Friday, November 30, 2012

Stephen King: The Stand: The Complete And Uncut Edition (1990)

I've read both versions of The Stand in the past year - the original 1978 paperback in April (as part of this project) and the Complete and Uncut Edition at the beginning of 2012. I'm not going to read it a third time.

King added approximately 150,000 words to the new edition; the difference from the 1978 paperback and the 1990 paperback is 324 pages.

The biggest change is the year in which the novel is set. In the 1978 edition, the story begins in June 1985; in this expanded edition, it has been moved ahead to June 1990. I was unable to find an official reason for moving the date of the plague ahead five years.

With that change, King went through the original edition, making edits to single words and short phrases (updating various brand names, prices of items, etc.), adding more character background and development, inserting some of the material that was cut from the 1978 edition, and writing new material for this new edition.

Ann Carter, reviewing the complete edition for the Sun Sentinel in 1990:
Scenes also have been expanded, putting in dialogue, action, description and recollection that don't add much to the story, but do a great job of slowing it down. ... Some of the details not only detour the story, but take away one privilege: imagination. ... [T]he most positive thing that can be said for the 1990 The Stand is what it reveals about King`s talent as an editor: He was able to cut 400 pages from his original manuscript, and I never missed them.
Here is what I wrote about the expanded version this past February:
Many sections went on and on, and I felt King could have told us more than enough in five pages rather than 12. But when I slowed down and read each sentence carefully, it did not seem indulgent or redundant or excessive. King was simply taking his time, relishing the details of his apocalyptic tale. If you concentrated, he wasn't boring. I simply wanted the story to move along at a much quicker pace.
Trivia: In the uncut version, Frannie Goldsmith is reading Rimfire Christmas, a western novel written by Bobbi Anderson (the main character in The Tommyknockers).

Next: Four Past Midnight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stephen King: The Dark Half (1989)

Author's Note: I am indebted to the late
Richard Bachman for his help and inspiration.
This novel could not have been written without him.

Who does a writer become when he sits down to write?

That is the central question of The Dark Half, Stephen King's third consecutive novel – after Misery and The Tommyknockers – to feature a writer as its main character.

King experienced a series of crises in the mid-to-late 1980s and, because he often uses writing as a form of self-analysis, they appeared in his fiction. Judging from Misery's plot, King had severe reservations about his fame and was concerned about the psychic cost of celebrity. His drug and alcohol addictions were raging out of control (this was also the third book in a row to feature an addict or former addict), and he was forced to admit he was the author of five novels attributed to "Richard Bachman".

The Dark Half was written as a response to the sudden death of Bachman's literary career – or perhaps as a way for King to flesh out his myriad feelings about the Bachman phenomenon in general.
For a while I started to think, "Suppose Bachman wasn't dead?" And immediately the idea jumped to mind: What if a guy had a pen name that didn't want to stay dead and isn't that an interesting idea and how would that work out? It just stayed like that for a while and didn't get written. Then the thought that finally drove me to start writing was the idea: Suppose Bachman collaborated on a book with me? And so originally, The Dark Half was submitted as a collaboration by Stephen King and Richard Bachman. But Viking didn't like the idea. They thought it was confusing and that people would think it was a collaboration like The Talisman.

Thad Beaumont's first novel was a finalist for the National Book Award. After an unsuccessful follow-up, Thad experienced a severe case of writer's block. He was able to write again only (at his wife Liz's suggestion) by doing so under another name. Using the pseudonym George Stark*, Thad published four best-selling crime novels. After more than a decade, Thad feels trapped in his literary double life and wants to return to serious fiction. And when someone tries to blackmail him by exposing him as Stark, Thad is thrilled, and announces the secret himself to People magazine, which publishes a photo of a fake grave site, complete with a tombstone marking the dates of Stark's existence.

*: Donald E. Westlake's pen name "Richard Stark" was the source for both "Richard Bachman" and "George Stark".

As the darker side of Thad's persona, Stark is vivid enough that Liz speaks of him as a real person, as an unevictable intruder in their home.
George Stark wasn't a very nice guy. ... [H]e was in fact a horrible guy. He made me more nervous with each of the four books he wrote, and when Thad finally decided to kill him, I went upstairs to our bedroom and cried with relief. ... He was an ugly, dangerous man when he was ... living with us.

