Review: It

The first Stephen King book I’ve ever finished! The StandThe Shining, and The Dark Tower all remain half-finished in my queue, but my love for the latest film adaptation of It propelled me through the 1,100+ page book. Summary from Goodreads:

To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.
It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing…
The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.
Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.

The Good

I’ve been hearing for years that King’s writing is terrifying, but I couldn’t see past the hokey visuals that plague many of his screen adaptations. Some of IT’s incarnations are innately horrific, but others don’t translate to film (e.g., a werewolf in a varsity jacket, or a giant bird). The kids are chased by the werewolf after seeing a movie, but B-movie monsters from the 1950s are more campy than scary. King adds a slew of tiny, disgusting details to transform a dopey villain into something that made me jump in my chair.

Even when King rattles on too long with historical information or by emphasizing the villain’s villainy for the 50th time, each set piece is paid off by a terrifying and unique encounter with IT. Several chapters almost function as stand-alone horror stories. The first to mind (both of which I read twice) are “Another One of the Missing: The Death of Patrick Hockstetter” and “Bev Rogan Pays a Call.”

At times, the book’s length was a point in its favor. I’m tempted to say some sections were bogged down in detail, but I was always left with a crystal-clear view of the character being described. Given how much of this book features supernatural elements, this clarity is a plus even as it triples the reading time.

Also, any time King talks about writing, it’s fantastic. One of the kids, Bill, grows up to be a writer. His path to fame and fortune includes some epic criticism from a mediocre university professor:

“This is better,” the instructor writes on the title page. “In the alien counterstrike we see the vicious circle in which violence begets violence; I particularly liked the “needle-nosed” spacecraft as a symbol of socio-sexual incursion. While this remains a slightly confused undertone throughout, it is interesting.” (163)

The socio-sexual undertone is confused because it’s nonexistent! I think I had a class with this guy…

The Excellent

It is two books in one; there’s one story for kids (14/15-years-old) and another for adults. Reviewers who read it at a younger age make me a bit sorry I didn’t read it much sooner. IT orchestrates the chaos and bad fortune in Derry, and, while IT primarily feeds on children, IT manipulates adults into turning a blind eye to the murders and disappearances. If you read this book as a kid, you’ll worry about something grabbing your ankles as you climb into bed. As an adult, you’ll fear being part of the problem.

When children see a version of IT (as dead people, mummies, lepers) according to their fears, they can go on afterwards (assuming they survive):

[Ben] remembered that the day after he had seen the mummy on the iced-up Canal, his life had gone on as usual. He had known that whatever it had been had come close to getting him, but his life had gone on. . . . He had simply incorporated the thing he had seen on the Canal into his life, and if he had almost been killed by it. . . well, kids were always almost getting killed. They dashed across streets without looking, they got horsing around in the lake and suddenly realized they had floated far past their depth on their rubber rafts and had to paddle back, they fell off monkey-bars on their asses and out of trees on their heads. (691)

But grown-ups have a narrower view of the world. They can’t bounce back:

But when you grew up, all that changed. You no longer lay awake in your bed, sure something was crouching in the closet or scratching at the window. . . but when something did happen, something beyond rational explanation, the circuits overloaded. The axons and dendrites got hot. You started to jitter and jive, you started to shake rattle and roll, your imagination started to hop and bop and do the funky chicken all over your nerves. You couldn’t just incorporate what had happened into your life experience. It didn’t digest. (691)

While it’s not uncommon for coming-of-age stories to have a “the kids are on their own” premise, I don’t think I’ve felt as strange to realize I’m in the grown-up camp now as I did reading this book. The scenes with the kids are tinged with nostalgia and made me feel that sweet summer freedom again. Though It is rightly classified as a horror, its heart is in the friendship between the kids (and in the adults when they reunite). I’m not sure how It is more moving than other books I’ve read in this genre—especially given how much of the book is spent with a sadistic, clown-shaped thing—but all victories feel earned, the losses sting, and I can’t remember cheering on a group of protagonists as hard as I was pulling for the Losers Club at the end.

The Scary

The book is scarier than the movie, so if you see the movie and want more (and darker) scares as well as some mythology behind Pennywise (a.k.a. Bob Gray, a.k.a. IT) then I recommend the book. Plus, it’s different enough that you’ll still be in suspense when the kids/adults encounter It. The book version features tunnels that are far narrower (and filthier) so there’s a tension that isn’t present in the movie’s wide, not-quite-dark sewer system. Match-lit tunnels will always be more frightening than those lit by flashlights.

The Wtfffff

There’s a weird sex scene that a whole lot has been written about. Even King says he probably wouldn’t include it now if he could do the book over, but it’s easy enough to skim.

