A first read of Stephen King

I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen


As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.

I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.

As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.

As Dwight Allen put it:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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