Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stephen King’s Bag of Bones

When I first began this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t post negative book reviews. But what if you're inspired by the storyteller, captivated by the characters, the development of the plot – the pace, the attention to detail – what if you love all those things but just hate the story itself? Should you abstain from saying so? Probably. Still, there are so many things to celebrate about this book. I’m torn.

I tend to prefer prose so well crafted that they inspire me to call a friend and say, “Listen to this.” Granted, those kinds of books are few and far between, but I like to set high standards for others. Not for me, you understand. Just for others. Yet I didn’t find many lines I wanted to quote from Bag of Bones. Although this one I liked:

“Humor is almost always anger with its makeup on …”

In his novel, Welcome to Fred, Brad Whittington’s character Mark Cloud, now an adult, reflects on when, during his adolescence, his family moved from “metropolitan America” to the culturally stark backwoods of East, Texas:

“They dipped snuff, spitting streams like some ambulatory species of archerfish. …They split logs and infinitives, chopped wood and prepositional phrases, dangled fish bait and participles – all with equal skill.”

Another writer I love is Rick Riordan, best known for his young adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. However, I particularly enjoy his adult crime novels involving Tres Navarre. From his opening lines in The Widower’s Two-Step:

“The guy standing in front of my park bench looked like he stepped out of a Fleetwood Mac album cover, circa 1976. He had that Lindsey Buckingham funhouse-mirror kind of body – unnaturally tall, bulbous in the wrong places. He had the ‘Fro and the beard and the loose-fitting black martial arts pajamas that just screamed mod.”

The only other novels I’ve read by King are Misery and FirestarterDifferent Seasons was a book of short stories. As always, I admire the ease with which King weaves his yarn; I’m just rarely enthused about the finished shawl. I have no beef with King’s style per se. I guess I just don’t care much for the horror genre. The only non-fiction thing I've read by King was On Writing, a memoir of the craft, more autobiographical than instructional, but still very good.

I almost regard King's fiction as one might regard those Transformers movies. Sure, they’re fun to watch. The special effects are amazing. The actors are beautiful. But come on: it’s about oversized toys.

I acknowledge King’s appealing pedestrian tone, his everyman approach, the accessible prose. And I don’t slight him for it in the least. Mark Twain, one of my absolute favorite dead authors, once wrote: “My books are water. Those of the great geniuses are wine – everybody drinks water.”  

It’s also worth noting that I cried several times throughout this novel. Course I tend to cry at Disney films as well, chopping onions, listening to Don Henley, and much more, not all of which are inherently sad. But that’s for another post about what a sensitive man I am.  

All that aside, I realize I’m probably being too hard on King. It’s not his fault I’m not crazy about horror fiction. Not his fault I’m a prude and prefer to read highfalutin prose. A story’s primary function is to effect you emotionally. King certainly achieves this. And isn’t that why we watch movies and read novels – to be moved, to laugh, cry, cringe, rejoice? If we gain some insight, enlightenment, or wisdom along the way, it’s probably the wine.

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