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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2019/06/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , Horror, small town terror, , ,   

    The Outsider: Two Styles of Stephen King in One Book 


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    Stephen King is well into his fourth decade of being so successful—not to mention preternaturally skilled—that he can write pretty much whatever book he wants to and pull it off. For artists, this is known as the “Imperial Phase“—the period of a career during which their powers are at their creative peak.

    You can nitpick over when King entered his own Imperial Phase (I’d put it sometime around the release of The Stand), but matter how you measure it, his seemingly never-ending Imperial Phase is one of the most impressive in literary history. Where some writers would coast along, happy to write the same book again and again, King has used his freedom from commercial concerns to push his boundaries, try different genres, and tell different kinds of stories. While some of these experiments have succeeded more than others, they have made it impossible to classify King in terms of genre—while his name is still synonymous with a certain brand of American Gothic horror, that’s hardly all he can do, and do well.

    King’s more recent work has explore and largely succeed in other genres, especially crime fiction and police procedurals like the Bill Hodges trilogy, which began with Mr. Mercedes, but horror is still in his bones. Perhaps that’s why his most recent novel, 2018’s The Outsider, was so satisfying: it offers a perfect blend of his early horror style and his more recent procedural work.

    King plays a trick on readers who gotten used to the rhythms of his recent procedurals: The Outsider begins with the solving of a crime, seeming of a piece with his recent books. Detective Ralph Anderson of Flint City, Oklahoma, arrives at a Little League game fixing to arrest the beloved coach, Terry Maitland, for the sickening abuse and murder of a child. Anderson makes the arrest in public, and instructs the officers to cuff Maitland’s hands in front of him against protocol, because he’s angry—he liked Terry Maitland, and more importantly, the town trusted him with their children. But despite Maitland’s protests of innocence, the evidence against him is iron-clad.

    King dives into the investigation and work that goes into the building the case against Maitland, and its a pleasure to watch a writer of his skill make what could be an off-brand Law and Order riff into an engrossing look at the nuts and bolts of police work. It’s strong material, and if King had decided to stay in the realm of the crime genre exclusively, The Outsider would still be a great book. But it’s no spoiler to say that he doesn’t; he pulls the rug out from under his detective when Maitland reveals a perfect alibi—he’s been captured on video at a faraway location during the time of the murder. This maddening problem drives the bulk of the narrative—what’s a cop to do if the suspect’s alibi is as airtight as the evidence against him?

    If the first section of the book is in line with the top-notch King crime writing King has been dabbling in for the last half-decade or so, the rest harkens back to the grand horror of his blood-drenched 1980s heyday. As Anderson teams up with investigator Holly Gibney (on loan from the Bill Hodges novels) and begins to dig deeper into Maitland’s crime, the true nature of the evil they’re dealing with begins to take terrifying shape. The results are something akin to a mature take on It, another story about an evil that preys on children and masquerades as something else entirely. The difference this time around—in keeping with the procedural roots of the story—is that the heroes that must take a stand against it are adults, not children.

    Another callback to 1980s King? The book is off-the-charts terrifying. King has always had a knack for creating monsters that feel primal and eternal: always lurking in the shadows right over your shoulder, barely glimpsed and never understood until it’s too late. The malevolent evil at work here is no exception.

    If there’s a thread running through all of King’s books, it’s the straightforward realism he favors as he builds his worlds and characters, and which makes it all the more disturbing when things begin to go supernaturally sideways. He blends pop-culture, brand names, and current politics with ageless class concerns, brewing up tactile fictional universes that feel real enough to touch, even if they are infested with monsters and dark magical forces. It’s a trick he polishes to a high shine in The Outsider. For some writers, incorporating of-the-minute movements like Black Lives Matter or contemporary presidential politics into a story about the small-town concerns of regular people would feel like the author hopping onto his soapbox. For King, it feels like the bones and sinew of the story, as much now as it did when all of his books seemed to be set in middle-class towns in Maine.

    If the buzz over the September release of The Institute is any indication, King’s Imperial Phase shows no signs of ending. Certainly with The Outsider, it seems to have allowed him to coin a new genre. Call it Procedural Horror.

    The Outsider is now available in paperback.

    The post <i>The Outsider</i>: Two Styles of Stephen King in One Book appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2019/05/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , firestarter, Horror, , pet semetery, , suffer the little children, , , the institute, , , the waste lands   

    12 Unforgettable Young Protagonists in Stephen King Books 


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    Any list of the scariest horror stories likely includes at least a few on your list featuring young protagonists. Children and teenagers are well-represented in horror for a few reasons: They represent powerlessness, as most kids lack the freedoms adults enjoy, making them especially vulnerable to supernatural terror, and not especially well-equipped to deal with it. Kids themselves can be a little spooky to adults who have lost their connection to that imagination-fueled, morally simple time in their lives. And kids generally embody innocence, making them ideal prey for the monsters under their beds. For teenagers, on the other hand, the parallels between the loss of that childlike innocence and exposure to the often troubling realities of adulthood make for potent fuel for storytelling.

    No one knows all of this better than Stephen King, the master of modern horror. If you compile a list of his best-loved novels, a large proportion of them will feature kids as primary protagonists. Below, find 12 young King lead characters for whom “suffer the little children” isn’t just an old saying.

    Luke Ellis in The Institute
    Luke is a special kid, with special abilities. One night his parents are brutally murdered during an apparent home invasion that turns out to be something more. Luke is kidnapped by the killers and forced into the titular Institute, where Luke and other children are overseen by a sinister staff led by Mrs. Sigsby, who hopes to extract their powers, which range from telekinesis to telepathy. Luke soon discovers that eventually all the kids in the Institute graduate to the “Back Half,” from which point they are never seen again. In announcing this novel earlier this year, King specifically invoked past favorites like Firestarter and It (prompting me to imagine what would have happened if pyromancer Charlie had the benefit of a Loser’s Club of her own, one full of similarly superpowered kids). Dark powers forcing a vulnerable, orphaned child with powers beyond understanding to grow up too soon? This one covers all the “young horror protagonist” bases.

    Carrie White in Carrie
    Carrie’s not just a kid—she’s actually very obviously a sheltered one, her development stunted by her mother’s fanaticism and cruelty. King’s debut novel can be seen as a metaphor for adolescence and the loss of innocence, as Carrie’s abilities are directly connected to her physical maturation and sexual awakening. King has said he intended to write a feminist story, and that still scans, despite some dated elements. Certainly Carrie’s rage after seeing her life turn into a series of one humiliation after another will resonate with girls raised in an era of cyber bullying and social media, as she is shamed and deprecated for her power at every turn. In some ways, Carrie is the ultimate young King protagonist, stepping cautiously into the adult world and being revolted and disappointed by what she finds. She is a tragic hero—but a hero nonetheless.

