Different Seasons by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoy Stephen King, however, I have to be really choosy in what I read of his, because some of his works scare the shit out of me.
This is a series of four shortish stories, and while each story (except the first one) has an element of creepy darkish weirdness to it, they're not bad.
The first story is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and the movie remarkably nails it, so I'm not going to discuss it here.
The second story is Apt Pupil, and this is, by far, the most disturbing of the set, but not in a sleep-with-the-light-on sort of way. It's about a boy who discovers a former Nazi officer living in his home town, and rather than turn him in, the boy asks a lot of questions about what the man did during WWII. The boy and the man develop this mutual co-dependent grotesque relationship based on their fascination with mass murder. The content is disturbing, in and of itself, and also because you watch a seemingly normal, albeit precocious, boy turn a corner into someone very dark and disturbed, and even to the end of the book, I found myself wondering how he was going to get out of it, how this boy was going to get back to normal.
The third story is The Body, which was turned into the movie, Stand by Me. It was after watching the movie and seeing in the credits that it was based on a short story by King, that I decided to read the book. The Body is, in a nutshell, a coming-of-age story about four boys. The boys go off on an adventure to find the body of a boy about their own age who was hit by a train. That description doesn't really do the story justice, but I don't think you read coming-of-age stories for the plot so much as for self-reflection and an opportunity to go back and live a different youth.
The fourth story is called The Breathing Method, and is about a man who joins a club where the members tell stories. Except it isn't quite as simple as that. The club has an element of almost Alice in Wonderland-ish mystique to it, where not all doors are open, and not all doors lead to rooms in this world. There's an almost dream-like quality to the club, and while reading the story, I felt at any moment I might be drawn back into reality.
I had a friend tell me she liked reading King because he wrote what we all thought but were afraid to say. I'm not sure I totally agree with that assessment, but I do think King says things we all want to say, only he manages to articulate it so much better than we ever could. As an example, here's a quote from The Breathing Method: Ellen was sixty per cent asleep when I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes. She rolled over and made a fuzzy interrogative sound deep in her throat. I told her to go back to sleep. She made the muzzy sound again. This time it approximated English: "Howwuzzit?"
Captain America and I have lots of conversations where one of us is "sixty per cent asleep" and this is EXACTLY what they sound like, although it would have taken me about 92 sentences to describe them.
At the end of the book (at least in the version I read) is a letter from King to his readers. He says a couple of interesting things in it that I want to share.
But neither of these magazines [Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker] has been particularly receptive to my stuff, which is fairly plan, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy. To some degree or other, I would guess that those very qualities--unadmirable though they may be--have been responsible for the success of my novels. Most of them have been plain fiction for plain folks, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald's.
I disagree with King's assessment of his writing, and I wouldn't have used the word plain, except that King doesn't use flowery language, he uses accurate language. I'm not sure that makes it plain at all.
Finally, he says of this book in particular:
But I've been in love with each of these stories, too, and part of me always will be in love with them, I guess. I hope that you liked them, Reader; that they did for you what any good story should do--make you forget the real stuff weighing on your mind for a little while and take you away to a place you've never been. It's the most amiable sort of magic I know.
Isn't that wonderful?
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