[W]hen he was writing as George Stark – and in particular, when he was writing about [professional hit man] Alexis Machine – Thad wasn't the same. When he – opened the door is maybe the best way to put it – when he did that and invited Stark in, he'd become distant. Not cold, not even cool, but distant. He was less interested in going out, in seeing people. ... There was no big personality change ... but he wasn't the same.
I don't know how he came to be. ... I don't have the slightest idea when he became a ... a separate person. He seemed real to me when I was writing as him, but only in the way all the stories I write seem real to me when I'm writing them. Which is to say, I take them seriously but I don't believe in them ... except I do ...
After the mock funeral, the doppelganger refuses to stay buried. Somehow Stark escapes "the womblike dungeon of Beaumont's imagination" and emerges in the real world "like some weird cancer in human form". He begins hunting down and killing everyone associated with the article that put him in his grave, including the journalist, photographer, and Thad's agent. Stark is determined to live again, either by Thad writing another Stark novel (which he has vowed never to do) or some (further) collaboration between the two. In the end, Thad will be forced to confront "his dark half", the uncontrollable and malevolent side of himself.

Despite King's top-notch storytelling skills, I could not accept The Dark Half's premise: that Thad's pseudonym has somehow come to life as a separate human being. I realize that may seem somewhat odd considering the plots of some of King's other books – vampires in rural Maine, haunted cars that drive themselves, a spaceship buried in the woods – but despite his lengthy explanations of how Stark came to be (it involves an unformed twin being absorbed in utero), he simply couldn't win me over. (Maybe if Stark was a spirit or evil force rather than an actual person ...)


John Sears (Stephen King's Gothic) describes The Dark Half as "a fable of writerly creativity gone monstrously wrong, a version of the allegory of the author enslaved by a popular readership". Thad Beaumont, like Misery's Paul Sheldon, has become successful by giving his readers what they want, and putting aside the kind of fiction he would rather concentrate on.

Just as Thad's novels are quite different from the grisly books he wrote as Stark, the themes of the Bachman novels are the polar opposite of King's fiction. Where King emphasizes redemption and the power of love, Bachman's landscapes are unrelentingly bleak, degraded, full of despair, and devoid of hope. Anthony Magistrale says the early Bachman books (Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man)
served as a kind of laboratory for the young King. ... Bachman supplied King with a necessary alter ego ... a voice to help release some of King's own literary demons. Bachman permitted King to indulge his darkest fantasies and speculations. ... [The Bachman work] "is best interpreted as representing a pessimistic side of King's psyche.
In addition, Michael J. Meyer notes that "despite Thad's alleged aversion to the type of writing Stark produces [and Stark's murderous impulses], his attraction to Stark is depicted as similar to alcohol or drug addiction".

Amy Joyce Palko: Charting Habitus: Stephen King, the Author-Protagonist and the Field of Literary Production (2009):
Thad is brought face to face with his pseudonym-made-flesh and is forced to recognize that he cannot ever truly break free from his role as a writer of popular novels and return unscathed to his role as writer of serious literary fiction. ... Within this one man, there is an inner conflict pertaining to the dominance of either serious or popular fiction which is ultimately irresolvable.
King uses obvious elements of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson" (which Thad mentions at one point), and name-drops dozens more writers and books throughout the novel, including Elmore Leonard, Ernest Hemingway, Brideshead Revisited, Franz Kafka, Hamlet, Sidney Sheldon, Little Black Sambo, and Saul Bellow, while also including numerous literary pen names, such as Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Tucker Coe, and Edgar Box.

In creating George Stark, all Thad Beaumont wanted to do was keep writing:
He had not set out to write a series of novels which would make a great deal of money, and he had certainly not set out to create a monster. He had only been trying to feel a way around the block that had dropped into his path. He had only wanted to find a way to write another good story, because doing that made him happy.
Likewise, Stephen King did not set out to become world's most famous author, and he certainly did not plan on creating the fame and celebrity that he has "enjoyed" for decades. Like Beaumont, King somehow created a monster. (A minor character, speaking about Thad, says, "I pity famous people ... [they] must live defensive, disorganized, fearful lives ...") All King has wanted to do was have the space and freedom to write another good story. Writing, he has said many times, has kept him sane.

Next: The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stephen King: The Tommyknockers (1987)

I was not looking forward to reading The Tommyknockers. Not after reading things online warning that it was one of King's worst books, a self-indulgent mess, written in the depths of his addictions, a hefty tome of 558 pages sorely in need of an editor. Indeed, in one ranking of King's novels, it was slotted #61 out of 62.

