…we’ve all experienced it
, whether bumper to bumper
on the roads
, interacting with ass stains
, or railing against
of beachfront development
Here, Stephen King explores the darkest aspect
of this emotion, and strikes a chord that can be felt by anyone who remembers the awkwardness, the insecurity, the anger-inducing turbulence of being a teenager. King taps a mighty strong vein in this one.
Originally entitled Getting It On
, this early effort of the master, while less polished and containing more technical flaws than his later work, is one of his most visceral and striking psychological stories. This is Catcher in the Rye
meets American Psycho
, and it is made all the more eerie by the echoes and reflections of real life high school shootings that this story is sure to conjure in the mind of the reader. PLOT SUMMARY:
A deeply troubled high school senior, Charlie Decker, shoots and kills two teachers and takes his Algebra class hostage. This all happens faster than you can say “Holy Shit, Stephen King wrote this gripping, evocative story while he was in High School…High School…that over-abundantly talented bastard.” This just sets the stage for the real drama to come.
While the police surround the building and make unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with Charlie, the classroom becomes a tense, angry crucible, in which dark secrets and memories of betrayals and painful persecutions are shared by Charlie and his hostages. See Charlie believes that everyone has bad secrets that build up and gnaw at you until you eventually decide to “get it on.”
And all that weirdness isn’t just going on outside. It’s in you too, right now, growing in the dark like magic mushrooms. Call it the Thing in the Cellar. Call it the Blow Lunch Factor. Call it the Loony Tunes File. I think of it as my private dinosaur, huge, slimy, and mindless, stumbling around in the stinking swamp of my subconscious, never finding a tarpit big enough to hold it.
Initially, the confessions of Charlie’s classmates are only partially voluntary. However, as the day goes on, the atmosphere thickens and morphs until a form of group mind takes hold. Suddenly the classroom is a like a dark “after hours” episode of Dr. Phil and the confession begin to come fast and furious…and the rage builds.
For his part, Charlie, through a series of flashback, tells the reader and his classmates, about the events that led to him standing before them a violent, rage-filled double murderer. All of this leads up to an exceptional ending that will stick with you. THOUGHTS:
This is tough stuff, full of raw, unfiltered anger, and descriptions of the kinds of casual ruthlessness that teenagers are subjected to from their parents, their peers and even themselves. Charlie is a “hold nothing back” narrator and his descriptions of events are unvarnished and somewhat bizarre since he is explaining events as he saw them, not necessarily as the actually occurred.
This is a portrait of a troubled child exploding against the injustices, both real and imagined, to which he feels he’s been subjected.
It is also, like all of King’s novels, addictively readable. Despite being one of his first works, King’s natural, effortless storytelling ability is on full display. It’s amazing to me that a high school student could so easily engage readers and keep them turning the pages in need of knowing what happens next.
The man is gifted like few others in that department.
Finally, the ending. If I had one gripe about some
of King’s novels, it’s that his endings are letdowns from the slow, creeping horror of the set up. There’s a sense of letdown and even disappointment. Not so here
. The ending of this story is sublime and, I would argue, its best feature. The last 20 pages are positively haunting and reminded me of a cross between Lord of the Flies
and The Wicker Man
I’m going to leave you with a quote that I think expresses the tone of the story very well, and also provides insight into Charlie’s character. The school psychiatrist, who Charlie hates, is coming to try and “talk him down” and Charlie gives you his thoughts on the man's profession.
A man with a headful of sharp, prying instruments. A mind-fucker, a head-stud. That’s what a shrink is for, my friends and neighbors; their job is to fuck the mentally disturbed and make them pregnant with sanity. It’s a bull’s job, and they go to school to learn how, and all their courses are variations on a theme: Slipping It to the Psychos for Fun and Profit, Mostly Profit. And if you find yourself someday lying on that great analyst’s couch where so many have lain before you, I’d ask you to remember one thing: When you get sanity by stud, the child always looks like the father. And they have a very high suicide rate.
But they get you lonely, and ready to cry, they get you ready to toss it all over if they will just promise to go away for a while. What do we have? What do we really have? Minds like terrified fat men, begging the eyes that look up in the bus terminal or the restaurant and threaten to meet ours to look back down, uninterested. We lie awake and picture ourselves in white hats of varying shapes. There’s no maidenhead too tough to withstand the seasoned dork of modern psychiatry. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe now they would play my game, all those shysters and whores.
4.0 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.