Blue Rose

December 20, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

blueBlue Rose by Peter Straub


Blue Rose is a novelette, a precursor to the Blue Rose trilogy that began with Koko, and Penguin published it in a small, thin book as part of their 60th anniversary. I found it at a used bookstore, and thought it wouldn’t hurt to add it to my to-read stack. It was cheap, it was short, and it was Peter Straub. I never got around to reading Koko and the rest of the books in the series, but this is the man who wrote Ghost Story and Shadowland, for crying out loud. You don’t pass up an opportunity like that.

The story is about Harry Beevers, the protagonist from Koko, but it tells a story of his childhood. It shows his sociopathic tendencies, but puts them into the perspective of his family. Straub doesn’t ask us to sympathize with the boy, but he does suggest that we understand him a bit better. It turns out that this story was written before Koko, which is a bit of a surprise, if only because A Special Place was published after A Dark Matter, and the former was a shorter work that attempted to show us more into the main character of the latter.

Even when Straub wrote supernatural fiction, he wrote about human darkness. Here in his later works, he turns his full focus there, where his stories do more to disconcert than to reassure. These stories have become more an more interesting to me, as I shy away from traditional horror and focus more on psychological horror. I’ve said before that external evil is somewhat reassuring, since we can remove it, and parcel it away; it’s the evil that comes from within that is less predictable, more horrifying.

Blue Rose isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t answer the reader’s questions, and it doesn’t end with an easy conclusion. It shows us what lies beneath, and makes us question who among us could be capable of such things that we see in this story. Fans of horror will probably appreciate it the most, but fans of literary fiction that examines the darker side of human nature will find a lot to pick apart.

Started: September 16, 2017
Finished: September 17, 2017


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The Wind Through the Keyhole

December 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

windThe Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King


It’s time. Time is the wind through the keyhole. King mentions this in the center story (because this is a story within a story within a story), and I’m still not quite sure I understand what it’s supposed to mean. We look in a keyhole, but feel the wind blowing through it, and that’s time? Mkay.

I waffled over when to read this book in the overall series. At first I thought I would read it within the chronology, which is after Wizard and Glass but before The Wolves of the Calla, but in the end I figured reading it in publication order made more sense, since chances were, King would try to retcon something else.

The middle story (“The Wind Through the Keyhole”) is a fairy tale or legend, but it ties in with the larger story in which it appears, since another “RF” appears within. Clearly, within the world of the tower, it’s supposed to be real and not fiction, which is sort of annoying, but not so much as this story being shoehorned into the larger Dark Tower saga. The framing device of the story (the ka-tet takes shelter from a starkblast — a severe cold front — and Roland tells the story of him and Jamie taking on the skin-man, which in turn contains the story of the legend) doesn’t advance the story of their quest at all, so why include it at all? The front of the book tells us this is “A Dark Tower Novel”, not a part of the series proper, so why force it? Why not just have it be a story of Roland’s earlier days and leave it at that?

The second story (“The Skin-Man”) is short, and serves as the framing device for the legend, and doesn’t serve much purpose other than that. It gives us an additional look into Roland’s character after the events of Mejis, but it doesn’t tell us anything more than what we already know. It feels like the whole book was written just to tell the tale of “The Wind Through the Keyhole”, which winds up being the largest percentage of the book anyway. King admits in the foreword to the book that he wrote these stories intending them to be the start of a collection of stories set in Mid-World, but instead crammed them together into this one book. It’s a compelling story, told in his usual style, and it puzzles me why he didn’t just save it for a later release.

(I lie. I know why he did it: $$$.)

“The Wind Through the Keyhole” is the best story here, but it doesn’t add anything to the larger mythology of Roland and the tower, so I don’t see it as a necessary read, even for fans of the series. It just adds a few pieces of fan service here and there, and force-fits it into the larger series. If King ever does get around to publishing a collection of stories set in the world of the tower, I would hope he divides the two central stories apart, and removes the framing device of the ka-tet altogether. I think I could appreciate the stories were he to do that.

