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.

Early NaNoWriMo Planning

NaNoWriMo has revamped its website, at preview.nanowrimo.org, and it looks really good. I’m unclear on whether the new version will be live by November 1, but as long as we get to use the nice new version at some point, I’m happy. I finally figured out how to change the silly username I’ve had since college, so I’m now “MaggieMadlyWriting” if you want to be my “buddy.” My avatar is a lizard wearing a hat because the picture amused my simple mind.

Now, about that idea… one particular news story has been haunting me since I heard about it in early September 2017. You probably don’t remember it in the onslaught of other horrid news stories since then, but it began with Coricidin and ended with domestic violence. What I wanted to do was rewrite the story to give it a happy ending.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get 50,000 words out of the idea, but I want to at least write something. This is also the first halfway decent idea I’ve had since, well, forever that wasn’t based on something I’ve already written. I have some ideas already in a notebook and on a flash drive, so perhaps that will carry me through.

The Dogs of March

SPOILER WARNING!!

As far back as I can remember, my parents owned a book called The Dogs of March (Ernest Hebert). When I was a kid, it fascinated me because the word “dogs” was in the title, but there was no picture of a dog on the cover, just a bleak winter landscape. The font was too tiny for me to read, and there were no pictures, so I put the book down and went back to Berenstain Bears or Henry and Mudge.

Fast forward 20-something years later, and I’ve moved out of my parents’ house. I’m unpacking books at the apartment, and there’s The Dogs of March, sitting inexplicably in my book pile. I guess I must have grabbed it without thinking. Likewise, without thinking, I put it on my bookshelf and didn’t think of it until I picked it up again pretty recently and thought, “Well, it might be time to finally read this.”

I’m glad I waited as long as I did to read it. If I had read it when I was a kid and somehow gotten to the end, it would have given me nightmares. That’s not to say it was a bad book. Absolutely the opposite. I would say that The Dogs of March was one of the better books I have read in the past few years, and now I understand why my parents kept it around.

The novel chronicles the life of Howard Elman, a poor, mostly illiterate everyman from rural New Hampshire. He’s got four daughters who pay him no mind, a son who’s gone to college and thinks he’s an intellectual, and a wife who is fascinated by the Roman Catholic religion. Howard has recently lost his job, and the rich lady who’s just moved in next door wants to buy his house and his land, on which he’s parked a bunch of old, rusty cars that he shoots at with his gun when he’s bored.

To be honest, there’s not much of a plot. The book is more of a slow-burning literary novel, and the “dogs of March” is a metaphor. Apparently, in the woods of New Hampshire in the winter, the neighborhood dogs run deer and get uncharacteristically vicious as they roam in a pack away from their owners. At some parts of the book, Howard is the dogs, and at other parts, he’s the deer.

The Dogs of March had its depressing moments. Actually, it was the literary equivalent of the most depressing song in the known universe: Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” I swear, every time I hear that song while driving in my own car, I get so blinded by tears that I feel like smashing into a bridge abutment. But the book did make me consider the futility of some things in life. You can work hard and meet all the “adult” milestones but still be missing a lot, and life will go on around you after you’ve passed on.

The book ended nicely, perhaps a little too nicely for something that started out so dreary. I learned that it is actually the first in a series, but I’m not sure whether I want to read the others. Even so, I enjoyed The Dogs of March; the author managed to blend the funny parts of life with the realism and the notion that we’re all just human after all.