I’m not a huge fan of Stephen King, but he fascinates me. Not in the same way that Hemingway does, a way that makes me want to devour anything he ever produced, but in a sort of admiration from afar. Lydia Kiesling, in an essay on The Millions called “Everything I Know about America I Learned from Stephen King,” points out in King’s novels a deep examination of American culture, viewed through its small towns: “I think Stephen King books manage to appeal both to people who have experienced the tyranny and joy of the small town, as well as people who have known rootlessness in its many forms (not, of course, that the two are mutually exclusive).” Through the horror, Stephen King’s novels still embrace the American Dream and all of the other American Ideals we find in less popular but more respected authors. “Literary” authors.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t put King in the literary pile; in my head, he’s firmly stationed in the horror or terror pile (check out this sort-of-related video about creepieness), the Genre Pile From Which Few Good Books Come. Okay, that’s not true. I can name lots of legitimately good fantasy novels, but I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of horror.
So I guess the point here is that maybe there’s more value to Stephen King than meets the eye – or that has met my eye, so far. I’ve read a few of his novels, and the best, by far, was The Shining. Then there are a few of the Dark Tower novels, which I’ll probably revisit, and the absolutely terrible The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I’ve talked recently about hating Salem’s Lot. But, since I consider King a genre author, I’ve always thought of every book except The Shining, which I read when I was a teenager, as pure entertainment value, and I didn’t find much of it particularly entertaining. I didn’t bother looking beneath the surface, as it seems I’ve been trained to do in a snobbish way.
What’s funny is that saying all of this doesn’t make me want to pick up another King novel, except that now I’m curious to see what Kiesling means about this grand vision of The American Way. Something just seems wrong with reading Stephen King crictically (with the exception of “The Man in the Black Suit,” is it? The short story that’s strikingly parallel to “Young Goodman Brown?”). I can see bits of it in the townspeople in Salem’s Lot, but I’m not sure about the more fantastic novels like The Dark Tower series – of which I’ve read three*-and-a-half* novels and just now might have to finish the fourth, though for this purpose I think I’d get more out of reading The Stand or It.