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The Dark Tower

December 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

towerThe Dark Tower by Stephen King


As I was finishing this book, a friend of mine noted that it was clear to him that epic fantasy wasn’t King’s normal genre, and that the story felt like it was unfocused and was more a loose concept than a firm plot. I couldn’t help but agree with him, since, to me, it feel like King only ever wrote about what was interesting to him at the time when he wrote the books. It explains why the early books have such a different feel from the last three books, and why there’s so much deus ex machina in this particular volume.

At one point in the story, King acknowledges the use of deus ex machina in the story, but recognizing the use of it (with a sly, author-as-character wink to the reader, no less) doesn’t make it any less of a cop-out. It wasn’t just that the author uses these devices; instead, he had to drop himself into the story to provide them so the plot could keep moving. Considering that King (the author, not the character) also inserts himself into the story as a narrator to tell the reader about things that will happen, it gets a bit too metafictional for my tastes. If you’re going to go that route, you should at least make the book a satire.

Speaking of the deus ex machinas, Patrick Danville had to be the worst of the bunch. I’ve read before that the true protagonist of any story is the one who defeats the antagonist at the end, and that stories should focus their attention on the protagonist. Based on how The Dark Tower ends, Patrick Danville is the true protagonist of the story (and, in turn, the entire series), but we don’t even see him until past the halfway point of this book. I know he was featured in Insomnia, but it’s never explained how he came to be in End-World, and it’s never explained how he gets out, either. He’s literally brought in to serve a purpose — defeat the Crimson King — and then taken right back out again. He’s as much a tool as any of the other characters in the story, all there to support Roland in his damned quest.

Speaking of the other characters being tools, Eddie, Jake, and Oy all die on the quest to the tower, which is to be expected, since that was in the prophecy Walter gave Roland in the first book. Susannah, though, chooses to leave him before reaching the tower. I didn’t understand that move at all. Yes, this is Roland’s quest, not theirs, and yes, the ka-tet is broken as soon as Eddie dies, but several times in the story, Susannah tells Roland that she’s in it for the tower. Why does she back out at the end? King attempts an explanation, but it doesn’t sit well with me, because Susannah’s supposed to be the one who’s best among the gunslingers, and is principled enough to stay on the journey. King doesn’t convince me that she would make that decision.

The Dark Tower is a long book, mostly because it comprises several distinct stories: Jake and Callahan versus the vampires; stopping the Breakers; saving Stephen King; fighting the Dandelo; and then the final approach to the tower itself. Each of these stories could have been novels unto themselves (and with as little as happened in Song of Susannah, I was surprised they weren’t), and the end result is that unfocused feeling my friend noted about the series. It’s most prevalent here, since the other stories have their own plots and stories to carry them. A lot happens, but most of it is rushed, giving the book the feeling of being too short and too long at the same time. I think the cyclical ending is a good fit for the series, but it’s marred by King’s “foreword” where he tries to discourage you from reading it.

I’m glad to have re-read the series, but my conclusion is it’s overhyped. It starts off strong, but in the end, it gets overwhelmed by the multiverse King created to support the tower. By itself, it doesn’t have the epic feel of other epic fantasy series, but when you look at the entire multiverse, it does. Unfortunately, that means the actual series is flat and uninteresting, and the central character of the entire thing isn’t the most sympathetic character of the series. At the very least, this has been an enlightening read.

Started: September 2, 2017
Finished: September 12, 2017

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Song of Susannah

December 6, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

susannahSong of Susannah by Stephen King


I didn’t have high expectations going into this book. It was my least-favorite of the entire series the last time I read it (2004), and I went into this re-read expecting to be disappointed. True to form, I liked the book a bit better than I did the last time, namely because I lowered my expectations, which of course sends me down this rabbit-hole of thinking where I question whether I know a good book or not, since how I feel about it depends on where I am in my life, what I think about it before starting the book, and what I bring into it when I start reading it. I feel like I shouldn’t have an existential crisis over how I feel about reading a book.