Well, The Tommyknockers wasn't that bad. It will not crack my Top 10 when I'm done with this project (or my Top 20, probably), but two-thirds of it was pretty enjoyable. The ending was unsatisfying, with the wholesale destruction reminding me too much of Firestarter.

One summer day, while walking in the Maine woods with her elderly beagle, Roberta "Bobbi" Anderson (a writer of western-themed novels) trips over a hunk of metal sticking a few inches out of the ground. She pulls at it, but it doesn't budge - and so she starts digging around it. She finds that it is actually a much larger piece of metal.

The novel's other main character - Jim Gardener, an alcoholic poet and long-time friend of Bobbi's - returns to Haven, Maine, and joins Bobbi in her excavation. (Gard is also against nuclear power* and when he gets drunk, he has a tendency to voice his opinions rather forcefully. One of Gard's meltdowns (so to speak!) at a post-reading party is a captivating set piece, as he argues relentlessly, until the host suffers a heart attack and an industry spokesman's wife is reduces to hysterics).

* The meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania happened less than three years before King started work on the manuscript and the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine occurred late in the writing process.

Bobbi experiences something akin to a "physical craving" to continue digging in the woods. Much later in the book, she says she really had no choice:
I never asked to stumble over the goddamn thing. Free will was not a factor here ... Do you think people can choose to put away any knowledge once they've seen the edge of it? ... When ordinary people see something sticking out of the ground, they got to dig on it. They got to dig on it because it might be treasure.
It is slowly revealed that the object is not treasure, but an ancient flying saucer that has been buried for thousands of years. As more of the saucer is exposed to the air, it releases toxins that affect Bobbi - and will soon affect everyone in Haven. Bobbi experiences a surge in brain activity - it's described as unlimited energy - and begins building various implausible machines, including a typewriter that runs telepathically ("a direct tap into the subconscious, more like dreaming than writing"). She is also losing weight, her hair and teeth are falling out, and she is experiencing excessive menstrual bleeding, but she remains focused on digging.

Because of a metal plate in Gard's skull, the result of a skiing accident when he was a teenager, he is mostly immune to the ship's power, though he does suffer from frequent nosebleeds. As an "outsider", the town views him with suspicion. Eventually, the hatchway of the ship is uncovered and Bobbi and Gard explore inside. The creatures in the ship appear to be dead, but they are actually only hibernating, waiting for someone to come along and "re-animate" the ship. This is foreshadowed much earlier in the novel when Gard imagines some "twenty-fifth-century archaeologist" uncovering the "spent fuel rods that were stacking up in big hot piles". King believes that the legacy of both nuclear energy and the alien ship are beyond human manageability.

Anthony Magistrale wrote that the novel "becomes a thinly disguised parable of nuclear energy and the willingness of modern communities to risk human safety and the sanctity of the land for the corporate promise of clean and cheap energy".

Douglas Winter calls The Tommyknockers
a satirical invention of the pragmatic side of science fiction, which seemingly worships the technological solution over human emotion. The novel is focused upon people who play with things that they do not understand: it is intended to serve as a direct allegory for what we, as a nation, are doing with our collective lives.
The Tommyknockers is also a novel about addiction: humanity's craving for technological advances and King's own dependency on drugs and alcohol.

On Writing:
In the spring and summer of 1986, I wrote The Tommyknockers, often working until midnight with my heart running at a hundred and thirty beats a minute and cotton swabs stuck up my nose to stem the coke-induced bleeding.

Tommyknockers is a forties-style science fiction tale in which the writer-heroine discovers an alien spacecraft buried in the ground. The crew is still on board, not dead but only hibernating. These alien creatures got into your head and just started ... well, tommyknocking around in there. What you got was energy and a kind of superficial intelligence. What you gave up in exchange was your soul. It was the best metaphor for drugs and alcohol my tired, overstressed mind could come up with.

Not long after that my wife, finally convinced that I wasn't going to pull out of this ugly downward spiral on my own, stepped in. ... She organized an intervention group formed of family and friends, and I was treated to a kind of This Is Your Life in hell. ... Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at a rehab or I could get the hell out of the house. She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.

I bargained, because that's what addicts do. I was charming, because that's what addicts are. In the end I got two weeks to think about it. In retrospect, this seems to summarize all the insanity of that time. ...

[W]hat finally decided me was Annie Wilkes, the psycho nurse in Misery. Annie was coke. Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie's pet writer. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to work anymore if I quit drinking and drugging, but I decided that I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up.
Most critics were not kind when The Tommyknockers was published. Christopher Lehman-Haupt (New York Times) admitted to being a King addict and said it was "hard to resist the sheer energy of the storytelling", but reported the novel was plagued by "repetition, implausibility, an illogically switching point of view, [and] manipulative narrative leaps ... We already knew he could grip us with good horror stories and so-so horror stories. Now he has shown that he can grip us with a lousy horror story as well."

Publishers Weekly:
The Tommyknockers is consumed by the rambling prose of its author. Taking a whole town as his canvas, King uses too-broad strokes, adding cartoonlike characters and unlikely catastrophes like so many logs on a fire; ultimately, he loses all semblance of style, carefully structured plot or resonant meaning, the hallmarks of his best writing. It is clear from this latest work that king has "become" a writing machine ...
The middle section of the book - 217 pages entitled "Tales Of Haven" - tell us about the town of Haven and introduces many of the town's residents. You could call it self-indulgent, but it is also testament to King's talent at creating characters and telling their stories. King gives us pages and pages about the history of Haven, just as he did with the town of Derry in It. There is one essential difference, though. The background of Derry was critically important to the plot of It, while Haven's history is not very important to The Tommyknockers' narrative. It's not a total digression - the saucer plot is brought forward a bit - but it could easily have been cut by 50%-75%.

King, 1983:
I think that if there was any change suggested to me that I didn't want, all I would need to say would be, "No, I won't do that." And it would never be a question of their withdrawing my contract, would it? They'd just finally say, "Well, okay then, don't do it that way." When means, in effect, that if I'm willing to be really intransigent, there'll be no editing at all. ... It's a terrible position to me in. I think I just have to resolve to take editing, even if I think the changes are wrong. To do otherwise is to become a monster and claim that I'm doing it right, and I don't need any criticism, editorial help, or guidance. And I can't do that.
King, 1990:
At this point, nobody can make me change anything. ... That's why it becomes more and more important that I listen carefully to what people say, and if what they say seems to make sense, I have to make those changes even when I don't want to, because it's too easy to hang yourself. You get all this freedom - it can lead to self-indulgence. I've been down that road, probably most notably with The Tommyknockers. But with a book like Misery, where I did listen, the results were good.
But is such writing at such length always self-indulgent? I recently read something Nick Hornby wrote in The Believer back in 2004, and it resonated with me:
Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress. ...

Where would David Copperfield be if Dickens had gone to writing classes? Probably about seventy minor characters short, is where. (Did you know that Dickens is estimated to have invented thirteen thousand characters? Thirteen thousand! The population of a small town! If you want to talk about books in terms of back-breaking labor, then maybe we should think about how hard it is to write a lot - long books, teeming with exuberance and energy and life and comedy. I'm sorry if that seems obvious, but it can't always be true that writing a couple of hundred pages is harder than writing a thousand.) At one point near the beginning of the book, David runs away, and ends up having to sell the clothes he's wearing for food and drink. It would be enough, maybe, to describe the physical hardship that ensued; but Dickens being Dickens, he finds a bit part for a real rogue of a secondhand clothes merchant, a really scary guy who smells of rum and who shouts things like "Oh, my lungs and liver" and "Goroo!" a lot.

As King Lear said - possibly when invited in to Iowa as a visiting speaker - "Reason not the need." There is no need: Dickens is having fun, and he extends the scene way beyond its function. Rereading it now, it seems almost to have been conceived as a retort to spareness, because the scary guy insists on paying David for his jacket in halfpenny installments over the course of an afternoon, and thus ends up sticking around for two whole pages. Could he have been cut? Absolutely he could have been cut. But there comes a point in the writing process when a novelist - any novelist, even a great one - has to accept that what he is doing is keeping one end of a book away from the other, filling up pages, in the hope that these pages will move, provoke, and entertain a reader.
I love that phrase: "keeping one end of a book away from the other"! That's what King is doing in many of his doorstops. Could each of It or The Stand or The Tommyknockers been told in half as many pages? Probably. But King loves to write, and he wants to tell his stories his way, offering character background and lengthy digressions that may not be all that important to the plot, but are still entertaining. (P.S. Having a character have some silly verbal tic like "Oh, my lungs and liver!" is exactly the kind of thing King does quite often.)

King also makes references to many of his own books in The Tommyknockers, including The Dead Zone, It, Firestarter, Pet Sematary, The Shining, The Stand, The Talisman, and Cycle of the Werewolf. Also, one character notes that Bobbi's books are well-crafted westerns, "not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like the ones that fellow who lives up Bangor wrote".

Next: The Dark Half.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stephen King: Misery (1987)

Paul Sheldon says he writes two kinds of novels: "good ones and best-sellers".

The moneymakers are a series of 19th-century historical romances featuring heroine Misery Chastain. However, Sheldon believes he is not taken seriously as a writer because of this genre fiction, and, trapped by fame and the demands of his fans, he feels shackled to a character he has grown to despise.

In a show of creative independence, Sheldon has killed off Chastain in what he believes will be his last romance novel, and is celebrating a completed first draft of a literary work, Fast Cars. As is his habit, Sheldon completes the manuscript at a Colorado resort, and heads out for a celebratory drive. Drunk on champagne and caught in a fierce snowstorm, he slides off the road and flips his car near the rural town of Sidewinder. Sheldon awakes two weeks later, in a bed in the farmhouse of a former nurse named Annie Wilkes.

Annie found Paul's overturned car (King uses first names throughout most of the book), but she did not call the police or take Paul to a hospital. Once she discovered his identity, she brought him back to her home, taped crude splints to his broken legs, hooked him up to an IV, and fed him a lot of painkillers. Shortly after regaining consciousness, Paul realizes that he is in serious pain, and serious trouble. Wilkes may be a nurse, but she is also a sociopath. (He later learns that she is also a serial killer.)

Annie asks to read the Fast Cars manuscript she found in the car. Bored by the subject matter and offended by the numerous "effwords", she forces Paul to destroy it, withholding his much-needed pain medication until he lights it - the only copy - on fire. She then buys him a used typewriter and some paper and tells him he is going to write another Misery Chastain novel - one especially for her.

"You owe me your life, Paul. I hope you'll remember that."


Natalie Schroeder calls Misery
a psychological horror story without the supernatural - a frightening tale of the reality of everyday life, of repressed fears, of pain, frustration, loneliness, insecurity, insanity, dependence, and disintegration.
Misery is King's most self-referential work, clearing laying out his attitudes on writing, the constant struggle for creative autonomy, and how to deal with (or distance yourself from) the legions of overly zealous fans when you have become, as King once described himself, "a brand name".

Misery has been described as a "particularly personal book", a "thinly veiled self-examination of [King's] fans, his writing, and his genre work" that "embodies a writer's fears about himself as a writer and about the continuation of his creativity", while also "offer[ing] a very negative view of the connection King has forged with his audience". (It has also been called "a novel about the destructive, potentially castrating nature of women".)

Kathleen Margaret Lant calls Misery
probably King's most thorough and complex exploration of the powers of his own mind, of the powers of the artists, of the pressures of the audience, and of the workings of creativity. King had clearly reached a crisis in his relationship with his audience ... [H]e published a vituperative and belittling piece on his devoted audience - "'Ever et Raw Meat?' And Other Weird Questions" - during the same year that Misery appeared ... In this novel, King expresses his most intense feelings of anger at the demands his readers make by creating Annie Wilkes, a demented fan ... [and] the embodiment of King's worst fantasies about fans out of control or readers run amok.
Amazingly, the dust jacket copy calls Misery "a love letter" from King to his millions of fans. In reality, it is about as far away from a love letter as possible; it's more like a gigantic Fuck You.

Edward F. Casebeer agrees, stating that in Misery, "the reader is the writer's enemy".
King personifies his tyrannical audience in the archetypal figure of Annie, who literally limits the aspiring literary artist, Paul Sheldon, to genre fiction by drugs, bondage, and torture. Despite such a negative response to whether readers are the motivation for writing, King gives the issue a serious and detailed treatment ... [H]is exploration of the psychological processes of writers and their relationship with those of readers is a fascinating and original effort.
And by making Paul dependent upon Annie's steady supply of painkillers, King also writes about his own serious drug addictions, and how they impact his daily life and his writing.

From On Writing:
By 1985 I had added drug addiction to my alcohol problems, yet I continued to function, as a good many substance abusers do, on a marginally competent level. I was terrified not to; by then I had no idea of how to live any other life. ... I couldn't ask for help. That's not the way you did things in my family. In my family what you did was ... keep yourself to yourself. Yet the part of me that writes the stories, the deep part that knew I was an alcoholic as early as 1975, when I wrote The Shining, wouldn't accept that. Silence isn't what that part is about. It began to scream for help in the only way it knew how, through my fiction and through my monsters. In late 1985 and early 1986 I wrote Misery (the title aptly described my state of mind), in which a writer is held prisoner and tortured by a psychotic nurse.
Tom Shone, Intelligent Life, Summer 2009: "One of the things that made The Shining such a great novel about falling off the wagon was that King didn't know that was what it was about — it was written from inside the belly of an obsession."

