I’ve read a fair few books by Stephen King, and after my last binge on his writing, I decided to work through the rest of his books in chronological order. Last year, I only read one King novel (along with 7 novels by his friend Richard Bachman), so I want to get through a few this year. Here’s three.
The Dead Zone – 1979
I read this a while back. I really enjoyed it up until near the end. It felt a bit like King had hit his publisher’s page limit when he was only halfway through the story. (I felt the same reading The Stand.) I was expecting the conflict between Johnny and Stillson, the antagonist and protagonist, both of whom are introduced within the book’s first two chapters, to take up more space in the book. There’s a huge big subplot in the middle where Johnny stops a murder that doesn’t have much to do with the main conflict of the book (as far as I remember), and was the chapter on the lightning-rod salesman really necessary? Also, isn’t there a bit that suggests that Stillson was in contact with Sarah’s husband? I presumed that that relationship would lead to serious complications for Johnny later on, but it led to nothing. It is hinted that Stillson is truly evil and that he would be an awful president, but he never gets to reach his full potential. Sure, he’s unhinged, but he never comes close to Randall Flagg levels of nastiness.
Firestarter – 1980
The next of King’s books that I read features one of his scariest antagonists. Firestarter is the story of a man and his daughter, both of whom have psychic powers, being chased, imprisoned and manipulated by a shady government agency. I have a little girl myself, and I couldn’t help but get sucked into this one. The little girl in the book has the ability to start fires with her mind, and the man responsible for getting to use this power, one John Rainbird, is a chillingly evil character. He’s so bad that I had to put the book down at one point to really contemplate his wickedness.
You can probably guess how this is going to end once you get halfway through the book, but it’ll take you another 200 pages to get there. This is another long, fairly tortuous read from King.
Cujo – 1981
I wrote the reviews for The Dead Zone and Firestarter a while after reading those books, but the wounds that Cujo inflicted on me are still healing. This book was fucking nasty.
I’ve known that this novel is about a rabid dog for as long as I remember, so I was a bit surprised that the book starts with the description of a serial killer. I was doubly surprised to realise that the serial killer being described was the killer from King’s The Dead Zone. Although it’s included in this post, I wrote the above review for The Dead Zone months before reading Cujo. In it, I actually complain about the inclusion of the serial killer subplot, but it makes sense now. I think the way King link his books together like this is really cool. You don’t have to have read The Dead Zone to enjoy Cujo, but it does make you feel pretty smart to have the background information from the other book. I’ve long known that King does this kind of thing, but this particular example makes me afraid of reading the rest of his novels out of sequence. I’m not going near the Dark Tower series until I’ve read everything else he wrote before finishing those books.
Anyways, people can say whatever they want about Stephen King’s writing, but fucking Hell, he can suck his reader into a story. His ideas can be corny, but his characters and the way they interact with each other are brilliant.
As in Firestarter, the central conflict in Cujo is drawn out and fairly hopeless. This one has an even bleaker ending though. Really, it’s very, very bleak. I really enjoyed this book.
I was going to try to read and review Pet Semetary before the new movie comes out next month, but Christine and Different Seasons were published before that one, so I won’t have the time if I’m reading King’s books in chronological order. I’ll probably get to those later on in the year.