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Stephen King: It

I can’t handle scary movies at all, but for some reason scary books are generally fine. This is the third Stephen King novel I’ve read, after The Shining and The Stand, which seems to cover most people’s top two King novels in some permutation.

It is immense, at 1100 pages, although that works out to about 500 pages of horror novel and 600 pages of a slice-of-life portrait of what it was like to grow up in the late 1950s in a small Maine city. (You get one guess as to who else was 11 years old in a small Maine city in 1958.) The realistic stuff was actually pretty good, as King is a better writer than most people give him credit for, but he’s not such a good writer that you actively want to wallow in his depictions of life, as I do with, say, Tolstoy or Proust. Still, I was never really tempted to skip over anything.

The horror part of it was pretty good too, although it never actually got scary enough to really frighten me. But one thing that disappointed me somewhat, as silly as it sounds, was the motivation of the Big Bad. There are a few archetypes for horror “villains”; one, for instance, is the Lovecraftian monster too horrible to even contemplate, to whom humanity is a meaningless triviality, while another is the psycho who loves to toy with the mental state of his victims. “It” is a weird amalgam of the two, and I never got a good sense of where it was really coming from. I know it’s odd to ask for psychological consistency in a monster in a horror novel, but there it is.

The good stuff: King really is a pretty good writer, and I did enjoy his depiction of the late 1950s, as well as the mid 1980s, which at this point are equally interestingly historical although of course he didn’t intend it that way at the time. I also enjoyed the structure of the book, which bounced between the two timelines in a compelling way, and the last 200 pages or so were a really well done action sequence, or actually two, since both timelines reached their climaxes in parallel. I often zone out a bit during the climactic action sequences of a book or movie, but I stayed pretty well gripped here.

So although I had some quibbles, overall I did enjoy it a lot, and never had the urge to put it down over the course of 1100 pages, which is a pretty good recommendation right there. Still, I have now probably had my fill of Stephen King for a while, especially since I seem to have already hit the high points of his career.

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