Saturday, October 22, 2022

Stephen King's Fairy Tale

I haven't read all of Stephen King's works, but the more I read, the more I wonder why not. Misery was the first of his novels I read--during my postpartum period after the birth of last born. At the time, it was a nice diversion to what was on television: the Iran Contra hearings.

In recent years, though, I've read Mr. Mercedes and its sequels, November 22, 1963Billy Summers, and King's On Writing, which I consider a valuable contribution to writing on writing. One perk, too, is that some of my students who would not otherwise consider reading a book about writing will read a book about writing by Stephen King. 

As I read his works, and as I read about his writing from Stephen King fans, I realize that having more of his books under my belt would be rewarding since he has so many subtle self-references throughout. I know Billy Summers was set in part within view of the ruins of the setting of The Shining, and I am told that he weaves references to his previous works throughout November 22, 1963.

King's novels, always heft, require an investment of time. In print, they are suitable for doorstops. On audio, they are easily twice the length of the average bestseller. I suspect true King fans never complain about the length any more than Harry Potter fans might have wished each successive novel were shorter. No! Give us more.

King's latest novel Fairy Tale begins as a deceptively realistic coming of age novel, as Charlie Reade, a high school junior has survived his mother's death in a freak accident and his father's alcoholism and return to sobriety. The anomaly in the small town setting is Howard Bowditch's house, the rural Illinois equivalent of Boo Radley's house. Overgrown and unkempt, the house is also guarded by Radar, Bowditch's fearsome German shepherd.

Charlie's first encounter with Bowditch occurs when he heard the dogs plaintive barks and the softer sound of the old man calling out in pain. Despite his wishes, Charlie is hailed as a local hero for saving the old man, and an odd friendship is born as he takes care of the aging dog while the old man is in the hospital to repair his badly broken leg. 

But Charlie hears a strange sound coming out of the padlocked shed. Yes, this is a Stephen King novel after all.

Through strange revelations from the old man, Charlie learns of a portal to another world, a fantasy world. As he descends the spiral stairs to a land he learns is called Empis, the story begins to feel more like a Harry Potter story for adults. King creates a believable other world, even as Charlie--Prince Charlie--feels the tension between the two world.

When all is said and done, however, this is a story of how far boy will go for the love of his dog.


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Book a Day Challenge

 Disclaimer: While I refused to sacrifice reading for pleasure when I started my doctoral program, I have let it cut into my book updates here, which shames me. After all, one of the greatest pleasure of reading is sharing and discussing what I read with others. To that end, I plan to post a book note every day until I have posted about all the good books I've read since my last post. The posts will not be in order as I read the books but instead as the push their way to the front of my brain.

One of the books that caught my interest most recently was Margaret Verble's novel When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky. My interest was due impart to the setting of the novel, the early 20th century, when the Nashville Zoo was located in what is now the Green Hills area, near where I teach, in fact.

Two Feathers is a young Cherokee woman whose job at the Glendale Park Zoo is horse diving. The cast of characters includes Shackleford, whose company runs the zoom and whose family lives in Longview Mansion, right on Caldwell Lane near my campus. Two Feathers' closest friend at the zoo is Crawford, a Black employee who cares for her horse. Verble develops several secondary characters, such as Clive the zookeeper who is still haunted by his WWI experiences, a number of the young women who entertain crowds at the zoo, including two sisters two throw (and sometimes drop) plates. The antagonist Jack is obsessed with Two Feathers, spying on her from a tree near her window and even letting a monkey loose in the girls dormitory to tie him a chance to get into her room.

An interesting aspect of the novel is the way Verble weaves elements of magical realism into the narrative. Clive sees ghosts of his cousin who served in the war with him, and Little Elk, the spirit of a young Indian whose life was cut short, appears to several characters. The animals themselves are characters with personalities, and Two Feathers feels a particular link to them and empathizes with their suffering.

The peek into historical Nashville is a perk for those of us who live there. As I head north on Granny White Pike now, I think of the buffalo run that was once there. I'm planning to locate the old bear caves on Scenic Drive and Clive's stone house on Lealand Lane.