Standalong!

When Trish first suggested reading The Stand, I wasn’t convinced. Not because I wasn’t interested in reading The Stand, but because it is so long and I have a horrendous track record with readalongs and books I “have” to read. But it’s been a long time since I successfully read a Stephen King book. If you had asked me when I was 14 who my favorite author was, I most likely would have answered Stephen King. (Or if I thought you weren’t the kind of person to judge me, I would have most certainly said JK Rowling, because Harry Potter wasn’t cool yet and I was still hiding my fan fiction and obsession binders under my bed.) I tried to read Under the Dome when it came out, but I was underwhelmed and never finished that beast of a book. So, I thought, it’s probably time to try Stephen King again.

The thing about reading an author that you once loved unconditionally is seeing their flaws for the first time. I don’t know that, as a 12-14 year old, I was reading anything critically. I just read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on. I also traveled a lot and Stephen King was the only thing that I found worth reading in most gas stations.

This isn’t to say that Stephen King isn’t a good writer, because he is. Sometimes, he’s a downright brilliant writer, and I live for those amazing moments when you realize how good he is. This also isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying The Stand, because I am. Even though it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in a long time and I have barely read anything else for the entire month of June. There is no getting around the length of this novel. It will take you a good chunk of time to read and, since I’m only about 60% of the way through, I can’t quite yet tell you if it’s worth it.

With a book this long, sometimes I forget how much I really loved the beginning, despite how horrifying it was. Essentially, a government-created flu begins infecting people in Texas. It’s the end-of-the-world type flu. A flu that leaves everyone dead, except for one or two people in each town. The people who are left begin traveling and trying to find each other, which becomes much easier when they all start dreaming of Mother Abigail, an elderly black woman who knows that she has been chosen by God to lead the “good” people to Colorado.

The thing is, they’re not only dreaming of Mother Abigail. They’re also dreaming of “the dark man,” named Randall Flagg. People are gathering around him, too, but they are the least savory sort of folks: escaped convicts, drug addicts, and the technically inclined.

So, I just looked up what year this was published to try and figure out what decade it was so I could say, “Look it was the _____. Having a well-rounded cast of characters that didn’t perpetuate stereotypes wasn’t the norm yet.” Or at the very least, you probably weren’t being called out for it by every reader with a blog. I had no idea that The Stand was originally published in the 70s and then rereleased in the 90s and King changed the dates of the novel. What a strange decision! And, finally, it makes sense that the characters were saying “You dig?” and expecting me to really believe that relatively hip people said that in the 90s. Because they didn’t. I’m assuming. I was young then.

The way Stephen King approaches race has been addressed again and again. I think this article by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu about the presence of “the magical negro” in King’s books is a really great place to start. Like me, Okorafor-Mbachu is a fan of Stephen King, but it’s important to point out the flaws in the things you love.

Right now, I’m grateful for a little break from The Stand. I’ve been reading it with no breaks since the first week of June and I’m about 800 pages in, so I’m a little ahead for the readalong. I don’t want to be sick of this story, so I think that it will be good to take a short break and come back to the story excited to finish and eager to get back to the story.

(Also, I have told so many people that I’m reading The Stand and all of them have kind of given me this look, one eyebrow raised, and said, “Really? You?” To all the people who think that I think I am too good for reading The Stand: You have no idea how many really cheesy YA novels I read. Not that The Stand is a cheesy YA novel, but that is just an example of how non-snooty my reading choices are. If I had said I was reading Nicholas Sparks, then that reaction would have been acceptable.)

 

A Good and Happy Child – Justin Evans

Even though I’m not officially participating in RIP this year,  I too have caught the bug.  There is just something about the cooler mornings and evenings, even though the days are still hot, that reminds you that fall and all the goodness that comes with it is just around the corner.  I have been trying to find an engaging horror novel that will not only give me some nightmares, but also keep me interested.  I’ve tried a few and put them all down.  All that was before A Good and Happy Child.

A Good and Happy Child even began with one of my novel pet peeves: 2nd person.  Fortunately I flipped ahead to make sure the entire novel wasn’t in 2nd person and it was not, so I did not mind the few chapters that were.  The novel begins with George Davies revealing to his psychiatrist (the you at the beginning) that he cannot hold his newborn child.  He cannot even go near him, let alone touch him.  His wife, fed up, has requested that he go see the psychiatrist to get some help, or she will leave him.  His psychiatrist requests that George write about something that happened to him as a child in notebooks for the psychiatrist to read later.  Those notebooks make up the bulk of the novel.

After his father dies, George begins to experience weird things.  He sees a small boy who talks to him and tells him to do things, often without George remembering.  Eventually these things get noticed by his mother and his father’s friends, leading to a visit to the mental hospital.

I don’t read a lot of horror novels, but when I do, I want them to have certain qualities.  I want there to be ambiguity; I want the reader to have to decide if what happened was real or not.  Were there actually demons?  Or was it all in the main character’s head?  I don’t like it when the book itself makes a judgement one way or another and A Good and Happy Child delivered on this aspect.  The events are terrifying, yes, but since they are memories from a childhood there is always that possibility that they are not real.  But!  There is always the possibility they are.  That’s what makes it so scary.

The setting also has to be perfect.  I particularly loved the setting of A Good and Happy Child because it was Virginia and there is plenty of creepy to go around in my home state.  Though the university setting of most of the book  is fiction, it is easy to replace it with real locations in the area.

The structure is important as well.  It has to build suspense and create tension.  I think if the novel had been told from the perspective of Young George it would not have been successful as Adult George telling the story.  There is the added element of faulty memory.

If you can’t tell, I really really liked this novel.  No, it’s not going to shatter any literary circles.  The writing is not necessarily beautiful, but it is well-written and extremely successful.  (Also, I had nightmares.  Bonus points.)  More bonus points?  This is Evans’s first novel.  This is a perfect RIP read and a perfect read for Halloween.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Other reviews: books i done read.

Did you read and review A Good and Happy Child? Let me know in the comments and I will link you here!

Review – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

WeHaveAlwaysLived“I wish you were all dead, I thought, and longed to say it out loud.  Constance said, “Never let them see that you care,” and “If you pay any attention they’ll only get worse,” and probably it was true, but I wished they were dead.  I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying.  I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick from Mrs. Donell while she lay there.  I was never sorry when I had thoughts like that; I only wished they would come true.  “It’s wrong to hate them,” Constance said, “it only weakens you,” but I hated them anyway, and wondered why it had been worth while creating them in the first place. (15)

Continue reading “Review – We Have Always Lived in the Castle”