Wednesday 15 February 2012
Devouring Stephen King: It
I am babbling, I realise, and I'm pretty much starting to sound like I'm introducing some kind of award at some kind of event (not all that inappropriate considering that it is awards season) but let's be honest- If I was giving out awards for the best Stephen King books, this would win all of them. Best characters, best scares, best monster, best setting, best interplay of past and present... there's literally only one aspect of It that I don't like (which I'll come to later) and even that doesn't bother me as much as it should because (and I'll say it again) I just love It so much!
Ok, actual reasons. Firstly, it's DAMN scary. Like, I've been scared by Stephen King books before, but It is the only one that consistently scares me, and I've read it about 5 times now so I really do know what's coming. Regardless, the whole time I was reading It, I found it really difficult to walk through my house at night (the dark is genuinely scary when there might, just might, be a homicidal clown hiding in your bedroom) and I have, shamefully, but honestly, run to my bed after I've turned the bathroom light out so that nothing gets me in the dark (why my bed is safer than anywhere else, I don't know, but there you go.) To date, the things It has given me a phobia (whether mild or severe) of include clowns, drains, the plughole in the sink/bath, really really really big spiders, blood that you can see but no one else can, really big birds, and the whole state of Maine. So, just a few things then!
But the horror's really only a part of it, and honestly, I'd argue not necessarily the biggest part. What this book is really all about, is childhood and the loss of childhood- the reconciliation of what you once were with what you have become, and with trying to make sense of all of this. Of course the children (and adults) in It are extraordinary because of what has happened to them, but they are still people, and they're just trying to make sense of things, even when things can't really be made sense of. It's also about friendship- none of the things that happen in the book could have happened without the team being assembled, and as readers we get to witness the kind of easy and massively strong bonds of friendship under adversity (even if it doesn't stretch much beyond the two summers that are dealt with in detail). I realise I'm being pretty vague here, and that is deliberate- I read this book knowing nothing about it, and it was, honestly, an amazing experience that I wouldn't want to deprive anyone else of by giving too much away.
Having said that, to me It gets better with every read for me, I think simply because it's so complex that there's so much to have forgotten, and so much to remember again with each re-read. I think, actually, the first reading really just puts everything into perspective and you kind of understand what's going on; whereas on a second reading, when you're fully comfortable with all the characters, you can relax into it more and really take in everything that happens. On this most recent reading, I really and truly was within the story, and I didn't need to stop at all and go 'wait, but which one is he again' because I really feel like I know these characters inside out. Each new reading is always a surprise though, because I find my focus, and so a great portion of my love, goes on a different character each time. The first time I read it, it was unquestionably Ben, and while I do still generally adore him, I have shifted between characters and shared my love around equally. In this most recent reading, Richie got slightly more of my attention than the others, so right now I love him a fair bit, but it really does shift all the time. It's wonderful and exciting, and I never do quite know what's going to happen with that aspect of things.
Now. The one thing that bugs me but I let it go because I love It so much. I realise there's a danger in making this the only specific thing in this whole review, and you going 'well damn, that sounds like crap now' and just not reading It. DON'T DO THAT TO YOURSELF! Anyway... So, the thing with It is that there's essentially only one female character, Beverly, and she is pretty awesome (like, she's got the best aim with a slingshot and she's really tough and all) BUT she's also the one character who King makes burst into tears at every opportunity. And it bugged me because she's so strong in other ways, in spite of also being a domestic abuse victim (I would also complain about this, i.e. why does the only female character have to be a victim, but actually that's a pretty important plot point later on so I can kind of let that slide) and yet she seems genuinely unable to cope with any kind of crisis (and there are a lot of crises) without crying. And I just don't get it, because these are really scary and upsetting situations, so I get Beverly's tears, but WHY IS NO ONE ELSE CRYING? I mean, I know that I more or less can't cry in front of other people, no matter what the situation, so I don't understand where King has gotten this idea from that women can't cope. But it's horrible and I don't like it and I want it to stop!
Anyway, that's a really minor complaint in a book where so much is right (even when everything's wrong) that I can't really dwell on it too much. Even while I was reading it and getting mildly annoyed, I literally thought afterwards 'well... He's done so well on so much else that I can't really complain', so while it bugs me a bit, it doesn't devalue all the rest of the book, which is (insert your favourite positive adjective here). I mean, I think this probably goes without saying, but really- if you're only going to read one Stephen King book in your life, it should be this one, and even if you don't want to, you should absolutely read this book. It's obviously one of those ones where I don't want to know if you don't like it because it would shatter my soul, but still. Please. Read, enjoy, be scared, and then repeat, ad infinitum. Oh, and when you review it, try to be a bit briefer than me, yeah?