    Danny Torrance in The Shining
    Danny Torrance is a victim of child abuse, and the lingering trauma from his father’s violent acts infect the whole story. Danny also suffers because of his “shine,” the mental powers he exhibits, which expose him to a darkness no young kid should have to face. No sooner has the Torrance family’s snowbound isolation in the remote, otherwise empty Overlook Hotel begun than does Jack Torrance’s mental breakdown and recruitment by supernatural forces into murderous rampage begin. And all of it is really just illustrating the subtext of Danny’s life, which is marked by post-traumatic stress disorder (he copes with the help of an invisible friend Tony who lives in his mouth) and sheer terror, made text. It’s remarkable how much of a kid Danny remains despite his suffering, including the way he clings to the idea that his father still loves him. That’s part of the psychological richness of the book, as is the masterful way King brings Danny’s terrifying experiences to visceral life.

    Gage Creed in Pet Sematary
    Gage is just three years old when he’s hit by a truck and killed. A sweet, loving little boy, his death is a powerful moment in the novel, despite coming so early in the story. The sweetness King establishes in him before that point magnifies the horror when Gage is brought back by the animating force of the Sematary but it no longer Gage at all. Interpretations of the character usually focus on imagining the horror of your own child returning from the dead not-quite-right, but there’s so much going on psychologically in this novel—from the fear of your children changing into people you don’t recognize, to the way we can be blind to problems when it comes to our loved ones (even when they’ve turned into murderous, undead demons). King’s weaponization of hope and love is almost cruel, and makes this one of his most terrifying books.

    The Losers Club in It
    King returns to childhood over and over again, exploring is the idea that all kids are tormented or damaged in some way large or small. (In his novel’s, the torments are usually… not small.) It’s inevitable: life isn’t safe, and the moment we can start making our own decisions, we’re in danger (of course, the real horror comes in the realization that we are always in danger). That understanding informs all of King’s work, but never more effectively than as embodied by the Loser’s Club. All the kids in this gangly gathering of like-aged friends is struggling with a different sort of damage, but together, they find the strength to not only survive their own traumas but to resist an immense evil terrorizing their home town (which, not coincidentally, preys on children, using their innocent imaginations as a weapon against them).

    Jack Sawyer in The Talisman
    Jack, the hero of King’s foray into portal fantasy, co-written with fellow ’80s horror master Peter Straub, faces truly nightmarish circumstances in his quest to save his dying mother, but remains a stalwart hero throughout, battling epic forces of evil as her travels through the otherworldly alternate world known as the Territories. Jack is introduced as an independent, intelligent, and cynical 12 year-old, older that his years thanks to his mother’s illness. But his fierce dedication to her, and his lack of hesitation when it comes to risking his life to track down the mystical Talisman that might cure her, demonstrate the best aspects of childhood—loyalty, innocence,  a stubborn persistence of hope, and an unflagging ability to adapt (even to the realization that you’ve traveled to a parallel universe).

    Jake Chambers in The Waste Lands
    It’s not a spoiler to say Jake Chambers dies more than once before the end of Stephen King’s epic, seven-volume Dark Tower series. The first time he’s pushed in front of a car in New York City and wakes up in another world—that of Roland Deschain, Mid-World’s last gunslinger. In short order, Roland chooses his obsession with the Man in Black over saving Jake’s life, and is haunted by the decision. Later, a bit of time travel magic gives him a chance to undo Jake’s first death, but the decision has disastrous consequences for them both. In the third novel of the series, The Waste Lands, Jake becomes a second lead of sorts, spending the first portion of the book trying to make sense of his fractured memories and find his way back to Roland’s world. As he grows and matures across the remainder of Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower, Jake becomes one of King’s most well-rounded young creations—sensitive and smart, funny and faithful, and very good in a fight.

    Ray Garraty in The Long Walk
    King was just a kid himself—only 18—when he wrote this novel (though it wasn’t published until years later, under his onetime pseudonym Richard Bachman), so it’s not hard to imagine 16 year-old Ray as a stand-in for King himself, placed within a story that tests him to his very limits. Every year in its dystopian alternate America, 100 teenage boys are selected via lottery to simply start walking, and continue doing so until only one of them is left alive. Considering the time in which it was first written, it seems a clear allegory for thefates of all those boys who went off to die in the Vietnam War—the draft making it a real world example of a death lottery for the young. Ray is a very normal kid, but King skillfully positions him as a bit of an outsider—he’s not athletic, and his passions include dancing and cooking. Ray’s motivations for winning are prosaic and universal: the prize is basically anything he wants (including not dying, I suppose), but his true goals are left open to interpretation.

    Arnie Cunningham in Christine
    King skillfully builds this surprisingly down-to-earth killer car story around a villainous protagonist. Arnie Cunningham is 17 and a stereotypical nerd when the story begins.He has just one true friend and nothing but a life of bullying and misery to look forward to every day. When he acquires a 1958 Plymouth Fury from a creepy old man, he begins to be possessed by a malevolent spirit that unleashes his inner demons, leading to vehicular mayhem. King transposes the sort of adolescent play-acting kids go through when they’re trying to figure out how to adult, transforming it into full-blown horror. Arnie slowly evolves into a cartoonish caricature of what a teenager thinks being a grown man is supposed to look like, all surly cynicism and superficial cool. The story likely hits home for any parent who goes to bed one night with a sensitive, caring kid in the other room and wakes up the next morning to a monosyllabic, sex-obsessed monster. King also injects a careful optimism into the book as, amid terrible events, Arnie actively struggles to remember who he really is.

    Marty Coslaw in The Cycle of the Werewolf
    Marty is ten years old and a paraplegic—a double-down on the perceived vulnerability of a child. Marty is attacked by a werewolf and manages to survive, only to find that no one—not one adult—believes him. It’s left to him to investigate, identify, and oppose the creature. The idea that children are receptive to concepts that adults are closed off to is a pretty classic trope, and King twists it by making them party to insights more horrifying than magical:  Marty isn’t living in a world of pure imagination that gives him special perspective and powers, he’s struggling to survive against a predator. In the end, it is brains and determination that win the day, not physical prowess—showing kids can sometimes be the strongest among us.

    Trisha McFarland in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
    While the horror bonafides of this short, strange novel can be argued, King leaves the door cracked open just enough to allow you to believe all the supernaturally tinged weirdness Trisha McFarland experiences after she becomes lost in the woods really happens, and can’t be chalked up to a hallucination brought on by exposure, hunger, and dehydration. King plays with very straightforward young protagonist tropes—as she searches for a way home, Trisha is both completely vulnerable and extremely resourceful, forced to deal with her own fears (both literal and metaphorical) without any help from parents, friends, or even society (but a little help from a vision of her hero, a baseball player for the Boston Red Sox). Childhood can be dark and full of terrors, and King makes the struggle to get through it visceral by placing Trisha all alone in the middle of nature. The fact that her inner strength—coupled with the emotional scars inflicted upon her by a tumultuous home life—is what enables her to survive her ordeal is a celebration of the resiliency of children.

