I had a hankering for junk food reading the other day, so I swung by my local used bookstore. I like this bookstore quite a bit. I cleaned my room one day and gave them about $70 worth of old books, and they now give me books for free. (Although this may change when I exceed $70 worth of purchases, it still makes me feel cool.)
I was looking for a horror novel, and I’ve always heard good things about Stephen King, though I’ve never read any of his work. So as I looked through the (rather dismal) selection of lesser-known Stephen King novels, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I expected whatever I picked up to be good and terrifying, based on hearsay. Most people tell me they had nightmares after reading Book X, or they’ve never been able to look at a clown again after Book Y, or they were nearly convinced that their mother-in-law deserved an exorcism after Book Z, or whatnot. And I wanted to be scared – but not exactly out of my wits. So I decided against Books X,Y, or Z, and went for a lesser-known title, in hopes that it wouldn’t quite scare me out of my pants. I walked out with a copy of Salem’s Lot, a copy of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and 2 Michael Crichton novels (in case I didn’t like Stephen King.)
I started with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It started out okay. 9-year-old girl gets lost in the woods. Gets scared. Tries to survive. Finds a snake. Wigs out. Whatever.
After about 100 pages, I started to realize that it was supposed to be scary by now. As I read, I was not only irritated by King’s writing style – smooth one paragraph, then choppy and riddled with slang, then a few sentences that mix the two of them horribly, then a few paragraphs that are completely irrelevant – I was also irritated with his obvious attempts to set a scary mood by setting little scare-traps here and there. The girl finds a snake. She cuts herself and bleeds. She gets attacked by wasps. This was all cheapened by the fact that I am naturally unafraid of snakes, blood, or wasps.
There’s also a lot of baseball trivia strung along in the book, due to the girl’s fascination with Tom Gordon and the Red Sox in general. This was actually the most interesting part of the book in some places. And to those of you who know my incredible attention span and sports interest… this should tell you something about how fascinating the read was.
The ending was predictable, and much less “twisted” than everybody tells me Stephen King is. And the whole ride to the ending was really fairly dull. If I had left the bookstore expecting to have my pants scared off, I think what King succeeded in doing was in somehow leaving me with an extra pair of pants over the first pair, and another pair in my hand, and me left standing there thinking, “Seriously. How did I end up with all these pants?” I just kept coming across scenes that made me think, “Wow. That could actually be a creepy idea, if you twisted it a bit. Someone should write a horror book about this… oh.”
Conclusion: either Stephen King isn’t scary, or my own brain is scary enough that King has no effect. Or the book is a dud. I’m giving King the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that he wrote it over the course of 4 days and a couple of beers, on a weekend when he was low on cash and knew his editor would print whatever he came up with, regardless. And here’s hoping that Salem’s Lot doesn’t turn out to be a 250 page plod about some crazy guy getting lost in the cheese aisle. ♦