The book is still an interstitial volume, one that progresses the plot of the larger story, but doesn’t do much else. And it does go on: half of the book is Mia/Susannah giving birth to the Chap, and lord, does it take a while to get there. We have to get Mia’s background and story, and we have to take them to New York in 1999, and we have to show how much Mia is a fish out of water, etc., etc., etc. It feels long-winded and tedious, even though King’s telling of events moves along at its usual breakneck pace.

The other half of the book introduces Stephen King himself as a character, which is a contentious part of the story for a lot of people. I’ve said for years that this device is either stupid or brilliant, and I’m never sure which it is. I’ve always leaned just a skosh more to the “brilliant” side of the scale, because it makes sense for a writer to be tied in to the survival of the tower, and when you look at how much the tower permeates his other work (and the fact that King created the tower), it makes sense for that writer to be King. On the other hand, I recognize the amount of ego that goes into him using himself as a character, so the balance is still pretty close.

Anyway, both stories are important to the events that will happen in The Dark Tower, but I question whether we needed this much space to develop them. Wolves of the Calla was also long-winded, and the central plot of that book only tangentially related to the larger story, enough so that I wondered why the ka-tet didn’t just get what they needed to know while passing through the town. I think the reasons are: (a) we wouldn’t have Father Callahan as a new character in the story (no big loss); (b) we wouldn’t have any foreshadowing of Mia and the Chap; and (c) we wouldn’t have Black Thirteen and the door. I still can’t help that we could have had all that without a 900+-page Old West story.

The whole bit with Mia and Susannah was tedious, but I found myself liking the part of the story about Stephen King and the other characters in Maine. Of course, Roland and Eddie stumble across another no-nonsense gunslinger character in their adventures (two, if you count Deepneau), and the scenes between them and Calvin Tower were amusing. It still feels like these events could have been told more quickly, but at least I found myself entertained enough with half of the story.

Heading into the final volume in the series, I find myself more worried than anything else. The story has taken a turn from how he told the first four books, and I’m worried that I’ll be ultimately disappointed with its conclusion. I know what’s going to happen, but I don’t remember all of the details leading up to it, and with Wolves and Song feeling less like Dark Tower books than the first four books, I dread to see how it will play out. I remain committed, though, Constant Reader that I am, so I guess I’ll report back once I reach the clearing at the end of the trail.

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December 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

chalkChalk by Paul Cornell


Chalk is not an easy read. It’s about bullying, and it’s about perpetuating a cycle of violence. It begins with a shocking, permanent act of violence committed on someone who doesn’t deserve it, and then takes us through a harrowing journey of revenge that doesn’t satisfy.

Chalk is an important read. It’s about bullying, and it’s about perpetuating a cycle of violence. It begins with a shocking, permanent act of violence committed on someone who doesn’t deserve it, and then takes us through a harrowing journey of revenge that doesn’t satisfy.

Chalk is not a book with easy answers. It’s not a book with sympathetic characters. It’s not a comfortable book; instead, it will leave you feeling hollow, worn out, conflicted.

Chalk is a readable book. It’s a compelling book. It draws you in with a flat, emotionless tone that belies its content, making the shock even more impactful. It leaves you with a “Did that really happen?” feeling, which is itself exacerbated by an unreliable narrator.

Chalk is a book you can trust.

Chalk is not for everyone. It’s a tough book, but worth the effort. It’s the literary equivalent of finishing a marathon, or swimming the English Channel. It’s not perfect, but its imperfection makes it even better.

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Wolves of the Calla

December 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

callaWolves of the Calla by Stephen King


It’s tough writing a review of this book. I’m such a King fanboy it’s hard to be objective, but this was also the point where the whole Dark Tower-ness of King’s works had begun to annoy me. Black House preceded Wolves of the Calla by a year, and introduced us to the concept of the Breakers; Hearts in Atlantis also preceded the book by a year, and introduced us to the concept of the Low Men; and since five years had passed between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, that was about all I could get regarding the Dark Tower. Both concepts are used in Wolves of the Calla, and I can’t help but wonder if they would make sense at all without me already knowing those two stories.

