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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

1922 by Stephen King


Stephen King grew up loving Tales from the Crypt and I don't think he's ever going to let us forget it. I don't think he can. It's a part of him -- a treasured part, the way, for most of us, so many of our childhood enthusiasms are. Perhaps he should have grown out of it, or beyond it, but instead he's taken its teachings about horror and honed and polished them to such a high degree that he's arguably the slickest pulp horror writer there ever was.


And with that background, what that means is rats and decaying corpses and poetic justice. An interesting line late in this novella occurs when the narrator thinks he sees a reanimated corpse surrounded by rats: "Without them [the rats], she would have been no more than a ghost, malevolent but helpless." This is why King doesn't write ghost stories: ghosts don't scare him. Not even The Shining is truly a ghost story. It's pulp, too. Jack Torrance may be alive, but, to borrow a device from 1922, his Inner Corpse is slowly rotting away, making him more and more grotesque as the novel moves along. As I said, the man's slick.


So anyway, 1922 is King in full pulp mode. It's about a farmer (an inexplicably erudite and well-read farmer, mind you) who decides to kill his wife over a 100-acre disagreement. The trouble is, the couple have a teenaged son, and Wilf, the farmer, knows he can't get away with the crime without his son's help. What he finds out is that he couldn't have gotten away with it anyway, because the law is the least of his worries.


It would be fun to take one of King's long stories or even a novel and strip it down to its plot. I think you'd be lucky to find one in ten pages that actually advances the plot. But of course that's not why people read Stephen King, or God help them if they do. They read him because of his characters and their crazy life-histories and their funny ways of talking, and because King, a consummate storyteller, foretells just enough to imbue every page with an impending sense of horrible doom. The payoff often isn't very satisfying, but, with King, the journey is the fun part.

If you like the Tales from the Crypt brand of pulp, 1922 may be right up your alley. If, like me, you have mixed feelings about it, it's still a good campfire read, one which, if you care to pay attention, amply shows why Joe Bob Briggs was right when he decided to always refer to the author as Big Steve King.