Monday 12 September 2011

Devouring Stephen King: Different Seasons

Different Seasons is also known as 'that collection of novellas Stephen King has that includes The Shawshank Redemption', the story in this book that really shines for me as being the best in the book, but probably only because I love the film so much, and I read the entire thing in Morgan Freeman's voice in my head. Or, actually, because it's the best written story in the book! I've tried to review short stories before and I find it sort of impossible, but these are technically novellas, so I guess I can just mini-review each of the stories, since there are only four of them. So, here goes!

Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption- I think we've all seen this film, and if you haven't, what have you been doing with your life?! The novella is more or less identical to the film, chronicling the struggles of Andy Dufresne, an innocent man in prison through the eyes of Red, his best friend there (although, really, I guess, it's more Red's story if you really want to get into it), sans a few inspirational quotes, and that bit where Andy plays the opera music that I love so much because of all the symbolism of hope and stuff. (Fun fact: I literally never listen to opera music, but whenever they use it in a film as a dramatic device it makes me all weepy/happy-sad. It's weird.) So yeah, there's not too much I can say about this novella, except that I love it, and you should definitely read it, and then see the film. Or vice-versa. When something's this good, it really doesn't matter.

Apt Pupil- I wasn't so keen on this novella- it seemed to drag a bit, and nothing much really happened- admittedly there was a great deal of tension building up to the really dramatic climax, and if you want to read about a teenager mentally unravelling, then this will probably entertain you. In a way, though, for me, it was almost too dark- in it, a 12 year old boy has found a commandant from a Nazi Concentration Camp, and instead of turning him in, he wants to find out everything he can about the death camps in a sick, voyeuristic way. Stephen King says in the Afterword of this book that there isn't much horror in it, but the idea of the existence of such a person (in fact, of both of these people), realistic as it undoubtedly is, it's also horrifying- I always find realistic horrors scarier than the ones that I find less plausible. So, yeah- when this story isn't veering on the side of boredom, it's going to far in the other direction and making me want to spiritually puke. I would probably recommend skipping it if you were to get this book. Ooh, one fun fact about it though- the ex-commandant, Dussander, had a banker who invested his money into stocks and thing and meant he had a comfortable amount to live on, and his name? Andy Dufresne. I love stuff like that.

The Body- A coming of age story about four twelve year old boys (only two of whom are really significant to the story), this was also made into a pretty successful film, Stand by Me, which I'm always meaning to see but the opportunity never comes up (I once videoed it off the TV but it got videoed over by mistake by someone evil, so I'm clearly cursed against watching it). It's called The Body because they ostensibly set out to find the body of this kid about their age who has been killed, but it's really what they learn about themselves and each other on the journey that is really important. I like it a lot, but it does trail off a little bit at the end, and goes on longer than you might expect it to. This doesn't matter quite as much to me as it might normally do, because it also includes things like this:
"The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them-words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out"
I mean, yes. Just yes. I'm sure everyone has experienced this at least at some point in their lives, and also the feeling that things that are so important to you, may mean next to nothing to the next person, and it's the loneliest feeling in the world. Just when people want to write Stephen King off, he writes something that is so true that you can't help but sit up and pay attention.
What I also liked about The Body were the inserted stories written by Gordie (the main character) because really that shows dedication to one's craft- he had to think up two other stories just to write this one novella. There are also further references to the Stephen King canon, mainly to Cujo, since the story is set in Castle Rock, but also to The Shining, and again to Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption.

The Breathing Method- This story is three things- the shortest in the book, the most outright horror story in the book, and the biggest surprise in the book. It's so different to King's normal style, that it comes as a bit of a shock, but it's so clever in its style that it's also pretty cool. What King has basically done with this story is written it like a typical Victorian ghost story, and there are two levels of scariness in the narrative. It's basically completely inspired, and I don't want to say too much more about it because any more information about it might ruin it for you. But it's totally creepy and cool.

So yeah, it's pretty fair to say that I liked Different Seasons a lot. I could have done without Apt Pupil, but, ignoring that, it's a great collection of stories. I also just want to rebut something King says in the Afterword, which is this:
"My stuff, which is fairly plain, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy... I am able to recognise elegant prose and to respond to it, but have found it difficult or impossible to write it myself." To which I can only say 'nooooo!', but then also maybe 'yes, a bit, sometimes', but also, just see above, to The Body, to see the kind of things you can do with prose. I mean, yeah, he may not always be the best writer in the world, but he always creates characters that you know so well they could be members of your family, and sometimes comes up with such stunning truths that you are left basically speechless. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself which is better?

As well as moving my Stephen King Challenge along, this is the first of my posts for the R.I.P. Challenge. Scary times leading up to Hallowe'en here...


  1. I remember reading this collection years ago and loving it. I actually read it years before Shawshank Redemption came out and had forgotten all about it. As I sat watching the film it wasn't until the very end when I had a lightbulb go on and I remembered reading the story. It was a funny moment.

    Stand By Me is an excellent film and I must use your "what have you been doing with your life?" statement against you here, it is a MUST SEE. Brilliant film. Fun, funny and very poignant. Go. Watch. Now. ;)

    I imagine King has written some lesser works over the years. No author as prolific as he is could hit them out of the park every time. But those who would write him off just haven't read the right stuff, because many times, and especially with at least two of the novellas in this collection, he is brilliant.

  2. I know, I know, I have to watch Stand by Me! If only for the teeny River Phoenix *sigh*. I definitely agree that anyone who writes off Stephen King definitely hasn't read, say, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, or The Green Mile, or It... I could go on all day but I'll stop I think...

  3. Drop me an email when you do get around to watching it, I'd love to know what you think.

  4. I read this short story collection simply because the inspiration for The Shawshank Redemption came from it and that is one of my favourite movies of all time. I should reread it...