November 20th, 2009

Why I am not a Stephen King fan

There, I've said it. I don't like The King's books. It's like being Catholic and saying you don't believe in God.

Let me clarify: I used to like his books, back in the days of Salem's Lot and Danse Macabre and The Shining. Heck, I even adored The Gunslinger when it was just a stand-alone book.

But at some point in the '80s, I realized that I had finished the last four Stephen King books by hurling them across the room in disgust. He felt as if he'd begun to parody himself: The quiet suburbia of Salem's Lot had become the farting postman of Cujo; the rich psychology set up in the beginning of Gerald's Game was tossed aside at the climax in favor of a for-God's-sakes monster. Don't even get me started on everything that I thought was wrong with The Tommyknockers. With the exception of On Writing, that was the last King book I read.

Ultimately, I think what bothers me most about King is that he is to publishing what George Lucas has been to film. Both men produced immensely successful works in the '70s that caused a paradigm shift in their respective industries. Suddenly movies and books all had to be bigger/more accessible/financial bonanzas, leading eventually to what I think of as our current culture of bloat - movies with outsized budgets and running times, books over 1,000 pages.

And it's really too bad, because Lucas and King are obviously both extraordinarily gifted. I wish both would really shock the world and produce something small and lean and personal, stripped down of excess. But that's nearly impossible to do once you've become an industry unto yourself.

I know I'm virtually alone in being a horror writer who does not worship at the altar of King. No, I won't be reading Under the Dome (and if Lucas brought out a new Star Wars movie tomorrow, I wouldn't be seeing that). Life's too short to invest time in another novel (and a thousand-page one to boot) that will undoubtedly finish with me throwing the book against the nearest wall.