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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, , , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , , , , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, , something wicked this way comes, stephen king, the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , inspiration, , , , , stephen king,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Kat Rosenfield 7:30 pm on 2016/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , stephen king   

    6 Stephen King Adaptations to Watch Now (or Get Stoked For) 

    Stephen King is one of the world’s most prolific authors — but even he can’t write fast enough to satisfy the appetites of his biggest fans. Fortunately, there’s an answer for that: the ever-expanding collection of King books that were, are, or will be adapted for movies or television.

    Although many a Stephen King novel, novella, or short story has found its way to screens big and small over the years, the author is having arguably his biggest moment in Hollywood yet. Two fresh adaptations of his work are available for your viewing pleasure right this minute, and another four are coming down the pike. Below, we’ve rounded up all the titles getting some well-deserved screen buzz.

    Cell
    The story of a signal, sent via cell phone, that turns everyone who hears it into part of a murderous hive mind, Cell features an all-star cast that includes The Hunger Games‘ Isabelle Fuhrman; it also stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson reteaming up for their second King movie (they starred together in 1408, adapted from a short story in Everything’s Eventual, back in 2007.) Out on demand and in select theaters now, Cell had a rocky road from conception to screen—but as adaptations of King’s novels go, it’s not a bad little movie, particularly in a signature moment involving a gasoline truck and a snoozing flock of phone zombies.

    It
    This terrifying tale of seven tweens who reunite as adults to battle an unspeakable, ancient evil was adapted once already as a TV miniseries—which unfortunately failed to age well, making the upcoming release of a new It a timely entry on the pop culture landscape (not to mention the perfect way to introduce a whole new generation to a well-founded phobia of clowns.) This time, the giant book is being split into two feature films, the first of which hits theaters in September 2017. Fun fact: kid actor Finn Wolfhard, who was so awesome as the wide-eyed hero of the very ’80s, very King-inspired Stranger Things, is part of this production, too.

    The Dark Tower
    After stagnating forever in development, this year brought some big news for fans of King’s magnum opus fantasy series: amovie is finally in the making, and some serious stars are being brought on board. The first of what will hopefully be many movies set in the Dark Tower alternaworld, where Gunslinger Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba) hunts the appallingly evil figure known only as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is slated for a 2017 release.

    The Stand
    The good news is, King’s epic postapocalyptic novel about a flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of the American population is being developed into a feature film—or two, or maybe even four. The bad news is, the adaptation is in a holding pattern while filmmakers try to figure out how (and whether) to break up the mega-long book into multiple movies, or whether to start it out on TV and segue into a feature-length film, or…well, the options are limitless, and that’s part of the problem. However, there may be one bright side to the delays: By the time the movie gets made, Matthew McConaughey might be available to take on the role of villain Randall Flagg (because as any Stephen King fan worth his salt knows, Flagg and the Man in Black should really be played by the same fellow.)

    Revival
    While The Stand sits in limbo, its scriptwriter isn’t sitting still. Josh Boone, personally selected by Stephen King to pen the movie adaptation of The Stand, has already gone ahead and begun developing another of the author’s novels: Revival, a terrifying story of religious fanaticism, scientific experimentation, and two men battling different kinds of demons. There’s no studio attached to the script yet, but considering Boone’s clout in Hollywood (he also directed The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely be seeing it in theaters sooner rather than later.

    11/22/63
    King’s brick of a novel about a 21st-century schoolteacher who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK is a perfect encapsulation of why it’s so hard to adapt his books as feature films—and this TV serial take on 11/22/63 shows why the author’s sprawling plots and peculiar pacing are basically made for an eight-episode format. The Hulu original stars James Franco in a perfectly frantic performance as hero Jake Epping, and draws out the drama almost as well as its source material. (If you hurry, you can still catch this one for free before Hulu phases into its subscription-only model.)

     
  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2016/08/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , stephen king, syllabi,   

    5 Books that Come with a Required Reading List 

    Most of the time, reading a novel is pretty straightforward. Step one: pick up book. Step two: open book. Step three: read, and enjoy. Some novels, though, go beyond mere complexity and actually require you to be knowledgable in a certain area just to have hope of enjoying—or understanding—what’s on the page. These five books are perfect examples: if you’re going to read one of them, you’d be well advised to dig through a long list of required reading first, or you’ll miss out on half of what they have to offer.

    Silverlock, by John Myers Myers
    The only character in Myers’ fantasy who isn’t a famous figure from classic literature is the protagonist, A. Clarence Shandon, MBA. Hailing from Wisconsin, Shandon shipwrecks in the Commonwealth of Letters, where he is befriended by Golias and meets Pathfinder, Puck, Becky Sharp, Brian Boru, and dozens of other (hopefully) familiar names as he goes on an adventure that transforms him from a rather full-of-himself academic into a legend in his own right, nicknamed Silverlock. If you didn’t recognize every one of the names in the previous sentence, you’ll need to bone up on your literature and history before diving into this dazzling novel—every single reference is a play on famous and not-so-famous books, offering shades and deep dives that go far beyond the basic plot.

    The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
    In order to truly understand everything Fforde does in his excellent Thursday Next books, it would, first of all, help tremendously to be British, as many of Fforde’s references are specific to his home country, although attempts are made to Americanize them for U.S. audiences. Even more important for a book series set in a universe in which literature is as popular as superhero movies and is also something dynamic that has to be managed—often by jumping into the stories themselves—is the long list of novels you’ll need to bone up on if you’re to have any hope whatsoever of understanding the jokes, references, puns, and lampshadings that come at you fast and furious in this deft, intelligent metafictional masterpiece.