    Charlie McGee in Firestarter
    Mentioned above, the telekinetic Charlie is in many ways a typical eight-year-old girl, although we never get to see her living a normal life. Her mental abilities, which manifest mainly as the ability to non-spoiler alert, start fires, are as awesome as they are deadly, but she actually only uses them purposefully to hurt someone once in the story, and only then when her father’s life is threatened. Otherwise, she’s a pretty cheerful and friendly kid whose abilities only slip out of her control unintentionally, causing damage. Just like any other kid that age, Charlie struggles with emotional control and proper social behavior—only her tantrums result in things near her being burned to a cinder. An interesting element in narrative is the fact that she inherits her powers from her parents, who gained their own abilities through a drug experiment, a bit of mad science that underscores a primal fear experienced by many parents: not only are they incapable of protecting them from the evil in the world, they may have also doomed their offspring to suffer their same mistakes.

    Who’s your favorite young protagonist in a horror novel?

    The post 12 Unforgettable Young Protagonists in Stephen King Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/10/08 Permalink
    Tags: alice isn't dead, ghostest with the mostest, Horror, ,   

    21 Books That Offer a Crash-Course in Horror 


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    Horror is an institution; scaring ourselves has become an accepted form of entertainment, so refined that the sub-genres have sub-genres. If you’ve never been much of a horror fan but want to get into the spirit of the season by taking a deep dive into the genre, you can either randomly select a few titles and roll the bones, or you could concentrate on the 20 books listed here, which, taken together, will walk you through a crash course of the literary horror world—note, this isn’t comprehensive or even close to complete, but will give you an idea of how the genre’s evolved.

    A Little History

    Some folks will argue horror existed as far back as Homer and other ancient writers, and even pops up in the bible. This argument seems to rest entirely on the fact that witches and scary things exist in those works, but that’s not really horror; there’s a necessary facet of emotional terror that the work has to at least intend to inspire that is lacking. Thus, we begin with the earliest works that are arguably recognizable as horror as we understand it today.

    The Castle of Oranto, by Horace Walpole, 1764
    Modern readers might not find this to be particularly scary, as the supernatural elements are underplayed compared to modern tastes. But every aspect of Gothic horror stems directly from this book, from the curse on the noble family to the twisted plot filled with unsavory implications to the secret passages and creepy evidence of ghosts throughout. It more or less established the seeds of the horror genre all by itself.

    The Monk, by Matthew Lewis, 1797
    Filled with lust, violence, ghosts, and truly terrifying supernatural happenings, The Monk is another Gothic story that brought much of the terror found in earlier examples to the forefront. Although ultimately a morality tale in which the wicked are punished, part of the horror is that the sins they’re punished for are sins most people are guilty of at one time or another, and there is no hint of any kind of salvation.

    Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, 1818
    Perhaps the most famous horror novel of all time, Shelley’s work of genius is one of the first to eschew supernatural elements entirely for science fiction tropes. It’s also become so iconic within and without the horror world that even people who haven’t read the book think they know the plot. The novel draws its energy from the fundamentals of human nature itself—the quest for knowledge, the dawning terror of realizing you’ve set something in motion you can’t control, and the horror of being rejected entirely by society. That last bit is important, because although Frankenstein’s monster is, you know, a monster, it’s not really the villain of the story.

    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by
    As it’s wont to do, America took the developing tropes of horror fiction and ran with them,  transforming the genre into the visceral form we’re used to today. This process took a very long time, but it began in the early 19th century with works like this one—familiar to everyone, yet genuinely terrifying, if you think about it. While your enjoyment of the story is richer if you know a bit about the time period, the central image of the Headless Horseman is still 100 Percent Do Not Want in the modern age, and the structure set out some of the basic outlines that horror still follows today.

    The Fall o f the House of Usher, et al,, by Edgar Allen Poe, 1839
    Just about everything Poe wrote, from detective fiction to love poems, was terrifying, and many of his stories remain iconic works of horror, from the insane point-of-view work in The Tell-Tale Heart to the slow-burn horror of The Cask of Amontillado. The Fall of the House of Usher is representative of the smothering doom Poe infused into his work, built on a concept that seems modern even today—that of the house or structure that’s not merely haunted but can actually hurt you. Poe was one of the first horror writers to plant the idea that inanimate objects might want to hurt us.

    Pre-Modern

    Horror began to evolve into a distinct genre of fiction, with its own tropes and conventions, in the late 19th century, but by modern standards, the level of output was pretty thin. Still, some of the most famous works of horror ever were published in this period—foundational texts that served to define what, exactly, a horror story was supposed to be.

    The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886
    Another tale so familiar that it’s almost a given, meaning it’s easy to forget just how disturbing the story really is—or how primal. The idea of being able to give in to your worst impulses without anyone knowing is intriguing in many circumstances, and the danger of losing control of your inner demons is at the heart of many horror stories—but none as iconic as this one. Stevenson’s tale of science gone wrong began to move horror away from formless evils and external forces and towards the intimate and the personal.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, 1890
    It doesn’t get much more intimate and personal than this, a story in which a man offloads his sins onto a supernatural portrait, allowing him to remain young and handsome while his portrait becomes increasingly gruesome, reflecting his true self. Wilde’s brilliant twist, which finds Gray’s attempts to reverse the desecration of the painting, resulting in even worse consequences—because his motives were selfish, poisoning his attempt at reform—ensured this one would remain influential long after its publication.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker, 1897
    Another iconic story centered on human frailty—the irresistible lure of decadent pleasures. Stoker was once described as simultaneously “a prude and a pornographer,” seeking to explore the dangerous lust of woman in the Victorian Age while still seeing them punished for it. His story of a monster and the men who come together to oppose its desires ushered in a new age of horror, although it wasn’t really appreciated until it became a smash hit as a Broadway play—and until Stoker’s estate sued the filmmakers responsible for Nosferatu, a pretty blatant example of infringement.

    The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
    James’ methodical story of psychological horror was one of the earliest to tease the reader with unreliable narrators, leaving it up to you to decide whether there really were any ghosts at all. That this foreknowledge doesn’t change the impact of the story is a tribute to James’ skill. Its influence can be seen today in just about any book that involves a creepy old house and a serious air psychological tension that seems to continue to tighten even after the story’s over.

    20th Century

    Often pinned to the horrors of modern war, especially World War I, and the rise of pulp fiction, horror really came into its own as a distinct genre of fiction in the early 20th century, and went through several waves and reinventions over the course of subsequent decades.

    The Purple Cloud, by M.P. Shiel, 1901
    This apocalyptic story about a man who goes on an expedition to the North Pole and witnesses the destruction of mankind by a mysterious, poisonous purple cloud, holds nothing back, diving pretty deep into the weird—especially for a book published in 1901. It’s influence on future horror writers outstrips its actual entertainment value—things get a little hard to take in the later pages—but if you want to see where H.P. Lovecraft got his inspiration, you have to read Shiel.