The Dark Tower is like the Star Wars movies, and the rest of King’s fiction is the Expanded Universe. Unfortunately, in King’s series, the EU is much more important to understanding what happens in the main series. To extend that analogy, King went back and revised The Gunslinger, even going so far as to change a key part of Roland’s character in his own “Han shot first” moment, and he chalks up the ridiculous amount of coincidence in the stories to ka, which may as well be the force.

King also peppers the story with more references to “nineteen”, possibly the most annoying thing about this cycle. Why this suddenly became important is beyond me, but admittedly, I haven’t made my way to the end of this series to see if its relevance becomes clear. My guess is that its relevance is hidden in the revised edition of The Gunslinger, which I have no interest in reading. Even more annoying are the fan sites about the number, because they use any format possible to find as many references as possible to nineteen in any of his works, including ones that preceded Wolves of the Calla. Some are straightforward (adding up a string of numbers), but others are ridiculously convoluted. Case in point: In The Dead Zone, “Herb turned fifty-two, Vera fifty-one, and Sarah Hazlett twenty-seven. Johnny had been in his coma for four years.” ((52 + 51 – 27) / 4 = 19). The last time I encountered mental gymnastics that complicated to prove a point, I was reading The Bible Code.

Wolves of the Calla also introduces Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot because … well, to be honest, I’m not sure. My best guess is King wanted to hang yet another novel on the Dark Tower line, but at least a third of this book is telling Callahan’s story after the events of ‘Salem’s Lot. I’m thinking King will introduce vampires as an important part of this saga (I can’t remember many of the details from the last two books), but it’s annoying that he’s waiting until the last half of the series to introduce something that will be important to the journey. He wrote the last three novels in a rush, making them more one story broken across multiple volumes, which is fine, but the first four books don’t feel like that, and I feel like they’re better books because of it.

The writing in this book is different from that in the other four books, which surprises me. There are still all the King characteristics in the book, but the pacing and the style feel like a different writer. This isn’t limited to The Dark Tower, either; I think I started noticing this change with Bag of Bones, which followed a lot of change in King’s life. There was the accident, of course, but he also changed publishers, and (I assume) editors, which could account for the changes. That line started to blur after The Tommyknockers, but settled in with Bag of Bones (at least, that’s how I recall it happening).

Wolves of the Calla‘s main story is that of the Calla, and the obligation the gunslingers have to help them keep their children from being kidnapped and “roont” (which brings me to another frustration: Why does King have to invent a new dialect for every book in this series?). I’ll admit it’s an interesting story, and even admit that it adds to the mythology of the tower, but it’s still an aside (with Father Callahan being an additional aside), when by now people are probably ready to see the ka-tet finish their journey to the tower. At least when this book was published, readers knew that the last two books weren’t that far off.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my re-read of this series, it’s that the story is all about context, and if you’ve not read all of King’s works, then you’re missing a lot of it. I can’t imagine what people think reading Wizard and Glass if they haven’t read The Stand, and neither can I imagine what it’s like to read Wolves of the Calla without having read ‘Salem’s Lot. The real, honest, complete way to read this series is to find a chronological list of King’s works, and start from the beginning. I suppose that’s a brilliant marketing ploy by King, but it has to be frustrating to be a reader who’s only interested in The Dark Tower.


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Wizard and Glass

November 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

glassWizard and Glass by Stephen King


A few years ago, I saw a comment online where someone asked why there had been so much outrage over the ending of The Waste Lands. Sure, it was a cliffhanger ending, he said, but the next book picks right up from that point. What’s the big deal? What he didn’t know, reading the books so long after their original publication date, was that Constant Readers had to wait six years to have that cliffhanger resolved. I would have been okay with the ending had King started the next book ASAP, and we got the answer in a year, but six years? Just no.

