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Literary Glance: The Outsider by Stephen King

May 23, 2018

I’ve just started reading The Outsider by Stephen King, and the first victim (I’m guessing there will be more) is a teenage boy who has been mutilated with a bloody stick shoved up his butt.  Normally, I wouldn’t be specific about graphic violence, but just last night I saw a scene on a Netflix show where a teenage boy is tortured with a mop stick shoved up his butt.  This Netflix show is marketed to teens for them to binge watch, and it’s kind of mainstream.

Is this a new thing for mainstream entertainment, to depict boys getting stuff shoved up their butts?  Or is it just a coincidence?  I don’t know.  The creators of this entertainment might say that the shock can inspire conversation about something that needs to be talked about… like… stuff being forced up kids’ butts?  To me, it inspires conversation that mainstream entertainment might be run by a bunch of weirdos.

Maybe I’m wrong (it happens a lot), but sticking stuff up a fictional kids’ butt for shock value is kind of lazy.  Killing a kid or torturing a kid in a story should be enough of a shock, if you’re the type who values that kind of shock.  Stephen King has a history of writing about shockingly bad stuff happening to kids.  If two fictional kids hadn’t had stuff shoved up their butts within a few days of each other, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it.

The thing is, I wasn’t even shocked by either situation.  Both times I thought the creators were trying too hard, which might seem contradictory to my earlier statement that the stuff up the butt was lazy.  Both Stephen King and the Netflix show were trying too hard to do something shocking, but they came up with a lazy way to do it.

The bloody stick up the butt isn’t the only problem I have with The Outsider.  The dialogue so far is really bad.  King’s characters use forced slang.  Teenagers refer to the police as “5-0.”  An old person talks about his dog doing “a number one and a number two.”  An editor should have encouraged King to ease up on the forced euphemisms.  These are simple fixes; just refer to the police as “cops,” and say the dog is “taking a dump.”  You can never go wrong with talking about “cops” and a dog “taking a dump.”  I’m not a bestselling author, but I stand by that advice.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some good scenes early in The Outsider.  Despite the flaws so far, it might be worth reading.  But Stephen King should be able to write good scenes without the glaring clunkiness.  If he can’t do it, then an editor should fix some of the clunkiness.  Then again, he’s Stephen King and people will buy the book no matter what, so editors probably don’t want to tick off Stephen King.

If I were an editor with a family and bills to pay, I’d accept whatever Stephen King gave me because I wouldn’t want to get fired.  If I were a financially independent editor, I’d red-mark King’s drafts.  I’d red-mark them even if the drafts were perfect, just to see his reaction.  I’d love to see how Stephen King responds to criticism, now that he can write just about anything.

*****

What do you think?  Is it weird that a TV show and a bestselling novel released within a week of each other would feature boys tortured with something up the butt?  Is this a trend and I just don’t know about it?  Would you red-mark Stephen King’s rough draft if you had the chance?

3 Comments
  1. I like Stephen King, a lot. To me, having studied communications, mass media, and a little bit of marketing, I think these two scenes of boys having objects shoved up their butts as a form of torture are likely a response to the Me Too movement that started last year.

    Do I agree with it? No. But, I feel like these creators of media are trying to give boy and guy characters a taste of their own medicine. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s my take.

    • I like Stephen King too. I’ve always thought he would be a cool friend to have, but I wouldn’t want to be a character in one of his books.

  2. Okay I’ll admit it. I’m not a really big fan of Stephen King… His stories are better than everyday romance and definitely better (to me anyway) than Barbra Taylor Bradford for example… I loved The Stand… but not much more.. because he does weird things to people… but then he does it only in writing (I hope)…. so who am I to judge?

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