Books and Authors

Crazy Uncle Steve

Caution: This post may contain SPOILERS!

Ever since I had my son, reading books has not been quite the same experience as it was back when I was blissfully childless. I used to read all kinds of stuff where terrible things happened to children, and it didn’t really bother me much because, obviously, it’s just fiction. Now when I read about terrible things happening to children, my teeth are set on edge and my eyes fill with tears. Yes, it’s still just fiction, but after I had a child, something in me softened and it is very easily wounded. (Fellow parents, have you experienced the same thing?)

Anyway, so why did I want to read Stephen King’s The Institute when the plot involves children being brutally punished? Because I am a die-hard Stephen King fan. That is literally the only reason. That soft spot in my heart was repeatedly stabbed (or slapped or electrified by a zap-stick) by the horrors I read about in the book, and yet, I still kept reading because the plot was just that addictive.

I want to say I enjoyed the book, but I also didn’t enjoy it because of that. I also came to the uncomfortable conclusion that one of my favorite authors is getting a little crazy in his old age. He insulted President Trump not just once but four times, and a few of his other liberal viewpoints came out when politics didn’t have much to do with the book’s plot or the characters’ motivations. I just rolled my eyes, the way you would when one of your coworkers or family members makes a political statement you don’t quite agree with. OK, crazy Uncle Steve. I get it. You hate conservatives and wish Trump would jump out of a plane without wearing a parachute.

Also, I wondered what went through King’s head when he wrote some of the torture scenes. He’s written some gory, nauseating stuff before, but I don’t think he’s ever written about the misery of children at this level. I’m not sure the book would have been published if it had been written by someone else. (Similar to It. Had that sex scene in the sewer been written by anyone else, the book would never have seen the light of day.)

The Institute also contained a bit of hypocrisy. If King thinks guns are so terrible and bad, why did he have his protagonists use guns against the enemy? If King believes that torturing children is an awful, terrible thing (like any sane person would), then why does he also believe that abortion is OK? I don’t really want to know the answers to those questions, but it did make me worry about King’s mental health.

Will I read other books by crazy Uncle Steve? Of course. I’m a Constant Reader.

Books and Authors

A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the… Box?

SPOILER WARNING!

Bird Box is a popular thriller movie on Netflix starring Sandra Bullock. My first instinct when hearing about a popular movie is to wonder if it was based on a book, then if it was, read the book. I won’t watch the movie unless it’s something I really think I’d like.

Yes, Bird Box was indeed based on a book by Josh Malerman. I wrote briefly about another book of his in one of my Thursday Three posts, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to read Bird Box: I liked that other book quite a bit.

In brief, the book takes its readers through a horrifying end-of-the-world scenario about a mysterious creature that, when seen by humans, makes said humans go insane and commit suicide. Sounds happy and sunshiny, right? Of course not. But as you can imagine, Bird Box was a difficult read for such a short, fast-paced book. I almost put it down because the creepiness of the situation made me so uncomfortable… and the only reason I ever put a book down is because it is hopelessly boring and I can’t force myself through it.

However, I pressed on with Bird Box, mostly to find out exactly what the creatures were that were causing all the madness. Alas, I found nothing. We never do find out. This is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, where the creature is awful beyond comprehension—so awful that the author can’t even describe it. That technique always seemed like a cop-out to me. You’re the author, right? You’re supposed to describe the thing and allow the reader to see it!

The characters didn’t impress me. The heroine, Malorie, was brave beyond anything that could have been considered realistic. She raised two babies from their birth until age 4 without them ever opening their eyes (lest they see the awful, terrible, very bad creatures), without having any contact with any other human beings, and surviving on only the most minimal provisions. It was outrageously unrealistic, almost to the point of being offensive, as was the giving birth scene. The postpartum depression must have been almost as bad as being attacked by one of the creatures. (Hmm… maybe the entire book was an allegory about the terrors of pregnancy and the postpartum period? That would be an interesting analysis…)

Also, because Bird Box is a horror story, online reviewers made the inevitable comparison to Stephen King. I don’t see how anyone who has read anything by Stephen King can make that comparison. Perhaps the only way the two books were similar is that terrible things kept happening. I would say that Bird Box is more of a thriller, and most of Stephen King’s books are way too long and slow burning to be thrillers. King is also much, much better at character development and keeping plots realistic (but still horrifying).

I can’t recommend this book, unless you’re a huge fan of the horror or thriller genres. It just didn’t work for me. Even so, I will try another book by Malerman, because the other book I read from him was just that good.

Books and Authors

At the Mercy of Children

SPOILER ALERT!

So I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome. (Yes, I know there was a TV mini-series, but I don’t think I’ll ever watch it.) In short, I liked the premise of the book and enjoyed the experience of rushing through it to see how Mr. King would wrap up all the craziness he’d created, but the ending was sort of a bummer.

Big Jim Rennie was probably one of the best King villains I’ve read about in a while. He’s your (stereo)typical slimy used car dealer, and to make matters worse, a hypocrite of the highest order. I wanted so badly for him to have a much more gruesome death than he actually did. Having him die alone haunted by the “ghosts” of the people he killed did not in any way justify the hell he unleashed upon the other characters, as if actually being under the dome wasn’t bad enough for them.

I didn’t like the idea of alien “leatherhead” children using the dome as a kind of experiment just to get their kicks, the same way that human children would burn ants under a magnifying glass.* Because the town of Chester’s Mill was basically a huge meth lab, I wanted the dome to be some kind of byproduct of all those chemicals. Wouldn’t that have been a positive anti-drug message? Yes, but that’s not what we got. Instead, we got a sermon on how we should treat ants and those smaller than us with respect because you never know: they might have quite complex lives after all, just like us. (I mean, it wasn’t a bad message, but it wasn’t quite big enough and loud enough to match the bigness and loudness of the book. I suppose it was too “literary” for mainstream horror/sci-fi.)

King also tried to be charitable toward Republicans by making one of the heroines a Republican journalist. However, he was not in the least charitable toward Christians, whom he often portrays as a bunch of mindless sheep who can be very cruel and unaware of how hypocritical they are acting. I find it somewhat unfair, but hey… everyone has their bias, right? King also uses his typical tactic of having a young kid save the day—or at least prove himself to be smarter than most of the adults. I like that trope of his because it is nice to see an underdog pull through and have a victory.

The best parts of the book were the fast pace and the interesting characters. There was literally never any downtime. It was one death right after another, and just when you thought the carnage would be over for a few pages, it started right back up again in the next paragraph, which of course made the book nearly impossible to put down. I kept comparing it to my favorite Stephen King book, Needful Things, mostly because it centered on the destruction of one small town and followed a multitude of raucous characters. However, Needful Things had the satisfying ending that Under the Dome did not.

I’d recommend Under the Dome if you want a big, juicy book to keep you turning the pages on a boring car ride or maybe on the beach. It’s so gory at times that you almost feel like a sick person for enjoying it so much… then you wonder about the author’s sanity.

*As much as I disliked the ending, it was incredibly accurate because when I was much younger, I used to pull the legs and wings off Japanese beetles, mostly because there were so darn many of them and they destroyed my mother’s rosebushes, so they were basically Public Enemy Number 1. At one point when I got a bit older, I realized that as gross and destructive as the bugs were, they were living creatures that felt pain and had lives, no matter how short and seemingly useless. When I realized that, I let all the Japanese beetles out from the glass jar where I kept them… under the dome. So I was one of those creepy leatherhead alien kids after all. So reassuring.