Wizard and Glass does resolve that ending, and then gives us another glimpse at what’s happening due to the Tower failing, and introducing a (sorta) new villain to the mix through Randall Flagg, but the bulk of the story is Roland’s first task as a gunslinger, which not only defines his character, but also introduces him to the idea of the Tower itself. It’s also a love story framed around an investigation, and both parts of the story are intriguing and compelling (much more so than the framing story that is actually about the Tower). The usual King traits are there — the characterization, the easy-going style, and the plot slowly developing over the course of hundreds of pages — and if the outer bits are a bit ridiculous (The Wizard of Oz? Seriously?), the inner parts are worth the read.

The central problem here, though, is something I can’t address without spoiling this book (and the whole series), so turn away now if you’re still new to the stories.

The entire series ends by coming full circle, with Roland stepping through the door at the top of the Tower and starting his journey again, with the famous line: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It suggests Roland’s story is infinite, with him reliving the journey over and over again. Does it change? Does he go through the same process every time, or does he find new people to draw into Mid-World on his journey? Has it happened since the beginning of time, or is this his first time reliving the journey? Does he always complete it, or does he sometimes fail, and if he does fail, does it stop the cycle, or does it begin again, regardless? When word came down that The Dark Tower (the movie) would be a sequel to the series, I was giddy with the idea that we would finally get answers to these questions.

The important part of all that, though, is: Where does Roland’s story begin? Is he limited to this loop, or did he live a life previous to that opening line and the the loop begins when he pursues the man in black across the desert? If the loop is everything Roland experiences directly, then are the events of Wizard and Glass an implanted memory to make him the person he is? If so, then how much of the entire series is true, including the question: Is the Tower even under threat to begin with? If not, then what’s the point of the series and all its interconnected works, other than to support Roland’s own manias?

It seems like a ridiculous waste of energy and pages to say that this is all something that never happened outside of Roland’s memories, but at the same time, King was still two years away from his near-fatal accident that inspired him to finish the series and insert himself into the book. Had he been entertaining the idea of making the series cyclical by then, or did that only come to mind after his accident? That the story comes full circle feels like a direct response to King being a character in the series, but who knows other than King? I’m not asking this rhetorically; has he ever said whether the cyclical nature of the story was always his intention?

(All of this speculation is based on my not remembering all the details of the seventh book, just the broad stroke of how it ends. Maybe these questions will all get answered along the way.)

When I first read this book, I rated it five stars because it felt so powerful. I rated it based on the central story (e.g., not the Dark Tower part of it), but I also rated it out of context with the entire series. I still find the story of Roland and Susan and Alain and Cuthbert to be the best part of the book, though I also see that readers are divided on which volumes they prefer, the personal ones or the ones that advance the mythology. I’m firmly on the personal side of that divide, so Wizard and Glass is still among my favorites of the series.

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The Fisherman

November 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

fishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan


You know my quest for “good horror”? Here it is. Otherworldly, strange, unsettling, and disquieting: this novel has it all. That it also has a bit of a literary bend to it (there are multiple allusions to Moby Dick here) is just gravy, because this is the kind of story that can induce nightmares.

The story is about Abe (“Don’t call me Abraham”), a man who has lost his young wife to cancer. As part of his grieving process, he takes up fishing. The solitude and challenge of it appeals to him, and when a co-worker of his, Dan, loses his wife and two children to a car accident, Abe discovers Dan used to fish, and invites him along.

It doesn’t sound like much, but like any fisherman, there are some stories involved. The key story of The Fisherman is told to them by Howard, who runs a diner the two fishermen frequent on the way to their fishing spots. Howard begins, “Understand, I can’t vouch for any of this”, and from there we hear the real story.

The odd thing about the book is that Howard’s story doesn’t begin until we’re twenty percent of the way into the story. That’s my biggest complaint of the book. Over half of it is Howard’s story, it’s dropped into the very middle of the story, and it’s all backdrop for the story of Abe and Dan. It’s important, yes, (without it, Abe’s and Dan’s stories are less resonant), but it’s stuck into the story like a splinter in flesh. Plus, it’s written as Abe’s recollection of Howard’s story, told in Howard’s voice, so it’s an odd mishmash of events, told in the present tense even though it’s a flashback. Plus, Howard seems to know a lot about what other people were thinking, which is unusual. The structure of the story is clunky, and the characters in Howard’s story aren’t drawn as well as those outside of it. As a result, I found myself bored with Howard’s story, and I struggled to make it through so I could get back to Abe and Dan.

