Sunday, January 31, 2010

'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 1999
Originally published: 1975
xxii, 631 p.

Stephen King's second novel, 'Salem's Lot, is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart -- and the insular evils of small-town America.

So, after reading Carrie, I've been in a sort of Stephen King mode. I'll probably be reading a good deal of his stuff in the coming months. I've started at the beginning, in a way, so 'Salem's Lot sort of came next, and it was... pretty good.

The plot is basically "What if Dracula came to small-town Maine?" And so it is that a very old vampire named Barlow set up shop in a creepy old house in 'Salem's Lot. Most of the story focuses on Ben Mears, a writer who came around the same time to do a novel on the town and on the creepy old house where he had a creepy old supernatural experience as a child. And then basically everyone starts turning into vampires.

The plot is fairly predictable, though I imagine it was a bit more compelling 35 years ago. I wouldn't call it terrifying for that reason, but the narrative propels itself successfully. