Books read in June
Sometimes blogging is about learning to eat my words.
Maybe three years ago now (I’ve been blogging too long, wow) I wrote a post on Stephen King’s books. I don’t remember exactly what I said and I’m not going to bother linking to it. It’s embarrassing. I do remember talking about how he writes horrors and how I tried one of them and didn’t really like it. I don’t like horrors, it’s that simple.
Lots of people replied. I seem to remember it went beyond comments and went to private messages and emails. I had created controversy right here on my nobody-even-reads-it blog. It seemed as though everybody wanted to point out that Stephen King does not write only horrors. A few recommended that I read The Shawshank Redemption before I said anything further on the subject.
So when I found Shawshank Redemption, a few weeks after that post, as part of a collection of four of King’s stories – Different Seasons – for next to nothing in a second-hand bookshop, I took that as a sign that I should read it. And then, being me, I forgot about it again. Until last month. So:
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
(And no, I haven’t seen the movie. Yet.) Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is narrated by a man going by the name of Red. Red is imprisoned for life in the Shawshank prison for committing three murders. He’d be the first to tell you that he planned to commit one murder, that of his wife, and ended up committing three. And so he landed in prison when he was still in his early twenties. He is not a really a model prisoner either. He stands at the centre of the Shawshank black market, like a large spider in the middle of its intricately woven web.
Then he meets Andy Dufresne, a resourceful and self-contained banker, also imprisoned for life. In Dufresne’s case it was for murdering two people, his wife and her lover, in a fit of drunken, jealous rage. In spite of all the evidence against him, Dufresne never stops insisting that he is, in fact, innocent. And, in spite of himself, Red comes to believe him.
Andy Dufresne becomes an important man inside Shawshank. As important as Red. More important than Red. It’s not just what he does, it’s who he is. He’s not the kind of person you can easily imprison because his spirit is too free. And others who have given up and are now just staring at the walls keeping them inside notice that. They sense Andy’s hopes and his dreams and plans. Plans for inside the prison and plans for outside the prison. He has these because he still has hope for freedom and a life despite his current situation and he might just be the most patient, thorough and tenacious man Shawshank has ever seen.
Apt Pupil by Stephen King
Apt Pupil tells the story of the meeting of two people: one an American teenager and one an old German man. One of them is a very dangerous criminal and the other is a stone-cold, psychopathic sadomasochist. You will have to read the story to find out which is which.
The story is based around World War II and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, even though it is set in the 1970s. What happened in the gas chambers and interrogation rooms is important, as are those supporters of Hitler who managed to make it out of Germany before the Allied forces’ final victory. Someone who managed to do that would be smart, resourceful, extremely dangerous and have a healthy sense of self-preservation. That is important to remember.
Apt Pupil contains a lot of bloodshed. There are no such things as happy endings. It does not seem to contain any of things in the human soul that are pure, wholesome and noble. It is not a horror in the traditional sense of the word, but it is horrifying because it focuses not on the crimes of monsters or aliens but on the terrible injustices that humanity itself is capable of. If there is anything corrupted, perverted or sickening, you could make a pretty good bet that it would be in this story.
The Body by Stephen King
The Body tells the story of four young boys who come to hear of another young boy who was killed in a train accident. And instead of going to the police with the news, they decide to hike across country to just look at the corpse. Morbid, yes.
While the story might look on the surface like only the story of the four boys’ adventure, it is really the story of the boys’ lives, told from the perspective of one of them as an adult. One of them, Gordon Lachance, grew up and became a writer. Now he is telling the story of himself and his childhood friends. Their pasts, their futures, their potentials. It is really a story about a community rotten at heart – and about those of her people who would pull themselves up out of the rot on grit and sweat alone, and about those who seem doomed from birth to achieve nothing more than join the smoking club behind the school.
And then it also contains beautiful quotes like this one
The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them. It’s hard to make strangers care about the good things in your life.
which is the only one of the three that I wanted to post that I feel I can actually put here. Because one of the others is extremely long (I will, however, be using it for Quote Saturday) and the other one would require breaking my own rule of not swearing on my blog.
The above quote is one of those that made me think “oh my gosh, someone gets it; they know exactly how I feel“. That is the best feeling in the world.
The Breathing Method by Stephen King
The Breathing Method is almost like two stories in one. On one hand it is the story of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. But there is something supernatural about this club. It seems to be separated in space and time from the rest of the world; it seems almost Narnian. Or perhaps it is closer to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and the narrator is Billy Pilgrim who takes you as reader along for the ride.
The other part of the story is the strange tale our narrator heard at the strange club. It is the story of a young woman in the early 20th century. She is unmarried and pregnant. Things are bound to go hard with her. It is the story of her rock-solid determination to live through and make a success of this unexpected addition to her life, with the whole world against her.
The Breathing Method is the closest of the four stories to the supernatural. Or perhaps magical realism is closer to the mark. What happened to the young woman is not real, but I had to remind myself because I temporarily forgot where story ends and realism begins.
The Shawshank Redemption: 5 stars
Apt Pupil: 5 stars
The Body: 4 stars
The Breathing Method: 4 stars
Average for Different Seasons: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Be sure to check back next week for Act 3 of Romeo and Juliet.
PS. I have entered myself for Camp NaNoWriMo this July. Yes, on top of everything else. I did it because I’m not progressing with revising last year’s NaNoWriMo novel. I keep overthinking everything and getting stuck. So I’m returning to the crazy world of seat-of-the-pants writing in an attempt to progress. I set a word goal of 20,000 words for the month. That is less than half of NaNoWriMo’s required amount but hopefully it is enough to kick me back into the game.