    The Jules de Grandin Stories, by Seabury Quinn, 1925
    The rise of pulp magazines in the 20th century meant there was a sudden demand for stories in the speculative genres—lots of them, in a steady supply. Characters like Jules de Grandin, a sort of Sherlock Holmes-meets-Scooby Doo character who investigated crimes involving ghosts, monsters, and magic—most of which turned out to center on regular, if depraved, people—served to make horror tropes familiar and acceptable to a mass audience. While these stories are great fun, they’re not particularly scary to the modern reader—but they served to create a hunger for the more intense material coming down the pike.

    At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1936
    Lovecraft’s real life and racist beliefs aside, he occupies a fascinating place in horror, in that his ideas are widely enjoyed by people who have likely never read his work. Lovecraft’s actual writing is hit-or-miss, often veering into outright muddled—but when he focused, as he did in his famous novel At the Mountains of Madness, he was terrifying. By establishing the Cthulu Mythos, Lovecraft created a mythic foundation for horror that still being mined today.

    Psycho, by Robert Bloch, 1959
    It might seem hard to believe, but Psycho was transformative to the horror genre, in that there are zero supernatural elements in it. The horror is drawn entirely from one man’s break from reality—the character was even based on real-life serial killers. This is the book that boiled horror down to its essential motives—to scare and disturb—and made people realize that you didn’t need creaky old mansions or fictional monsters to scare the yips out of yourself.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin, 1967
    As the 20th century moved on, horror became more realistic and increasingly based in modern times, finding terror in society itself. Levin intended this story to be a critique of religion and belief systems in general, but its true horror lies in the fact that Rosemary is victimized by her neighbors and even, to an extent, her husband—society itself has lied to her, gaslighted her, and assaulted her. If you can’t trust your neighbors,who can you trust?

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson, 1971
    Matheson wrote some of the most influential books in the horror genre, including his more famous I Am Legend. Hell House marked a synthesis between the supernatural horror of tradition and the more modern psychological horror. The titular house is a powerful, inexplicable force, but its power is wielded by using people’s secrets and weaknesses against them, establishing a theme that continues to be used today.

    Carrie, by Stephen King, 1974
    Stephen King is often credited with the creation of horror as a marketing category unto itself, and he certainly single-handed led a surge of interest in horror fiction—and remains the most famous horror writer of all time. While many of the writers that preceded him were excellent, King also brought a sheen of literary quality to the genre, using the tricks and tropes of non-genre writing to craft deeply-imagined characters with individual motivations that lay outside the horrifying events. From the jump, King’s stories blended old-school supernatural elements, sci-fi concepts, and characters with weaknesses, and add a layer of complexity and artistry that elevated the entire genre.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell, 1979
    Campbell’s lauded work is both heavily influenced by Lovecraft and essentially weirder. That weirdness has been taken to new levels by subsequent horror writers, eventually spurring the bizarro movement—horror that goes way off the deep end. In Campbell’s work, that weirdness is still subtle and controlled; this book, told through the eyes of a disturbed man, offers a view of reality that gets under your skin and frightens you on a nearly subliminal basis.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite, 1997
    As the 20th century ticked by, horror grew increasingly nihilistic, suffering in some ways from a problem science fiction also faced: reality was catching up. It’s hard to be scared of something in a book when the nightly news has regular reports of atrocities, so horror made its way to the edge, offering gruesome characters and eccentric premises—like Brite’s story of two serial killers who meet cute and decide to team up for what can only be described as an orgy of kink and killing.

    Right Now

    Horror as a marketing category went through some lean times as the 20th century closed; while it thrived on movie screens, in print, it all but disappeared, as many publishers failed or closed up their imprints and what books were published were absorbed into other genres. But horror didn’t die, it simply evolved; today it thrives in print with a literary facade and on the internet in the form of creepypastas and memes that have moved into more formal stories.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach, 2012
    If you’ve never heard the term “creepypasta,” you will soon enough; it’s slowly becoming a legit source for horror stories—the Slender Man film and SyFy’s Channel Zero are just two examples of creepypasta-inspired fare. Creepypastas are essentially horror memes—short stories and images that intend to unsettle and terrify, often linked together by disparate communities to form deep back stories. Auerbach’s Penpal began life as one such creepypasta, and it evolved into a novel that has the neutral, deadened tone of the best examples of the format.

    The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, by Laird Barron, 2013
    Barron may represent the future of horror; he combines a literary flare with long, complex sentences, and lush descriptive passages with a fusion of genres; his most successful stories mashups of noir, crime, horror, and fantasy. Because why can’t everything be terrifying? Consider the first season of HBO’s True Detective: a crime thriller that was flat-out a horror story for a few episodes before resolving into a crime story again. Who’s to say what’s horror and what’s not?

    Alice Isn’t Dead, by Joseph Fink, 2018
    Alice isn’t dead is based on a successful podcast also written by Fink (one of the co-creators of Welcome to Night Vale). The podcast, about a truck driver’s lonely roadtrip across the US in search of her missing wife, is making its case as the format of the future in general, though it works remarkably well as a standalone novel. Aside from being an example of how cutting-edge horror is being made these days, it’s also a scary piece of work, infusing old-school story elements (unstoppable monsters) with a modern sensibility and sense of cultural malaise.

    What horror books do you regard as foundational?

    The post 21 Books That Offer a Crash-Course in Horror appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Sam Reader 6:00 pm on 2018/05/09 Permalink
    Tags: different seasons, everything's eventual, , full dark no stars, Horror, i know what you need, just after sunset, , nightmares and dreamscapes, , skeleton crew, ,   

    A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Short Story Collection 


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    On May 22, Stephen King’s hotly anticipated new thriller The Outsider arrives to scare the pants off of us again. To keep ourselves busy while we wait, we’ve already ranked every one of the Master of Horror”s novels—but for the purposes of comparing apples to apples (presumably, apples with razorblades hidden inside them), our exhaustive list did not include King’s numerous short story collections. As King is one of America’s best and foremost short story writers, this is a matter that bears rectifying—after all, there are more than 100 stories spread across his 10 collections, and that’s a considerable body of work. Here, submitted for your approval, are the short story collections of Stephen King, ranked.

    Just After Sunset
    There’s nothing particularly wrong with Just After Sunset—it even includes one of King’s most ambitious publishing experiments in “N.,” a story first released as an online motion comic serial. At the same time, there’s nothing that stands out. The stories are consistently strong, but the concepts within them are ones he has either explored fully before, or improved upon in later works. In rereading the King collections for this article, I was surprised at how many of these stories I didn’t remember encountering before. And while “forgettable” isn’t necessarily a deadly sin, considering how memorable so many of King’s stories are, Just After Sunset must logically place low on this ranking, all things (and Kings) being relative.