In On Writing, King said he "had written The Shining without even realizing that I was writing about myself". Earlier, when referring to the book, he wrote, "That's the one which just happens to be about an alcoholic writer and ex-schoolteacher."

As Paul regains his health and strength, he realizes he is addicted to Norvil, the painkiller Annie has been giving him. He plans to not swallow half of his daily pills, in an effort to wean himself off the drug, but says he won't start until the next day. "We never clean up our act today." It is his pain and addiction that finally forces him to capitulate and burn his Fast Cars manuscript, when he decides that the benefits of real pills win out over the lives of fictional people. And so he burned his book, "which he had created and then uncreated".

King, Playboy (1983):
Writing is necessary for my sanity. As a writer, I can externalize my fears and insecurities and night terrors on paper, which is what people pay shrinks a small fortune to do. In my case, they pay me for psychoanalyzing myself in print. And in the process, I'm able to "write myself sane," as that fine poet Anne Sexton put it.
In a 1982 interview, King said:
I don't feel tired in the sense of writing. I feel tired in the sense of having to be a writer. The commitments to things other than writing just keep growing ... and it's a while before you see it as something less than benign. ... But there is a real sense here of having to be careful that you're not eaten alive, because I sense more and more ... that celebrity is a little bit like being a turkey that's being fattened up in the pen for something you'd rather not contemplate.
In another interview, he voices similar sentiments:
The occupational hazard of the successful writer in America is that once you begin to be successful, then you have to avoid being gobbled up. America has developed this sort of cannibalistic cult of celebrity, where first you set the guy up, and then you eat him.

King does not paint a pretty picture of the writer's obsessive fan. Annie Wilkes is unattractive and overweight, with bad breath - a "borderline psychotic [with a] puffed and infected ego ... positive that [she] was starring in a great drama". She is also apparently manic-depressive, at times "untethered from the landmarks of life". (Annie's level of obsessiveness and mental illness does not come out of nowhere, however.)

Annie often has tender feelings towards Paul, but it's a "terrible bogus maternity", a facade that can quickly collapse into "a narrow watchfulness", a deep blackness.
The image of Annie Wilkes as an African idol out of She or King Solomon's Mines was both ludicrous and queerly apt. She was a big woman who, other than the large but unwelcoming swell of her bosom under the gray cardigan sweater she always wore, seemed to have no feminine curves at all - there was no defined roundness of hip or buttock or even calf ... Her body was big but not generous. There was a feeling about her of clots and roadblocks ...

Most of all she gave him a disturbing sense of solidity, as if she might not have any blood vessels or even internal organs; as if she might be only solid Annie Wilkes from side to side and top to bottom. ... Like an idol, she gave only one thing: a feeling of unease deepening steadily toward terror.

Paul recalls that when his more literary books had been published, his office was flooded with mail from bewildered and angry fans, readers who loved Misery Chastain and seemed "antagonistic to the very idea of change". The lovers of the Misery books hated his more serious work and the mainstream press scoffed at the romance novels.
So what was the truth? The truth, should you insist, was that the increasing dismissal of his work in the critical press as that of a "popular writer" (which was, as he understood it, one step - a small one - above that of a "hack") had hurt him quite badly. It didn't jibe with his self-image as a Serious Writer who was only churning out these shitty romances in order to subsidize his (flourish of trumpets, please!) REAL WORK!
At one point, Paul thinks that being a writer of popular fiction is "not something to apologize for, goddammit!"
[T]here are lots of guys out there who write a better prose line than I do and who have a better understanding of what people are really like and what humanity is supposed to mean. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yea, I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.
[This gets into an interesting and thorny area of how we define various kinds of books and how we want to see ourselves as readers. On the opposite side of the room are those "guilty pleasures" (sometimes called "beach reading"), books we enjoy but feel embarrassed about admitting that we like. Why? Because it typecasts us as someone who we would like to believe we are not. We don't want other people to think of us as someone who likes those kinds of books (or who likes that song or that movie). It's something I hope to write about at some point in this project.]


Annie rejects Paul's first attempt at writing Misery's Return, saying that it's "a cheat".