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
    Every chapter in this impressive novel is named after another novel, and more literary references abound; the whole thing is structured like a college course, complete with voluminous footnotes. That alone requires that you do a lot of reading before diving in, but more importantly, Pessl includes plenty of references to works that don’t actually exist, making the novel even more absorbing as she transcends mere name-dropping to creating her own half-fictional literary world. If you’re going to be able to tell when she’d referencing a real work and when she’s created something purely for her novel, you’re going to have to have a pretty deep knowledge of novels, plays, and historical works at your disposal. Once you’ve done the reading, the central mystery of Pessl’s novel, set largely in a film studies department at a small college where the teacher dies by apparent suicide, becomes even more engrossing.

    Just About Every Stephen King Book Ever
    Stephen King has evolved from a purveyor of horror stories into a national institution, and his fiction has evolved right along with him, creating one of the most complex interrelated meta universes in history. Over the years, King has painstaking retrofitted all of his works into a single, awe-inspiring world. Characters and events are referenced in different novels, stories are tied together in surprising ways, and motifs and symbols appear in unexpected places. In fact, there are some beautiful (and complicated) infographics out there designed to clarify the whole King universe for you—although tracing the connections might require some time, patience, and a magnifying glass of some sort. The epicenter of King’s universe is definitely The Dark Tower series, which pulls in so many characters, events, and tropes from his other books that the King Metauniverse simply doesn’t make any sense without it.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
    The list of topics that you should have more than a glancing knowledge of in order to have half a chance with this novel includes statistics, world history, linguistics, and physics. And that’s just for starters. Even if you do go back to school and spend 10 years with your nose in various ancient tomes of forgotten lore, you still might not get everything that Pynchon is serving up here. Gravity’s Rainbow is one of those novels that divides people into two camps: those that think its genius even if they can’t quite get it all, and those who think it’s impenetrable. If you want to make up your own mind about it, though, you have to at least give yourself a fighting chance, and that means creating a lengthy syllabus and reading until you’re at least half as smart as Pynchon himself.

     

     
  • Jeff Somers 9:20 pm on 2016/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , stephen king,   

    New from Stephen King: End of Watch 

    Back in 2002, frustrated by his slow recovery from injuries sustained in a horrific accident, Stephen King informally announced his retirement from writing. That quickly proved to be a symptom of depression, and thank goodness, because some of King’s most interesting work has been produced in the last decade and a half—including his Bill Hodges Trilogy, beginning with Mr. Mercedes (which won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel) and followed by Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

    King billed this trilogy as his first foray into hardboiled detective fiction, and the first two books in the series justified that description. In End of Watch, however, King pulls off an amazing trick: he elegantly and effortlessly transforms his detective story into a classic supernatural Stephen King book. In fact, far from showing a readiness to retire, End of Watch proves that King is at the top of his game right now.

    Brady Hartsfield
    Brady Hartsfield is an amazing character. In Mr. Mercedes he was horrifying enough, a demented, broken man whose central tragedy was being just smart enough to cause mayhem, but never smart enough to truly succeed at anything. His vicious hatred is mixed with just enough dark genius to make him terrifying. At the end of Mr. Mercedes he seems to be out of the picture for good, but King patiently keeps him in the background throughout the second book—and that slow boil bears incredible fruit with the surprising and scary evolution he undergoes in End of Watch. Hartsfield’s journey in these books is classic King genius, taking someone unpleasant and frightening to begin with and slowly turning them into a monster directly from our shared nightmares.

    Life vs. Death
    For a man who has survived a near-death experience and is now pushing 70, it’s understandable that themes of mortality are cropping up in Stephen King’s books. One of the most interesting things about End of Watch is the way King makes suicide a central theme without being simplistic about it. Hartsfield at one point styles himself the Suicide Prince, but death is everywhere in this book, both literally and in the ways the characters navigate choices between life and death, choices that are never obvious or easy. The way main character Bill Hodges faces these challenges make his arc one of the best King has ever devised.

    The Little Things
    King’s always had a way with characters and setting in addition to having an incredible imagination. Where in his earlier work he often deluged the reader with details about the people and places his stories involved, his style has evolved to the point where he’s much more economical with those details—and it’s incredibly effective. Several details and seemingly minor point from this story and the two books that preceded it—the sort of details you initially assume are just there to flesh out characters or give the setting some spice—turn out to be vitally important both thematically and in terms of plotting, and King handles these details masterfully. Without spoiling anything, for example, Bill Hodges’ ringtone is a nifty but unimportant character point right up until it becomes something else entirely, both in terms of the mechanics of the final confrontation, but also in what Bill and Brady each represent—literally life and death.

    The Real World
    One of the greatest talents King has always possessed is the ability to write fantastic stories that are not only set in the “real” world that we all share, but feel like they’re in that world. Where other writers often wind up in a sort of hyper-reality or augmented-reality in order to make their fantastic ideas seem plausible, King is one of the few who can make the fantastic feel absolutely real. Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers had a few classic King touches of the supernatural, but in End of Watch King reveals these stories exist in the same universe as his other works, a universe where terrifying unnatural things can exist, can happen, but which feels indistinguishable in other ways from reality. It’s an amazing effect, especially if you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy.

    The Final Act
    End of Watch is 100% the final book in a trilogy. Not just the third book in a series featuring the same characters, but the third part of a larger story. All three books can be enjoyed by themselves, of course; each has a more-or-less standalone story. But reading them in order means you get what King is trying to achieve, because End of Watch builds on the themes and events of the first two books, and its that foundation that lets King pull off his transformation of the story from a hard-boiled detective tale to a horror novel that happens to have a hard-boiled detective as its protagonist. In short, this is that rare book series where the sum of its parts is greater than the individual books.

     
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