    Four Past Midnight
    A collection of four novellas ranging from cosmic horror, to psychological horror, to dark fantasy, Four Past Midnight is, taken as a whole, distinct and interesting, but never truly cohesive. While all four novellas go some interesting places, none stand alone as singular works. Whether they take too long to build, telegraph their twists, or feel like a prologue to a later work, all four stories are memorable but not superlative. It’s a shame, because when these tales finally do get moving, they deliver on great concepts (particularly “The Library Policeman”), but they might have worked better trimmed to the length of short stories.

    Hearts in Atlantis
    It may seem like I’m being hard on King’s novella collections, but oh, is Hearts in Atlantis an uneven reading experience. The first novella, “Low Men in Yellow Coats” (later turned into a movie that shares the name of the collection but has nothing to do with the titular story) is incredibly powerful, mining a great deal of emotion and depth out of a story of a young boy’s unusual relationship with his mother’s new lodger, who turns out to be crucial to the fate of all existence. The story works even if you haven’t read King’s Dark Tower novels, to which it serves as a rather essential sort of footnote. It offers an excellent mix of nostalgia, paranoia, and fantasy, and offer a realistic look into the minds of its young protagonist. But after that, the ostensibly linked stories that fill out the collection grow increasingly disjointed, and are all over the place in terms of tone and setting—though the title tale, about a group of college friends who become obsessed with playing cards during a summer of political upheaval, is essential reading.

    The Bazaar of Bad Dreams 
    The most recent entry on the list, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a solid collection that hangs together on a general theme of mortality and morality, with stories including a seductive avatar of death, an execution in a small western town, and “Obits,” the Hugo-nominated tale of a journalist with the strange power to cause deaths based on the obituaries he writes. It’s one of the high points of King’s recent work, and hangs together a little better, both thematically and tonally, than some of the collections on this list. And yet, taken together, these stories aren’t quite as evocative or powerful as the books below—perhaps its damning him for maturing as a writer, but this one has none of the twisted pulp of Night Shift, or the unnerving gloom of Skeleton Crew, or the colorful weirdness of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It’s solid.

    Different Seasons
    Another collection of four novellas, this one based thematically around “seasons.” It was King’s attempt to try something in defiance of his 1980s-era reputation as a horror writer (though “The Breathing Method” and “Apt Pupil” might still qualify as such). As an experiment, it worked incredibly well, proving King didn’t need supernatural twists or pulp excess to grab readers and keep them. All four of these stories are excellent, though some elements of each do come across as excessive, unsubtle, or slightly out of place (“Apt Pupil” is a notable example; it’s a novella about the banality of evil, but the protagonist starts off by cheerfully rattling off concentration camp statistics and quickly graduates to serial-murdering hoboes). Also, by this point, most will have already come across Different Seasons through the film adaptations (only “The Breathing Method” has not been made for the screen), skewing perceptions of the originals. While the printed and filmed versions are two entirely different animals, it’s difficult to look at one without seeing glimpses of the other; thus while the stories are very good, they’ve lost some of their sheen.

    Nightmares and Dreamscapes
    The most appropriate adjective to describe Nightmares and Dreamscapes is “kaleidoscopic.” It has its good moments, it has its bad moments, but the latter definitely doesn’t outweigh the former, and it’s a volume filled to bursting with all of King’s considerable talents and quirks and particular obsessions—pastiches of authors he enjoys, stories transmuted into teleplays, and, in general, ideas spanning multiple genres and styles. It’s a bizarre funhouse of stories, bouncing from tone to tone and genre to genre with abandon, from a tale of killer joke teeth, to a story about the dark secret behind a bestselling author’s success. Even the weaker entries are just interesting, and worth at least one read. The constant juggling of tone and format can get exhausting, and fictional sprawl isn’t always a good thing, especially on a reread, putting this one lower in the rankings—but we’re already well into “must read” territory at this point.

    Full Dark, No Stars
    Four novellas centered around the concept of revenge, Full Dark No Stars is a series of slow-burning, dark tales, each building tension in its own way until something finally snaps and it all goes spiraling out of control. It’s clear from  the very beginning of each story that something is going to go wrong, it’s just a question of what and when—and how it will all play out in the end (hint: not all that well for most characters). There’s not much to pick at here; it’s just an excessively rough read, even for King—not because of gore or violence, but because each story works overtime to live up to the collection’s name, from the unrelentingly grim “1922,” about a man who conspires to kill his wife with the help of their son; to “Fair Extension,” a sort of social satire in which a man essentially destroys his friend’s life through a deal with the devil, and which is either a dark comedy or a horror novel from the perspective of the monsters, depending on your point of view. Either way, the unrelenting bleakness makes it something of a “sometimes” book.

    Everything’s Eventual
    Everything’s Eventual probably doesn’t feature many stories King’s fans would call favorites, but oh man, is it evocative. Beyond its best-known story, the nightmarish ride “1408” that pits one man against a hotel room in a battle for his life, King paints on indelible image and moment after another. These stories provoke reactions, offer odd glimpses into the real world. They stick with you. (In full disclosure, I have been known to writes lines from the stark, ambiguous “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” about a suicidal traveling salesman who collects bathroom graffiti, on bathroom stalls all over the country). It is, by all measures, a good collection. Possibly even a very good one. But that its power is found in moments more often than in whole stories, it doesn’t break into the top of the list.

    Night Shift
    To be blunt, King’s first collection, published in 1978, is pure nightmare fuel. Its blend of gothic horror, pulp, suburban fiction, EC Comics-level grotesquerie, modern horror, and genuine compassion for its characters is something many have tried to replicate, but few have managed quite so successfully. While this one might be known for its more gruesome offerings (the post-apocalyptic “Night Surf,” which opens in the wake of a global pandemic; “The Mangler,” which somehow manages to make a demon-possessed laundry press into a terrifying menace, despite how ridiculous that idea is), it also contains the wrenching “Last Rung on the Ladder,” about a man who can’t forgive himself for his sister’s suicide; and the darkly hilarious “Quitters, Inc.” a far more effective smoking deterrent than any Surgeon Generals’ warning. It’s a remarkably consistent collection from front to back, even if the stories are a bit raw, and lacking the polish that would characterize the author’s later work.

    Skeleton Crew
    If there is one book I would recommend to any Stephen King neophyte, it’s this one. While no story collection is flawless (not even one of Stephen King’s), it’s more unified in tone, and contains more heavy hitters, than any other horror collection I can name, and it handles both the gothic pulp and gore a steadier hand than Night Shift (Skeleton Crew hails from a bit later in King’s career—1985). It builds dread and atmosphere like nothing else. These are stories that linger, just at the corner of your eye—images like the thrashing tentacle from “The Mist,” about monsters invading the mundane world of a grocery store and exposing the madness just below the surface of the everyday; the final, haunting line of “The Jaunt,” both a cosmic joke and one of fiction’s darkest examples of curiosity killing the cat. It’s the best display of the breadth of King’s talent, without the macabre palette of Night Shift or the referential sprawl of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It’s every bit as evocative as Everything’s Eventual. It’s a tightly curated slab of darkness that invites readers into its parlor and bites them unawares, its venom turning them into lifelong addicts.Even better, it’s eminently accessible, allowing those who haven’t experienced King’s work to take their first steps with him into the dark.