Furthermore, Langan writes clunky sentences, like “The tree stump Jacob’s fifty feet away from meeting bursts”, or “What I’d been too concerned with bringing the thing in to realize was”, or “I was sorry I’d pushed off as much of caring for the boys onto her as I had.” These are just a few; I noticed many, but as I saw them recurring so often, I started to jot down some examples. They stopped me cold, and though part of me wondered if this were another way Langan was keeping me off my guard, to make reading the story as unsettling as the imagery, I couldn’t help but feel like he was creating barriers for understanding.

Despite all those concerns, I still rate this four stars, because how it all comes together works so damned well. Langan touches on Lovecraftian horrors of the cosmic unknown, but makes them personal, as well. His imagery is disturbing without being graphic, and his characterization (at least in the outer story) is spot-on. It’s weird horror at its finest, which is good or bad, depending on your tastes. As one of the characters in Howard’s story says multiple times, “This is bad business”, but for fans of horror, that’s a wonderful thing.

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The Waste Lands

November 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

wasteThe Waste Lands by Stephen King


There’s a curious thing about The Dark Tower that I’ve never really noticed before: Much of the mythology and legend of Mid-World and End-World and What-Have-You-World exists outside of the series proper. I think it started with Insomnia, which fell between this book and Wizard and Glass, and then started leaching out into everything else King wrote. As such, the books in the actual series so far touch on some of what defines Roland’s world, but the bulk of it resides elsewhere.

What’s left, then, in the series proper is to tell the stories of the main characters — Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. We get some of Roland’s story in the first book, and Eddie’s and Susannah’s stories in The Drawing of the Three, and now in The Waste Lands we get Jake’s story. It’s hinted at in the first book, but here we learn the details of his life and what draws him to the Tower and Roland’s world (quite literally). King writes best when he writes personal stories, so these have been among the best parts of the series for me.

Jake’s story only takes up half of the book, with the second half comprising their journey to and through Lud to find Blaine the Mono. This half was much less interesting than the first half, because we go from the personal to the journey, and I was surprised that, before re-reading the series, I had forgotten about this part of the journey to the Tower. I had expunged this part of the story from the chronology all together, putting the trip across the bridge right up next to the ka-tet boarding Blaine. I remembered it all as I was re-reading it, but it was such an unmemorable part of the story I had blocked it, partly because it has nothing at all to do with the Tower.

By now, we understand what the Tower is, and what it means to protect it, but so far the story hasn’t been about the Tower, save to establish its importance. All the journey through Lud does is support the idea that the world has moved on, and that it shares some similarities with our own world. King has already suggested this, but here he drives the point home with the George Washington Bridge and “Velcro Fly” by ZZ Top (which, unfortunately, dates the story quite a bit).

I’ve been making a concerted effort to keep each book in the series in its place in King’s ouevre, seeing how it sits in context with this other works, and I see this volume was published a year after the revised, uncut version of The Stand. It shows,  because his inclusion of the Tick-Tock Man suggests some similarity to the Trashcan Man, in name if not in character. Sure enough, King uses this book to introduce the idea that Randall Flagg exists here, too, though this is before King retcons the story to make him Walter, too (though I expect it was on his mind by now).

So far, my ratings now reflect my ratings from when I last read them. I suppose this is good, since it suggests the stories have held up well, but I’m starting to see some of the holes in the story. Reading the first book strongly suggests King didn’t have a firm idea of where he was taking the story (even without his afterwords in all the books telling us, it’s clear when you look at it in context to the entire series), and I expect the further I read, the more I’ll find his other books encroaching on the story. I know I’ll see further connections to The Stand in Wizard and Glass, and to ‘Salem’s Lot in Wolves of the Calla, and the concepts of the Crimson King and the Breakers will come from Insomnia and Black House, respectively. I’m not wild about the series being so dependent on books outside of it, but I’ve accepted it.