Overall

I was really surprised and impressed by the level of detail and world-building. I always equated King with cheap jump scares and gross-out imagery, but was happy to find something more nuanced and layered. Because It is so extremely long, I feel like I know as much about Derry as my actual hometown and the main cast is easy to picture. Sometimes King leans hard on stereotypes and the supporting cast thins out a bit, but I had a lot of fun reading the book.

I read online that King digs into the mythology more in his The Dark Tower series so I’ve started The Gunslinger. It’s not what I expected so far; it’s very dreamy and disconnected and not at all like the solid world of Derry, Maine.

4.5 (out of 5) I had to skim a little (not much!). While the length helps the book feel immersive, a little tightening up wouldn’t go amiss. King sidesteps the issue of “is this all a coincidence” neatly and the scary bits are scary.

 

October TBR

I’ve spent the last two Octobers reading creepy books. The cooler weather makes it feel good to curl up under a blanket and read something scary.

There will be a couple non-scary reviews in October too. I’m behind with NetGalley reviews and Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach comes out on the 3rd.

I’ve picked out seven for this month:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I read this back in February and have been sitting on the review. It’s not scary, but seems seasonally appropriate given how Frankenstein’s monster is a common Halloween costume.

 

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’ve seen both movies—the Swedish original and the American remake—though it’s been a while. I don’t read many vampire books, but this one sounds good. Both movies had some excellent jump scares so I plan to read this with all the lights on.

 

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

I picked this up after the first season of True Detective, but haven’t read it. I tried the first story, but it was weirder and trippier than I thought it would be.

 

It by Stephen King

According to my Kindle, this book is 1,477 pages long. What a doorstop! I wouldn’t have put it on my October list if I hadn’t just finished it because I’m not sure I could fit seven reviews into the month if I had to read 1,000+ page books too. The book is more frightening than the movie; many of the most terrifying/disgusting scenes would be hard to put on film without looking campy/cheap. Still though, if you haven’t seen the new movie—you should.

 

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The end of this book is strange so it’s been on my reread list since I read it last year. The religious mania in the book creates an uncomfortable, unsettling tone and there are TWO gothic mansions, not just one. That’s twice the fun.

 

Zero K by Don DeLillo

I wouldn’t call the overall story “horror,” but there was one chapter in the middle that made my blood turn cold. I had to set it down and walk away. Zero K taps into the whole fear-of-death thing, though not so obviously as White Noise. White Noise has a repeated refrain of “who will die first” every time the lead character looks at his wife that similarly got under my skin.

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

No ghosts, vampires, or werewolves here—just creepy ol’ Tom Ripley who kills his friend and takes over his life. Yikes.

For some recommendations in the meantime, here are links to reviews from previous years:

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Hell House by Richard Matheson

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Shutter Island by Dennis

Slade House by David Mitchell

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

And don’t forget the most terrifying, skin-crawling vampire book of all time: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. 😛

Happy October!

 

 

20 Books of Summer 2017: Wrap Up

A new personal best!

Summers pass faster now than when I was a kid. By the time I hit Publish on this post, I’ll be mulling next year’s list and it’ll be June again soon.

But before I bid farewell to this year’s list, I need to break out the champagne.

I read 16 books!
I reviewed 9 books!
A new personal best!!

I went off-list a little in the middle, but still made a sizeable dent in the original list from my sign-up post. The links below lead to my reviews. Happy Summer, Everyone!

Original Reading List

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Postponed

 

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.6

 

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Postponed

 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.5

 

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.8

 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.7

 

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.4

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Postponed

 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.4

 

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Postponed

 

Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.0

 

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

She by H. Rider Haggard

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.5

 

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Postponed

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Postponed

 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Postponed

 

As always, a few queue jumpers…

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 1.5

 

The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Read, not yet reviewed…

Monthly Round-up: August 2017

Whew. August was a crazy month! The 20 Books of Summer 2017 reading challenge ends on September 3, which means I’ve got four books to finish reading in a short amount of time. Is it the weekend yet?

Books Reviewed:

  1. The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
  2. Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Books Read:

  1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  2. The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri
  3. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  4. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Current State of the TBR:

  • Kindle Titles: 76 (includes rereads)
  • Paperback Titles: 178 (includes rereads)
  • NetGalley Queue: 14
Keen observers (creepy people?) may notice my TBR has surged a little. I sold some books to a used bookshop and picked up the following ten books for $7.11. That averages to seventy-one cents per book!! 😀

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

 

The Sea by John Banville

 

Mao II by Don DeLillo

 

Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

 

The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

 

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

 

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler

 

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett