Stephen King, a New Millennium
Considering the works of Stephen King as the new Millennium kicked off has been more of a challenge than previous decades. It seems to have been his least productive time with fewer novels and more short story collections. I would attribute this naturally to his accident and the fact that I believe he was eying the possibility of winding things down into the retirement he had definitely earned.
For me, the decade would have three high points, the highest of which would be Under The Dome. I won’t belabor this too much as I just spent a huge chunk of words gushing about the book. If you’d care to look, you can seek out my review on that for yourself.
This decade was also when King found himself reaching the end of the Dark Tower series. This was a franchise that he began in the mid-seventies and had gotten its hooks in me before I was even fully a teenager. Speaking for myself, I loved the way King brought everything to a close. I thought he took a series that had been painted on a wildly fantastical canvas and brought it all down into a tightly wound and gripping conclusion. I know this is an opinion not shared by all of King’s fans but this is how it was for me.
Finally, I thought that Duma Key was a great throwback to the darker supernatural stories from King’s past and it was this book among a few others that convinced me that I had to open my mind to some of King’s more recent works.
So where does that leave the rest?
I couldn’t shake the feeling of seeing an author trying again to find himself. The nineties started off in similar fashion as King was coming off of his rehabilitation from booze and drugs but this time around, his efforts seemed less successful. This decade seemed to be marked by books that had a decent premise but I found to be a bit on the underwhelming side. And in a fashion quite unlike King’s work, I often found myself not loving how he was executing the stories.
Dreamcatcher started out great but I think it was too ambitious to really be effective. Ultimately, I think there was just too much story going on for the amount of space in the book and I think King lost sight of the narrative a little. I think he either needed to pare things down or split things up into two separate books because what ended up in this single volume wasn’t working as much for me. And when the story itself wasn’t as engaging, I found myself taking note of the more annoying aspects of the writing, like the repetition of phrases from various characters. There was a lot of potential here and cool aspects to the story, there was just too much other stuff in the way.
Black House also had some great elements to it but the story also seemed to drag at times. The opening sequence used a kind of rambling string of vignettes, in similar fashion to how he began Under The Dome but in this case, it was a little on the boring side and probably needed to be much shorter. It was an interesting way of introducing the key players in the book but I think he could have skipped it and the book would have worked fine. There are some awesome moments throughout the book that I loved but again, I thought it took a little bit too much time to get there. I also found the connections between this book and the Dark Tower series to be a bit perplexing as I didn’t necessarily feel like that linkage was present in The Talisman. It was like King and Straub could have taken this book in a number of different directions but never really chose any of them. I think that this should have been more of a straight-forward thriller featuring an adult Jack Sawyer on the trail of a serial killer. Certain elements of the Territories could have been incorporated as Jack gradually begins to remember his childhood experiences. Making this a Dark Tower book just confused the plot, in my opinion and sealed the book off from fans who didn’t get the references.
From A Buick 8 could have been way up on the scare scale but the style of the story caused a lot of the impact to be lessened in my opinion. There was so much story told in fairly dry, expositive fashion and while he drops a lot of creepy implications to what we are seeing from scene to scene, I kind of wish he had just grounded the story a little more instead of making it so vague. I thought Mile 81 was a good example of what this book could have been, although in that case I thought King went a little too far in the other direction, over-simplifying instead of over-doing.
Cell was entertaining but I think it could have been much better and I just didn’t connect with The Colorado Kid or Lisey’s Story. Again, lots of promise and possibility but what we ended up with were stories that seemed to dance around the soul of the narrative. I have no idea what kind of editorial process King was using by this point of his career but I think he could have benefited from some time to craft out these books a little more. Just my opinion as there are plenty of people who rave about how amazing all of these books are. And I don’t put their opinions at any less than my own. This is just how I responded to the writing. As I have said in previous reviews, I don’t believe this makes me any less of a fan, just being honest about work I didn’t like as much.
There were a lot of short stories in this time period, something I have come to love about King. And for the most part, the collections delivered. Everything’s Eventual was definitely my favorite but Just After Sunset was also entertaining. Full Dark, No Stars was a bit of a letdown for me and had the feel of being a bit rushed. The stories in there weren’t overly bad, but they pale when held up against Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight.
So what can I say about this time period? What larger, overarching statements can I make about the books he wrote and the plots he was taking on? There seemed to be more books with apocalyptic leanings or threats on a global scale, books such as Dreamcatcher, The Dark Tower and Cell. There also were also more departures from his horror roots in the direction of mysteries and thrillers with the likes of From A Buick 8, The Colorado Kid and Lisey’s Story.
The decade would culminate with the first of what I consider to be two of his greatest books, namely Under The Dome and 11/22/63. I would still place The Stand and IT above them but there was also a decade that lay between those two books. It is astounding to me that titles like Under The Dome and 11/22/63 could be published nearly back-to-back like they were.
I could suggest that in the wake of his accident, he seemed to be feeling around, trying to explore his craft in new mediums, looking for new challenges and to find out if there was anything worth keeping him from retiring. I hate making claims like that though as we seem trapped in this era where it is easier to just state something in a publication as no one seems interested in the actual truth behind those statements. It’s interesting to speculate about but I also have to admit that I’m most likely simply projecting my own superficial observations.
So I think what I will say is that at the start of the new millennium, we almost lost Stephen King, forever. Whether it be from the loss of his life or from him potentially deciding to call it quits and enter into retirement.
Ultimately, neither of those two occurred. We almost lost him and I for one, am very grateful that that hasn’t happened yet.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.