As Dominick Grace writes:
Annie insists, for instance, that fiction requires a sort of provisional reality. Though she has already noted that the fiction writer is God to his creations and therefore presumably capable to doing literally whatever he wants, she nevertheless expects fiction to conform to reality in at least acceptably plausible ways. In a key passage in the book, she rejects Paul's first attempt at the new novel out of hand because he has simply ignored the ending of the previous book and resurrected Misery without explanation or logic. ... Furthermore, [Paul] recognizes that she has caught him trying to use a simple narrative trick to resolve his problem, and she's having none of it. Misery was dead and buried at the end of the previous novel, and that's where he has to start: Annie "would not allow him to kill Misery ... but neither would she allow him to cheat Misery back to life"). ... Consequently, the process of how an author goes about finding his way out of an apparently impossible narrative predicament becomes a major element in the next movement of the novel. The irony is that the novelist is also in an apparently inescapable predicament himself, and his hope for escaping his own death depends on him finding a way to resurrect Misery.

He does so, of course, but, tellingly, the germ of the idea of how he does so comes from Annie, not his own subconscious (which is imaged repeatedly in the novel as "the guys in the sweatshops," whose work is sending up flares, which represent ideas). ... She thereby becomes a sort of collaborator with Paul ...
He had thought she was putting on an editor's hat - maybe even trying on a collaborator's chapeau, preparing to tell him what to write and how to write it. But that was not so. ... She saw the story's creative course as something outside of her hands, in spite of her obvious control of him. But some things simply could not be done. Creativity or the lack of it had no bearing on these things; to do them was as foolish as issuing a proclamation revoking the law of gravity or trying to play table-tennis with a brick. ... Constant Reader did not mean Constant Sap. ...

He understood how she could like what he had written and still know it was not right - know it and say it not with an editor's sometimes untrustworthy literary sophistication but with Constant Reader's flat and uncontradictable certainty. He understood, and was amazed to find he was ashamed of himself. She was right. He had written a cheat.
King's use of the phrase "Constant Reader" in this novel is very interesting. It first appears in the book a few pages earlier:
Annie Wilkes was the perfect audience, a woman who loved stories without having the slightest interest in the mechanics of making them. She was the embodiment of that Victorian archetype, Constant Reader. She did not want to hear about his concordance and indicies because to her Misery and the characters surrounding her were perfectly real.
I am shocked that King uses it to describe Annie because he had used it in the past - and, in fact, still uses it to this day - to refer to his loyal fans. It is a term used by the fans themselves. And King has sometimes referred to himself as Constant Writer.


At times during the novel, roles are reversed and Annie is the "author/creator" and Paul is positioned as a "reader". When she tells Paul about how she rescued him, she says: "I decided I would make you live." Listening to her, Paul feels "as if he was a character in a story or a play, a character whose history is not recounted as history but created as fiction". Annie's words connect to what she tells Paul after learning that Misery dies during childbirth in Misery's Child.
God takes us when He thinks it's time and a writer is God to the people in a story, he made them up just like God made US up and no one can get hold of God to make him explain, all right, okay, but as far as Misery goes ... I'll tell you that God just happens to have a couple of broken legs and God just happens to be in MY house eating MY food ... and ...
The act of writing is compared to giving birth - Paul recalls starting Fast Cars, walking around his apartment, "big with book ... and here were the labor pains".

In addition to rejecting Paul's first effort at Misery's Return, acting as an editor, Annie also suggests a possible plot device that Paul ends up using. And Annie is the author of Paul's days, allowing him to do only what she wants him to do, treating him like a character in the play of her life.

Although he spends his days writing, Paul also learns how to "read [Annie's] moods, her cycles", to make sure he does not upset her and have her withhold his painkillers (or inflict worse punishment on him). When Annie leaves the house for an extended period of time, Paul picks the bedroom door's lock and pushes himself around the house in a wheelchair. He finds and reads Annie's "Memory Lane" scrapbook, a series of news reports she has clipped and saved detailing the various murders she has committed through the years. Paul can't stop reading it. "In a weird way it was just too good to put down. It was like a novel so disgusting you just have to finish it." (Annie has achieved what Paul calls the "gotta" moment - the intoxicating hold a writer can have on a reader, bringing the reader to that point where he has gotta keep reading to find out what happens.)


King mentions John Fowles's debut novel The Collector twice in the novel, once when Paul wonders if Annie has the book on her shelf. (He decides not to ask her.) Another, more obvious, inspiration for King's story is One Thousand and One Nights, which includes the story of Scheherazade, who prolongs her life by leaving off the story she is telling to a murderous King at a suspenseful point each evening, to be continued the following night.