    How does your King collections ranking compare? Don’t forget to also check out our ranking of King’s novels, as well as our list of authors who might one day inherit his throne.

    The Outsider will be published May 22.

    The post A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Short Story Collection appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2018/01/12 Permalink
    Tags: bag of bones, black house, , , cell, christine, cujo, cycle of the werewolf, delores claiborne, desperation, dreamcatcher, duma key, , , , from a buick 8, gerald's game, Horror, , joyride, lisey's story, mr. murder, needful things, rage, , , rose madder, , , stephen king books, stephen king books ranked, , , the dark half, , , , the regulators, the running man, , , , the tommyknockers, under the dome   

    A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Novel Ever 


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    Stephen King is a literary icon, a status he’s achieved by a) defining a genre; b) writing brilliantly; and c) being prolific. In other words, not only has Stephen King written some genius novels (and short stories, novellas, essays, and works of criticism), but he’s written a lot of them—49 novels to date, in fact, with number 50 coming up shortly.

    Note, however, the use of the word “some” up there. While we’d argue that King has never written a bad novel, there’s certainly a spread. We don’t just read the books so you don’t have to, we also rank them so you don’t have to. Without further ado, here’s how we see the novels of Stephen King—from absolute genius to, well, not so genius.

    To Be Determined: The Outsider

    King’s newest novel is due out in May, 2018. What do we know? We know it involves the brutal murder of a small boy, and that a mountain of physical evidence pointing to a beloved schoolteacher and family man as the killer. King loves stories about exploring the dark side of a person, but we’ll have to wait and see what he does with the plot this time around. After all, it’s never as simple as that.

    49. The Tommyknockers

    King has been open about his past drug abuse and other issues, and admits he wrote this book while high as a kite. It shows. Oh lord, does it show. Somewhere under the heart-pounding, jittery self-loathing, there’s a fascinating germ of an idea—alien artifacts (including an entire spaceship) are compulsively unearthed by folks in a small town, with disastrous results—but the only term that really fits the final product is “hot mess.” Though an immanently readable hot mess.

    48. Rage

    There’s a term for a writer’s early work: juvenilia. This novel was King’s first, and was later published under the Bachman pseudonym. The story of a teenager who murders two teachers and takes a classroom of students hostage, it’s quite simply not very good in comparison to what followed, filled with the sort of overheated writing that young authors often engage in while thinking they’re being provocative. After a rash of shootings at schools, King pulled this book from distribution, and it’s hard to find these days—and not worth chasing down, save out of curiosity or super-fandom.

    47. Rose Madder

    This messy novel reads like two separate stories merged together uncomfortably. In one, you have a realistic and brutal tale of an abused woman. In the other, there’s a magic painting that serves as a portal to another world. Even after the abused woman steps into said painting to flee her attacker, they never stop feeling like two separate stories.

    46. Cell

    We won’t say King phoned this one in (because that would be a bad pun), but it does almost read as a parody of his vintage work. From the flimsy premise—a mysterious pulse turns anyone caught speaking on a cell phone into a hungry, aggressive zombie—to the stiff dialogue, there’s not much to recommend here beyond some admittedly visceral thrills and the veiled references to The Dark Tower.

    45. The Regulators

    The mirror novel to Desperation is entertaining and has some moments of fantastic, chilling horror, but the premise (an autistic boy, assisted by the same evil entity that orchestrates the horrors of Desperation, gains the ability to alter reality in his neighborhood) wears thin by the end. What’s more, without the interesting parallels to its sister novel, The Regulators is much less interesting still.

    44. Dreamcatcher

    King wrote this alien invasion story shortly after he survived his famous accident, and it reads like a journal kept by a man in immense pain (and on a lot of painkillers). It’s the sort of body horror that can be—and frequently is— effectively creepy, but the verisimilitude actually goes too far, until you feel like you’re reading King’s private pain journal. On top of that, the self-consciously gross and hilariously-named monsters (literally called “sh*t-weasels”) come off as silly rather than scary. The less said about the ill-advised film adaptation, the better.

    43. Bag of Bones

    This isn’t a bad novel—in fact, it’s pretty darn good. If another writer had published it, we’d look on it more fondly. But since it was written by King, you can’t help but notice that it’s in just about every way a retread of themes, motifs, and tics he’s explored before—and usually better. A good novel? Yep. A mediocre Stephen King novel? Double yep.

    42. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

    This is the story of a girl who gets lost in the woods with nothing but her portable radio, tuned to the Red Sox game. That’s it. As exposure and dehydration worsen her physically, she hallucinates a pretty horrific scenario, leading to a battle with the God of the Lost in which the terrifying creatures and events mirror the reality of her struggle to survive. It’s a slight story that now also suffers from being a bit dated—after all, Tom Gordon isn’t exactly a household name any more.

    41. From A Buick 8

    Use a high concept (a 1953 Buick Roadmaster abandoned at a gas station is not, in fact, a 1953 Buick Roadmaster, but some kind of doorway to another dimension that occasionally disgorges bizarre alien items or creatures) to tell a series of stories about it in a campfire/ghost story structure, and the result should be something great. While the individual stories are interesting, and the overall concept creepy, the lack of a definitive ending to it all undercuts the success of the novel.

    40. Joyland

    Another story as flimsy as it is pleasant, Joyland is basically a toothless coming-of-age narrative with just a hint of a mystery. It’s an enjoyable read, but doesn’t really stick with you, good or bad. It just is.

    39. Cujo

    Cujo has some great ideas, but is among the weakest of King’s earlier novels. While it sports his usual skill at depicting characters and setting, ultimately it’s a story trying to wring horror and tension from a rabid dog; while it’s well worth reading, it never quite leaps off the page the way some of King’s more successful books have.

    38. Blaze

    Blaze is a tough one to rank. It’s well-written and often engaging, but ultimately, the story of a brain-damaged con artist who kidnaps a wealthy man’s baby for ransom then bonds with the child is kind of weightless. There’s nothing “wrong” with it, it’s just a story you forget almost immediately, which is something you can’t usually say about King’s work.

    37. Dolores Claiborne

    Your mileage will vary on this one. Some fans rank it much higher. Told as a long, rambling monologue by the title character, it’s impressive that King can maintain such a unique voice for so many pages, but rock-solid technique aside, the story—while not uninteresting—is slow as molasses. Some readers thrill to the immersive experience and the slow-burn mystery, but others find it hard rowing.

    36. Doctor Sleep

    To say there was some excitement among King fans when a sequel to The Shining was announced would be an understatement. The book is actually less a sequel and more an update on the character of Danny Torrance—which is fine. Danny is more interesting as a supernaturally gifted adult than he was as a kid, but the antagonists are, in a word, weak. You might read “spiritual vampires” and think otherwise. You would be wrong.

