Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cannonball Read #41: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower Series), by Stephen King

Wing Chun: God, Stephen King. I defended him for years and this is how I'm repaid? With a stating-the-obvious column in EW about how the Jacko trial was a circus?
Sarah: Yep, so did I. Zealously defended him. Said he was underrated.
Wing Chun: Same here. Underrated because of his subject matter.
Sarah: Yep.
Wing Chun: And then…On Writing.
Sarah: Ohhhhhh, On Writing. You little scamp.
Wing Chun: "The key to writing is to write a lot, every day. Now I will talk about myself and how awesome I am for two hundred pages…blah blah…rhubarb, rhubarb…and in conclusion, good luck to you, suckers."
Sarah: "Did I mention I got hit by a van? A van…load OF WISDOM?"

Girls Bike Club IX: Negative, Ghost Rider, the Pattern is Full
I read a lot of Stephen King when I was a kid, mostly because they were the biggest books in the Young Adult section before the Worcester Public Library got gloriously remodeled and presumably gained some sense, what with It not really needing to be easily accessible to the same readership seeking out The Babysitters' Club. I have always been a fast reader and I used to get frustrated when books only lasted me a day or two, so I figured that King's doorstop-weight tomes would buy me some more time. They certainly did, and for all the nightmares that they earned me, I loved those books for being so radically different from what I'd been reading to that point. I don't think I really appreciated King's actual authorial skill until eighth grade, when I read Eyes of the Dragon, a stunning story about a rightful King imprisoned through the machinations of the sinister Rasputin figure of his father's court. It's a gorgeous story, vibrant and detailed, and I think it's one of the best showcases of King's actual writing. After that though, I didn't read much of him until we started getting Entertainment Weekly, at which point I started wanting to brain him with something heavy for being an insufferable, self-absorbed prick, this coming from someone who often shares some of King's "Damn Kids These Days" sentiments. I recognize that it's not exactly fulfilling a higher calling, but damn dude, you can write lazily without being wildly obnoxious.

Regardless of those EW columns, I still remember the talent in King's books and this has kept him a viable option for me. Over the course of my reading life, pretty much every single one of my reader friends has recommended the Dark Tower series to me. I've never gotten to it before now, and of course much like the time I was introduced to Neil Gaiman via my book club I am all pissy and angry that it took so long. (I think I may actually have accused several people of keeping Gaiman from me, which...sorry guys.)

King's explanation of this series' writing at the end of the book is important; I think on a certain level he might consider it his life's literary work. He describes it as being the only story to stay "alive" for him over years, that being the most important aspect of the eventual completion of a book. This elevation of purpose makes it some of the best of King's writing I've ever encountered. It combines the best of his stylistic ability with the most effective of his deep, broad understanding of horror and suspense. There is little gross-out gore in the story, but where it does appear it is in the service of suspense, not grisliness.

Using a full length novel as setup for a story is fairly risky, but the story itself and the mystery therein keeps your interest and sends you running for the nearest bookstore to get the rest of the series. The Gunslinger pursues a mysterious Man in Black across a bleak desert landscape and as the two men travel, we learn a little bit - a little - about how the Gunslinger came to this place in his life. I hesitate to explain more, because you should be reading it and it's a wonderful, complex story, but I assure you it is worth your time. I would recommend buying a couple of the books, however, because I am now waiting on the second book and it is KILLING me.

315 pages

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