It took me rougly eight tries to make it through Stephen King’s The Stand. At first he kept losing me after he turned his camera away from Stu Redman. I just didn’t care for Frannie, and I outright disliked Larry. Everyone said what a wonderful book it was though, so I kept trying, and Nick was okay. It was M-O-O-N, and that spells Tom Cullen, who led me through the rest of The Stand–although it took a couple of more tries, because King lost me again at a certain spoilery plot point late in the game.
It never pays to get too attached to King’s characters.
So another month, another attempt to make it through, and finally–success! I had finished reading The Stand. I didn’t care for the ending much at all. With King, and for me as a reader, endings are hit or miss, and he is one author where I never skip to the end to see what happens and then back track to find out why and how it happened. With King, the why and how might be the only part I want.
And with his science fiction, I might even want the why and how only once.
Is The Stand SF? Technically yes, although it’s softer SF than some. When I think of King’s SF, I’m more inclined to think first of The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher. I’ve not been able to make it through either of those a second time despite multiple attempts, and despite the fact that I enjoyed them just fine the first time through. Under the Dome was ok, but I doubt I’ll ever try to read it again. And…the jury’s still out on Cell. I actually want to read that one again (since I’ve forgotten most of it) but I’m afraid it will fall under the Curse of the SF Re-reads.
Which brings me the long way ’round to my actual topic, which is his latest novel, 11/23/63. I very much enjoyed it, far more than UTD, more than any of his books since Lisey’s Story, which is one of my favorites. In this book, a teacher travels back in time to avert the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This premise tickled both my socks off, because godlight originally was supposed to be about someone travelling back in time to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which was going to lead to a chain of events that put a Lincoln decendant in the White House at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
See, too often have I come up with what I thought was a fantabulous story idea only to discover (or realize) King has been there first. The Pool Where We All Go Down to Drink from Lisey’s Story explains this metaphorically, but has never made me feel any better about it. I love you, but DAMN YOU, STEVE! I still haven’t forgiven you for Gray Matter, of which my version was called Couch Potato…
But this time, I drank first. This makes me happy.
godlight ended up nothing at all like that original premise, no backward time travel, no changing the past, nothing of the sort. And it’s win-win, because King obviously writes better than I do, and his story is miles and miles better than mine could ever have been.
Oddly, I didn’t care much about the whole JFK/Oswald plot line until just as it came to a head. Until then, King kept my attention with other things, including Oswald’s wife, and other characters also. Especially engrossing was the love story between the teacher and a woman from the past. When the time finally came and the teacher had to decide whether to return to his own time or not, it mattered hugely to me. (This same question failed to matter in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, sad to say.)
Are there ramifications to changing the past? How will we know if the protagonist never returns to the present?
The answer to those questions are spoilers. They are also quintessential Stephen King, and I hardly got any sleep until I found out.
So this book I give a big hooray to. Maybe even enough to forgive him for Gray Matter.
My Top Ten Stephen King Novels (subject to change and re-ordering almost daily)
The Talisman (co-written with Peter Straub)
It (Bev saved my life)
Hearts in Atlantis
Bag of Bones