    35. Finders Keepers

    The middle novel of King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a pretty good procedural yarn that ties into the first novel in interesting ways, but then sets up the third book in a clunky, heavy-handed fashion. Te reason it’s not a few ticks higher on this list is mostly because King engages in some rare lazy plot work, making a few things happen simply because he needs them to in order for the plot to hang together. King almost never cheats, so it really hurts this one.

    34. Duma Key

    The story of an artist who loses an arm and gains the ability to affect events through his paintings, there is much to love in this lush and often frightening novel. But it’s also rambling and a bit overlong. A tighter edit would push it up this ranking.

    33. The Colorado Kid

    When you’ve written as much as King, experiments are inevitable and laudable. This straightforward crime novel is an experiment that takes a decent if not particularly riveting story and ruins it, because it’s a mystery that is never resolved. According to King (and we believe him) that was the whole point, but while we give him credit for the artistic ambition, it renders the book frustrating.

    32. Cycle of the Werewolf

    Each chapter in this illustrated novel is a self-contained story that links with all the others to form the narrative. It’s a pretty straightforward werewolf story about a small town terrorized by one of the creatures, whose true identity is worked out by a wheelchair-bound boy—but it’s very well handled, and the unusual structure elevates it.

    31. Roadwork

    A truly underrated novel, and one of the few full-length novels King wrote that has absolutely zero supernatural or horror ingredients. It’s the story of a broken man served with an eminent domain buyout from the city, which intends to build a highway through his neighborhood, and his increasingly violent efforts to resist. It’s pretty intense novel, with a gut-punch of an epilogue, and has actually become more relevant as time has marched on.

    30. Lisey’s Story

    There is some great stuff in this novel, centered on the widow of a brilliant novelist as she reflects on their relationship and private and unique language while dealing with the emergence of repressed memories and the very real threat of a super-fan stalker who goes from threatening to violent. While King’s rumination on the inner workings of a relationship is interesting, there’s far too much of it in here, and the supernatural aspects feel tacked on. That said, at its core, this is a very good story, and certainly one of the most unusual in King’s oeuvre.

    29. The Running Man

    An early novel published under the Bachman pseudonym, The Running Man depicts a dystopia centered on an insane gameshow—this time having the contestant hunted by professional assassins on live television. It’s one of the most action-packed of all King’s novels, more of a thriller with a fantastic premise than anything else—but it’s a tightly written, gripping sci-fi story that has aged very well.

    28. Under the Dome

    King fans argue about this one a lot, but in many ways, it’s classic King. The premise is elevator pitch-ready (a town discovers that an impenetrable, invisible dome has suddenly appeared, cutting it off from the rest of the world), the characters are vividly imagined and (mostly) realistically drawn, and the payoff is one of the more clever and imaginative ones he’s ever engineered.

    27. Desperation

    Another of King’s ambitious experiments was the simultaneous publication of Desperation (under his own name) and The Regulators (under the Bachman pseudonym), with the books telling stories set in parallel universes that share characters and other elements. Of the two, we rank Desperation much higher: the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere of its premise—people traveling a lonely highway are pulled over and kidnapped by a possessed police officer and imprisoned—is a creepy and effective.

    26. End of Watch

    The final book in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy nudges the story into the supernatural, as the serial killer Mr. Mercedes has acquired some limited mental abilities that allow him to manipulate people and objects from his coma-like state. It’s a genius move, elevating the story beyond its need to wrap up the story and tie off the loose ends.

    25. Mr. Mercedes

    King’s efforts to evolve as a writer have produced some great work. While Mr. Mercedes, the first of a trilogy of crime novels, isn’t perfect (some of the characterizations are a bit thin and clichéd, as if King were aping other crime novels or TV shows) it’s tense, pivoting on a serial killer (who opens the story by running down innocent people in a Mercedes, hence his moniker) who taunts a retired police detective with his plans to kill again and again.

    24. The Dark Half

    Some of the best stories have very simple concepts. This one is razor-sharp: a writer finds that the pseudonym he’s been writing under has become much more real—and independent—than should be possible. And his dark half is doing terrible things. The psychological richness of this idea, especially considering King’s own history with pseudonyms, combined with the tightness of the writing put this one in the middle of the pack.

    23. Black House

    When King and Straub wrote The Talisman, King’s multiverse was still more of a notion than a firm concept. Its sequel, however, ties Jack’s story of parallel universes firmly to King’s Dark Tower saga, as an adult Jack whose memories of his earlier adventures have been repressed slowly realizes a serial killer plaguing a small town is actually an agent of the Crimson King. Jack retains his rare ability to flip between universes, and must reluctantly take on the task of saving not just his own, but all of them. It’s a rare example of a sequel that updates and matures its characters, themes, and universe in equal measure.

    22. Revival

    Revival is one of King’s best recent efforts—a chilling and unique work of horror that hits all the right buttons. A beloved minister loses his faith and pursues experiments in “secret electricity” that enable him to heal almost any affliction (with terrible side effects). He creates an experiment in order to communicate with the afterlife—and comes to the awful realization that the afterlife is a hell in which enormous, ancient monsters enslave and torture all humans, no matter what kind of lives they led. It’s bleak, depressing, and a fantastic read.

    21. Sleeping Beauties

    Co-written with his son Owen, this 2017 novel supports a high-concept premise (women begin falling into a supernatural-like sleep, becoming cocooned in a gauzy material, and react violently to attempts to wake them) with a rock-solidly realistic world to support it. The key to many of King’s best ideas is the futility of fighting against forces you have no control over; in this case, the women’s efforts to stay awake indefinitely has that rough-edge of pure terror that propels this novel into the top-half of King’s work.

    20. Christine

    If you stop to think about it, it’s remarkable King could take a hoary old premise like “haunted car goes on killing spree” and somehow generate a thoughtfully scary novel from it—but Christine is so much more than the sum of its parts. Tapping into the excruciating pain of being gross and unpopular in high school, King transforms adolescent rage into a universally horrifying experience.

    19. Needful Things

    The first part of this story is just King gleefully turning the crank, bringing the tension to an almost unbearable level before unleashing hell. A simple concept—a magical store where your darkest desires can be acquired, for a hidden and terrifying price—is elevated into a commentary on humanity, society, and the craven nature of people’s inner lives. When it’s casually parodied on Rick and Morty, you know you’ve written an all-time classic.

    18. Gerald’s Game

    Another choice that will likely spark some arguments, Gerald’s Game is one of King’s least supernatural horror stories, finding its terror in helplessness. The genius comes in the levels of helplessness King explores, ranging from the helpless sense of being trapped in a relationship, to the helplessness experienced by victims of child abuse, to the literal helplessness of being tied to a bed in a remote, deserted location. There’s a reason this book inspired one of the best King film adaptations of all time.

    17. Thinner

    Another Bachman Book, the premise for this thriller is so sharp and simple you can sum it up in one elevator pitch-ready sentence: a selfish, overweight man kills a gypsy woman and escapes justice, but is cursed by her father to grow ever thinner, no matter how much he eats. That’s it. It’s that simple. As the man steadily loses weight, his desperation grows to frightening levels. The richness of this plot, full of dark symbolism for modern-day America, remains powerful—and the blackly comic ending still packs a punch.