Despite all of that, The Waste Lands comes from King’s best era, and it shows. It wasn’t until The Dark Half and beyond that it started to feel like King was writing without a destination, and the start and finish of The Waste Lands surrounds that point. In that way, the book is a perfect balance of his two styles, for better or for worse.

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The Drawing of the Three

November 17, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threeThe Drawing of the Three by Stephen King


The world has moved on, but King is still there to tell us its story. Mostly. Because for a book that’s supposed to be part of an epic fantasy tale, it spends a lot of time in 20th-Century New York City. Yes, he flips back and forth between that city (in three different times, no less) and Mid-World, but most of the story is set in familiar places; much more familiar than that of Mid-World, at least.

Don’t get me wrong: I like this book, and I like it more than The Gunslinger; King had been on a string of very successful and well-regarded books by the time he published The Drawing of the Three, and it shows. His characterization and plotting skills are on point, and the book winds up being much more readable and relatable than the first book. Plus, it’s a singular story, not a story broken out over three short stories, and by this time King was getting more of an idea of what he wanted this story to be.

The story is told in three parts, each one devoted to the character he draws from New York back into Mid-World. First is Eddie, a junkie who’s been sent to mule some cocaine back from the Bahamas. He’s not the most inspiring of characters, but he is smart, and as Roland notes, he’s a natural gunslinger. The second is Odetta Holmes, a successful black woman from the 1960s who has a second personality, Detta Walker, who’s as profane and aggressive as Odetta is not. The third is a character called “The Pusher”, for reasons that would give too much away. Needless to say, he’s critical to the other two characters who are drawn into Mid-World.

(I should note that at this point in the story, this place isn’t called “Mid-World”. It’s yet another name that won’t come until later in King’s development of the story. In addition, the notion of ka and the ka-tet are first mentioned in this book.)

Another reason I find this to be a better book than The Gunslinger is due to how King creates his characters. He’s known for (and deft at) creating everyman characters, ordinary people put into extraordinary situations, and that’s where he puts his focus for this book. Eddie and Odetta are regular people, but Roland is an extraordinary person just doing his thing. It makes him less relatable, and when he’s the focus of the story, as he was in the previous book, it’s less interesting and less convincing. The way I remember these books is that Roland becomes more relatable, and now I wonder if it’s because he begins to acknowledge his faults. I’ll have to look for that in the later books.

I have problems with the character of Detta Walker. She’s supposed to be offensive, intended to be caricature of what white people think of black people, but it makes me wonder what modern black people think of her character. King doesn’t just make her a psychopathic Mammie character — he makes sure we understand her, even if we don’t agree with her — but it’s uncomfortable. Certainly that’s the point, but her presentation is a little more making-that-face-at-a-party-when-your-drunk-uncle-starts-talking-about-“those people” and less I-want-to-make-you-squirm-a-bit-and-face-your-own-prejudice. I don’t remember thinking much of it when I first read the book (nor when I re-read in the early 2000s, now that I think about it), but I wonder how she comes across now, when people are more “woke” to other cultures.

For an epic tale, the stories of The Dark Tower so far have been intensely personal. I feel like we’re still in the exposition stage of the larger story, so I’m willing to give it some leeway, but for something that’s considered to be King’s magnum opus, it’s not as widespread as it suggests. I’m starting to wonder if the reason it feels more significant is because of the way King expanded the themes to the rest of his books. Is that where the epic feel comes from? Or am I just not remembering the details from the other books as well as I think I do?

Either way, I look forward to The Waste Lands, where Jake becomes a part of the ka-tet. I have fond memories of all the books up through Wizard and Glass, and so far the stories have held up to them. I think it’s going to make a big difference once I get out of the books I read from high school and college, though, where the nostalgia has been replaced with the cynicism of age.

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