Okay, I’m going to admit something to you now. You may judge me. You may scratch your head, thinking, ‘Wow! Didn’t see THAT coming!’ But I don’t care–I just need to get this off my chest.
I used to really like Stephen King. Probably up until my mid-20’s, I fell on anything the man wrote with something approaching religious zeal. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, I think that one of his early novels, Salem’s Lot, is probably the single scariest thing I have ever read. (I mean, Twilight? Really? Get off the bus!) Secondly, one of my fond memories of my childhood was visiting the small newsagent in the town where I grew up and rereading, endlessly, the first page of Cujo. From memory–my well-loved copy is sitting on a shelf somewhere in about 1997, I think–the first sentence went like this: ‘Once upon a time, in a small town in Maine, there lived a monster.’ When you’re very young and you harbour an inkling that one day you might like to write books, that sort of thing grabs you right in the gut and never lets go.
I think I remember that Cujo was one of the first grown-up books I bought. I loved it. It had a masturbation scene in it, and the tension of the passages where the mother and son are trapped in their broken-down car by an enormous rabid St Bernard was thrilling–almost illicit, somehow. So my collection soon expanded–Night Shift, The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Firestarter, Carrie, Christine. This last was another highlight, not so much for its haunted-car terrors but the adolescent ‘boys and cars and girls’ paradigm to which I related at the time, being into adolescence myself by this stage. On it went: Pet Sematary, It, Different Seasons, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, The Talisman, Needful Things. His style seemed so fluid, his pace cracking, his characters vivid, the situations they ended up in at once fantastical, sometimes absurd, nearly always genuinely terrifying. They were compelling.
So what happened? I’m not sure I know. I do know that King himself has described his work as the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries. Perhaps I simply outgrew him. I certainly lost the appetite, at around the time of Rose Madder. I think I formed the opinion that at some stage he started repeating himself.
So why am I sharing all of this? Our tastes change as we grow older, of course. It should be no surprise, really, that a writer I enjoyed when I was younger no longer floats my boat, as it were. (I sometimes whether, in future, today’s younger generation will have similar feelings about the Twilights or the Harry Potters; of the ‘Gosh, we loved it to death at the time, but we left it behind pretty quickly…’ refrain.) Because I have a confession to make: I’m going to try again.
His latest book is 22.11.63, a time-travel novel in which the main character journeys back to 1958 (through a portal in the back room of a diner in Maine, of course) and realises that he should try and stop the assassination of John F Kennedy. I was also fascinated by this event as a child. I did projects on it for school and read anything about it that I could get my hands on, as you do when you’re about twelve and you don’t play sport. So perhaps there is nostalgia in this decision of mine–two now-distant threads that entranced me have combined themselves into a very neat package. There is really only one minor nagging little voice in the back of my head, piping up repeatedly with a very insistent question.
What if it’s crap?
Maybe I’ll forgive him. I won’t know until I’ve been on the journey–and, to be honest, I’ve yet to even get a copy of the book. I know it’s risky but maybe, just once, I’ll take the chance. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.