Having withstood the shock and awe of many book groups through the years by steadfastly refusing to read, much less admire, anything written by Stephen King, I was pleased to run across an editorial on the same subject in the LA Review of Books: My Stephen King Problem: A Snob’s Notes by Dwight Allen. My one complaint is that Allen refers to his essay as a “Snob’s Notes.” I prefer to think of the situation as an observant, thinking individual against the King bigots. Be sure to read all the knee-jerk negative comments on Allen’s essay for an overview of the fans of SK.
Why do people read Stephen King? Beats the poop out of me. King is a less than stellar writer and unnecessarily wordy. I have attempted to read King on three occasions, generally to show King lovers that I will give the author an honest opportunity to overcome my inability to see anything redeeming in his novels. Unfortunately, the results are all about the same and involve an open window. I have had readers meekly suggest that they read King for escape and because he is easy to read. This I find unbelievable: King’s writing, for me, is a terrible mishmash that is not worth the effort it takes to make it understandable, and this doesn’t even consider the less than brilliant and highly repetitious narratives that King’s imagination regurgitates on a regular basis.
On a dare I purchased and started to read The Stand. After about seventy pages the pain was almost as overpowering as the tedium so I put it back on the bookshelf in case I ever needed to start a bonfire in the cul-de-sac. A few years ago I noticed that King had brought out a new novel but was selling it in thin sections, perhaps a chapter at a time, and presumably increasing the profits for himself and his publisher. But King is one of those authors that no matter what he writes or how much it costs, there is always an unthinking audience ready to lay down their money and accept anything new (or repackaged or even with a new cover).
Here’s a legitimate question: How many stories and novels has Stephen King written that involve mechanical things like cars coming alive and threatening unsuspecting humans?
But despite knowing that everyone has zipped off to read the essay in LARB, chosen sides, and started to write their own criticisms of anyone that doesn’t adore Stephen King, it seems good to summarize with a comment from Dwight Allen’s son:
My son, George, who is now twenty-four, read a little King in high school, but he hasn’t gone back to him since then. After you’ve read Roberto Bolaño and Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, as my son has, why would you return to Stephen King? King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.
As I push towards my seventh decade, more and more I reject reading time-passers like King. My aversion is not totally to genre fiction (there are still a couple of hard-noir detective stories out there I enjoy reading for entertainment, but I find Stephen King’s questionable and bloated prose not worth the effort.
I did read King’s book about writing and being a writer, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I’m not sure why SK felt the need to write this (he does discuss why) but I found his insights too mundane to jump-start my writing career. I hope someone picked up my copy from the used book emporium and was bowled over by King’s erudition and insight. It’s possible … hey, it might come in handy if cars start chasing you.