    16. Insomnia

    King himself regards the novel as something of a failure, but there are two reasons we rank this one, which is about a man who loses the ability to sleep and starts experiencing strange visions that might be more than simple hallucinations,  so highly. One, Insomnia is inextricably linked to The Dark Tower series, and could even be regarded as an essential part of it, in a sense—it features the first mention of the Crimson King, in fact. Two, it’s a daring and ambitious story, exploring some of King’s most stunning concepts with a real emotional punch, and a classic King premise involving a character who loses control of their own body.

    15. The Long Walk

    You know your writing career is going well when you’re forced to invent a secret identity in order to publish all the books you’re writing. The Long Walk, another one of the infamous Bachman Books, was The Hunger Games before The Hunger Games, except reduced to its most brutal basics—a group of young people are forced to walk until all but one of them is dead. It remains a surprisingly effective dystopian thriller.

    14. The Eyes of the Dragon

    While King is still often described as a “horror writer,” he’s been exploring other types of stories throughout his career. In this fantasy, King shows that he can craft a devious plot using any tropes at hand, and displays the same sort of worldbuilding prowess that has made The Dark Tower books so powerful.

    13. The Talisman

    Another transporting fantasy entry. Many of King’s stories involve children; the limited agency and mystification with adult concerns enhances the terror of his bogeymen and grants a level of verisimilitude to some of his more fanciful concepts. Co-written with Peter Straub, this story of parallel universes, which can be traversed if your twin in the other universe has died, centers on 12 year-old Jack. Jack seeks to cure his mother’s terminal cancer by locating a magical talisman, leading him through several dark and dangerous adventures that add up to one of King’s most satisfying stories, though the blatant homophobia throughout does dull its sheen, three decades on.

    12. Firestarter

    Ultimately, many of King’s best stories deal with primal forces, forces that are so terrifying in part because we can’t control them. Nothing is more primal than a child’s simple view of the world, when coupled with her immature impulse control—especially when that child has the power to set just about anything on fire with her mind. This one gets overlooked even by long-time fans, but a reread will remind you of its unadorned storytelling genius.

    11. Pet Sematary

    One of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to zero in on fundamental human experiences—like the loss of a beloved pet, the powerful yearning we all experience when we lose any creature that we care for, the state of fear parents live in for their children’s safety. What would you do to bring something—or someone—back? King asks that question and then offers a story that could have been kind of silly, but makes it absolutely terrifying when the magical titular spot does indeed bring the dead back to life—except different.

    10. The Green Mile

    One of the most successful of a string of King “publishing experiments,” The Green Mile was originally released as a “serial novel” in six installments. It’s the story of a mountainous, simple-minded black man named John Coffey, who in 1932 arrives on death row at a penitentiary nicknamed the Green Mile, having been convicted of murdering two white girls. King masterfully mixes issues of race, sadism, and mercy into the story as Coffey’s innocence becomes clear in parallel to the realization among some of the more compassionate guards that he has incredible empathetic and healing powers.

    9. ‘Salem’s Lot

    King is the consummate artist who respects what came before and builds on it. Raised on old-school vampire stories, his take on the story incorporates all the classic tropes, from the slightly insane vampire’s assistant to all the old rules involving sunlight, permission to enter, and seduction—and gives them all a modern twist that still feels fresh and frightening, even four decades after its publication.

    8. 11/22/63

    King’s career is so long, he’s been through several phases, like any artist. 11/22/63 is part of a late-career surge (still ongoing) of particularly strong, character-focused work. Time travel has been done so often in sci-fi it’s difficult to find a fresh angle, but King managed it using one of his trademark techniques: the inexplicable Mystery Spot located in a nondescript location. Tied to the Kennedy Assassination (still one of the most seismic events in U.S. history), the story morphs into a tragedy so subtly the reader barely understands why they find the ending so powerful.

    7. Carrie

    King’s first huge success is a relatively simple story that touches every reader in a universal sore spot: the hell of adolescence. King shows his talent for identifying pain points and exaggerating them just enough to make them terrifying, from Carrie’s humorlessly religious mother to her effortlessly cruel peers, building up to that classic moment when a suffering girl with strange powers makes everyone regret how they’ve treated her.

    6. The Stand

    The sheer scope of The Stand meant it was either going to be a tremendous success or a messy failure; not only does King offer up dozens of characters and settings, he tells an apocalyptic tale that starts off as a plague story and transforms into a biblical battle between good and evil. Even after he released the expanded version, replacing much of the material excised during the original editorial process, the story still hangs together perfectly, setting a multi-genre bar for success few writers could ever hope to clear.

    5. Misery

    If there’s a King novel that’s familiar to folks who don’t read King on the regular, it’s Misery, the story of a popular but conflicted writer who winds up in the clutches of his highly unstable biggest fan. Here, King perfected his technique of wringing true terror from scenarios that have nothing to do with vampires, ghosts, or ill-defined alien technologies—and everything to do with the fact that hell is other people. Crazed reader Annie Wilkes may be the most compelling villain he’s ever created, and that’s saying something.

    4. The Dead Zone

    King is at his strongest when his characters and story are rooted in a realistic world populated by regular folks—regular folks who just happen to be dealing with incredible circumstances. The Dead Zone, in which an unwilling psychic sees a terrifying vision involving an unstable politician, is the Platonic ideal of such books. As a bonus, it’s a surprisingly current book for the political present.

    3. The Dark Tower Series

    The eight novels that make up King’s multi-dimensional science fantasy epic vary a bit in quality, displaying a sag in the middle that’s surprisingly common for multi-book SFF series. But few would argue that the first three or four are mesmerizing, and the final book brings everything back to such a high level that the averaged score for the series, which tells the circular quest of the world’s last Gunslinger on a quest to reach the titular Dark Tower, the axis on which all worlds (including those depicted in many other Stephen King books) turn, puts it near the tippy-top of his massive oeuvre.

    2. It

    It can be surprisingly divisive, partially due to its epic length and partially due to a specific scene that was pointedly left out of the film and television adaptations (and thank goodness, because: gross). For our money, though, It is King tapping into the collective childhood terrors that we all share and generating a literary nightmare that finally made the world face it’s chief threat: clowns. That, and memorable characters and a palpable sense of place have made it a book that endures, and will continue to do so.

    1. The Shining

    The Stephen King Top Ten could be argued up and down, but there’s little doubt that The Shining—his most parodied, most famous, twice-adapted novel—is always going to be a contender for the top slot. We rank it number one because it’s in many ways the ideal King novel, the novel scientists would create if they sought to grow a King novel in the lab. Every theme, flat-out terrifying moment, and character is 100% Stephen King working at the height of his powers.

    What’s your number one King?

    The post A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Novel Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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