which in its original cut is a tremendous work of complex depth and tension. The performances are stellar, breathing life and dimension into people otherwise very thin on the page. The book is historically significant, illuminating some fascinating facets of 1960s & 70s America. And it's impact on horror lit and film is obviously massive. For these reasons it deserves attention. But a great horror novel? Not for me....more
A fine collection of short stories. More eerie and horror-tinted. Fable-like and fantastic. Bradbury's ability to take our world and twist it into somA fine collection of short stories. More eerie and horror-tinted. Fable-like and fantastic. Bradbury's ability to take our world and twist it into something uncanny, where we've slipped with our characters into some liminal fissure is delightful. You can almost see the smile on Bradbury's face as we travel from one oddity to the next, adulthood and youth collapsing into each other. It's frightening. It's delightful....more
Richly layered poems, deceptively profound, and a further testament to Cohen's brilliant blending of the sacred and profane. Few manage a clearer andRichly layered poems, deceptively profound, and a further testament to Cohen's brilliant blending of the sacred and profane. Few manage a clearer and more resonant portrait of the tension between the mortal and divine, the reverent and vulgar, than Cohen. There are moments of utter brilliance wherein Cohen melds the sacred and secular, the physical and immaterial, into revelatory meditations on the most important things. I loved this very much, and am glad I moved through it slowly, reflecting and rereading. Certainly there are moments when some poems don't resonate or carry the heft of others. This is fine, seeming appropriate to the project. Even the uninspired bits seem to still aid Cohen's desired objective. Keeps us grounded, reminded that genius isn't constant and normal, average works still serve a valuable purpose. Sometimes you gotta just dish a few weak ones on the road to lasting treasures. We're all better for it....more
Haviv is a master. These photos, with the imperfections of age & decay, are one of the examples I've ever seen & read regarding memory. The ghHaviv is a master. These photos, with the imperfections of age & decay, are one of the examples I've ever seen & read regarding memory. The ghosts within these pages, distorted by light leaks, color distortions, corrosion and scratches have been changed. Photos and the history they attempt to preserve are perishable, prone to warping and rot, thus exposing gaps in our history and memory of prior events, loved ones, strangers, traumas. I've never seen a photo book quite like this one and it's just about everything I could ask for. What a powerful testament to history, peoples & cultures, politics, photography, and how inevitably it all goes away....more
This one's for King fans. Casual readers of King probably won't find this too interesting. The poem is okay, nothing amazing, and the illustrations arThis one's for King fans. Casual readers of King probably won't find this too interesting. The poem is okay, nothing amazing, and the illustrations are very moody and cool. It's more a fun curiosity for long-time followers of King, now enhanced by Glenn Chadbourne's artwork. It's fun to see the genesis of Randall Flagg, the Man in Black, who lurks throughout the King mythos, but if you were expecting to learn new details about the Dark Man through this poem, I think you'll be disappointed. But if you're like me, always eagerly willing to hang with the Dark Man a while longer, then this will be a satisfying little treat. ...more
Some decent plots turns, some solid writing, a few cool ideas, and then a lot of just ok stuff. While short and quick, it's too long, too heavy-handedSome decent plots turns, some solid writing, a few cool ideas, and then a lot of just ok stuff. While short and quick, it's too long, too heavy-handed in parts, and moments when Ellison just seemed really pleased with his own turns of phrase, even the just okay ones. So it's fine, but didn't grab me the way the story and ideas might have in different hands....more