Paul is writing Misery's Return to please Annie and prevent her from torturing him (and also to keep himself from going insane), but he knows that once he finishes the novel, she will kill him. At some point in the process, Paul's writing becomes less about keeping Annie happy than as a way to escape thoughts of captivity and looming death. Paul becomes Scheherazade to himself. He relishes his spartan work schedule (however much it has been imposed upon him), his ability to disappear through "the hole in the page" every day, escape and lose himself in the creative act.


And, as a final note, I can report that for first time in the King Project, I was truly disturbed and repulsed by something in one of his books, squirming and not really wanting to look at the words, but driven to keep reading. If you've read Misery, you undoubtedly know what I am talking about. (It's the "hobbling" scene.)

Next: The Tommyknockers.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Choice Is Theirs

The American electoral system is broken beyond repair. There is little, if any, difference between the two major candidates, voter suppression is at an all-time high, and there exists the very real possibility that your vote will not be counted at all.

Since moving to Canada in 2005, I have not cast an absentee ballot in any U.S. election. Even if I was still living in New York, I would have stopped voting, as participating in the system is a tacit agreement that things are working properly. Although some progressives, such as Chris Hedges, continue to vote, I see no benefit in willingly taking part in a theatrical farce.

Chris Floyd, Empire Burlesque, October 24, 2012:
The Washington Post has just laid out, in horrifying, soul-slaughtering detail, the Obama Administration's ongoing effort to expand, entrench and "codify" the practice of murder and terrorism by the United States government. The avowed, deliberate intent of these sinister machinations is to embed the use of death squads and drone terror attacks into the policy apparatus of future administrations, so that the killing of human beings outside all pretense of legal process will go on, year after year after year, even when the Nobel Peace Laureate has left office. ...

Like last year's NY Times piece that first detailed the murder racket being run directly out of the White House, the new Washington Post story is replete with quotes from "senior Administration officials" who have obviously been authorized to speak. Once again, this is a story that Obama and his team WANT to tell. They want you to know about the murder program and their strenuous exertions to make it permanent; they are proud of this, they think it makes them look good. They want it to be part of their legacy, something they can pass on to future generations: arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder.

Perhaps this fact should be borne in mind by all those anguished progressives out there who keep telling themselves that Obama will "be different, that he will "turn to the left," if we can only get him a second term. No; the legacy of arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder is the legacy he wants. It is the legacy he has been building, with remarkable energy and meticulous attention to detail, day after day, week after week, for the past four years. This is what he cares about. And it is this -- not jobs, not peace, not the environment, not equal rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities, not the poor, not the middle class, not education, not infrastructure, not science, not diplomacy -- that he will apply himself to in a second term. (Along with his only other political passion: forging a "grand bargain" with Big Money to gut the remaining shreds of the New Deal.)
Arthur Silber, Once Upon A Time..., October 20, 2012:
There is no evil beyond the claimed "right" to murder by arbitrary edict, to murder anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you support this particular evil -- and if you vote for Obama, you support it -- then you will support anything. ...

The claim of a "right" to murder anyone for any reason is the greatest expression of evil we can imagine. Both Obama and Romney claim the President has such a right. Obama has actualized his belief on many occasions. Any individual who claims such a right cannot, by definition, represent a "lesser evil" of any kind. He claims as his own the greatest evil possible.
Paul Craig Roberts, October 13, 2012:
There is no reason to vote for the reelection of a president who codified into law the Bush regime's destruction of the US Constitution, who went one step further and asserted the power to murder US citizens without due process of law, and who has done nothing to stop the exploitation of the American people by the one percent.

As Gerald Celente says in the Autumn Issue of the Trends Journal, when confronted with the choice between two evils, you don’t vote for the lesser evil. You boycott the election and do not vote. "Lesser or greater, evil is evil."

If Americans had any sense, no one would vote in the November election. Whoever wins the November election, it will be a defeat for the American people. ...

How will a Romney or Obama win be summed up? The answer will be in terms of which candidate is best for Israel's interest; which is best for Wall Street's interest, which is best for agribusiness; which is most likely to attack Iran; which is most likely to subject economic and war protesters to indefinite detention as domestic extremists.

The only people who will benefit from the election of either Romney or Obama are those associated with the private oligarchies that rule America.
Chris Floyd, Empire Burlesque, September 25, 2012:
Again -- and we've said here over and over, for months, even years: when you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc -- Democrat or Republican -- this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.