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Stephen King: 11-22-63 vs. Carrie vs. Different Seasons

November 28, 2011

I’ll be honest.  Here’s my real gripe with Stephen King.  A couple summers ago an overhyped novel called The Passage (by Justin Cronin) came out, and the premise sounded interesting enough.  Stephen King was writing a column for a weekly entertainment magazine (whose name I won’t mention), and he recommended the book.  I purchased the novel, and it was so long and disappointing that I never finished it.  And that ticked me off! 

Looking back, I wonder if Stephen King ever finished reading that book either. 

It kind of makes sense.  The first 100 pages of The Passage are pretty good, but then it falls apart.  My theory (with no proof to back it up) is that Stephen King read the first 100 pages or so and then wrote his recommendation.  Again, this is a theory, not an accusation. 

Inspired by my annoyance at his book review (maybe I take these things too seriously), I am out to prove that Stephen King’s writing has regressed since his early greatness.  And to do this, I will compare his latest, 11-22-63, with two of his earliest awesome classics (no sarcasm), Carrie and Different Seasons

REVIEWING BOOKS YOU DON’T FINISH 

This is a philosophical thing.  I have no problem reviewing books I didn’t finish reading.  There’s a reason people don’t finish books, and it’s important for other potential readers to know those reasons. 

I finished reading Carrie.  It was great.  I finished reading Different Seasons. It was great.  Well, two of the stories (“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body” were great, and the two other stories were good.  I didn’t finish reading 11-22-63

NO SPOILERS 

The good thing about reviewing a book that I didn’t finish (besides the saved time in not actually reading the book) is that I won’t reveal spoilers because I don’t know how the book ends.  

I’m also not bothering with a synopsis of each story.  Most readers familiar with Stephen King are familiar with these stories, and I have an attention span limit.  My point (in this particular review) is to focus on King’s writing style, not his stories.  

WHY CARRIE AND DIFFERENT SEASONS? 

I needed a couple of Stephen King’s early books to prove that his writing has declined over the years.  These are the two books that I happened to have lying around, and I’m too lazy and cheap to repurchase The Stand or The Shining.  That’s my fault, not Stephen King’s. 

TOO LONG 

As a dysfunctional literate, I don’t read books over 500 pages long unless they’re awesome.  I read The Stand (years ago, and I’d read it again if I had time) because (in my memory) it was great.  11-22-63 wasn’t great, so I’m not reading the whole thing. 

Carrie was not 500 pages long. 

Different Seasons was about 500 pages, but it was divided up into four stories.

 11-22-63, at about 850 pages, is over 500 pages long. 

NO PERSONALITY 

One of the problems with 11-22-63 is that the narrator (the main character whose name I’ve forgotten) is bland and seems to have no personality. 

Seriously, (if you’ve already read the book) what is the main character’s personality?  The narrator is a high school teacher.  He doesn’t like to grade papers.  The one school relationship mentioned is a friendship with a custodian(?) who just got his diploma.  He seems to have no relationship with the students except he grades their papers.  He eats Fatburgers.  And he is friends (kind of) with the guy who runs Fatburgers.  That’s it. 

Some may argue that the character’s personality isn’t the point, that the setting (1958-1963) is more important, and if that works for other readers, okay.  But it didn’t work for me.  Everybody has a personality, even (especially) a guy who travels back in time.  Listen to Marty McFly; that guy’s got a lot of personality. 

Carrie (and the people tormenting her) in Carrie had personality.  The narrator (and Andy Dufresne) in “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” had personality.  The narrator in “The Body” had a personality.  The narrator in 11-22-63 has no personality. 

BAD METAPHORS 

You can argue about whether or not a style of writing is boring.  That’s subjective.  But bad metaphors?  These might be subjective as well, but they’re at least easier to pinpoint and argue about.  

The first few pages of 11-22-63 contain metaphors that are too clumsy for an author of Stephen King’s talents. 

For example, the narrator described how his Fatburger friend(?) had changed in one day by saying: “I had not yet entered the fog of unreality that would soon swallow me, but the first tendrils were sweeping around me, and I felt them.” 

Then a few paragraphs later… 

“I looked back, feeling the fog of unreality thicken around me.  The day was warm but the fog was cold.” 

Then a few paragraphs later… 

“Nobody loses thirty or forty pounds in less than a day, nobody.  But I was looking at it.  And this, I think, is where the fog of unreality swallowed me whole.” 

This “fog of unreality” expression is (in my opinion) lazy, distractingly bad writing.  If King had used it once and moved on, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it or it might not have stuck with me.  But he went to this phrase, as if it were deep, and an editor (if he has one anymore) should have told him it wasn’t that good and to try something else as an extended metaphor. 

Describing time travel, the narrator says:  “My eyes felt like they were bugging out of their sockets.  My scalp and a narrow strip of skin all the way down the middle of my back was crawling.” 

Eyes “bugging out” and “skin crawling” in back to back sentences is kind of trite.  Maybe it would understandable in a first draft, but c’mon!  This is Stephen King we’re talking about. 

Read the first few pages of Carrie, or “Shawshank,” or “The Body,” and you don’t find these kinds of examples of lazy writing.  At least I didn’t. 

IT’S NOT HATIN’ IF YOU CAN BACK IT UP WITH FACTS 

I’m not trying to “hate” on Stephen King (and if I am, it’s not because he’s successful but because I wasted my time on a really long, disappointing book that he recommended).  It’s one thing to be a great writer who now settles for writing way too many mediocre books.  It’s another thing to be a great writer who writes mediocre books and then gives glowing recommendations to books that are less than mediocre. 

That’s crossing a line. 

And I’m not going to stand for it. 

11-22-63 is inferior to Stephen King’s earlier masterpieces (Okay, I know that most novels are inferior to Stephen King’s early masterpieces) because it’s way too long (yeah, I know, I didn’t finish it, but I’m pretty sure it’s too long), it’s bland, and there are too many examples of lazy writing, such as the poor metaphors that I mentioned.   My suggestion is (other than staying away from The Passage) that if you feel the need to read a really long Stephen King novel, go back to The Stand or It.

From → Literary Combat

3 Comments
  1. Ahmad Alkadri permalink

    I haven’t read 11-22-63, nor have I read The Stand, The Shining. But in my opinion, The Passage isn’t that bad. It’s very bland and (surprisingly) boring in the middle (really, I’ve read more actions better written in fictionpress than in it), but other than that I think it’s good enough, especially near the last part of it. Of course, the conclusion is nowhere to be seen on that book, but the writing is solid enough and the suspense is thrilling, at least far above average books these days (especially compared to the other ‘vampire-themed’ books on the market, particularly ones like Twilight).

    To be honest, the only King’s books I’ve read are The Dark Tower series, and I found them to be very amazing. Thrilling and beautiful at the same time. I’ll look forward to read more of Stephen King’s works in near future, and hopefully I can see more of him. (Especially the ones you written above – like Carrie and The Stand and The Shining, from what I’ve read of the reviews of these books, they seemed to be very good).

  2. I’m not very fluent in Stephen King’s oeuvre but I have read Carrie. I recommend it to people even though it is probably not considered “literary fiction.” It’s not a monster in page length like his other books and is a perfect little thing in my opinion. Entertaining and well-crafted.

    Disappointing to hear that his new novel is sort of lacking.

  3. Deniz permalink

    Don’t believe him otherwise you will be missing a splendid book. By the way I didn’t finish this review, it was too long, it had no distinct personality (it was like Harold Bloom having his field day), it was boooooring and it is bland and it is not any diferent from so much hate-zins against King.

    good day and pleasent nights:)=

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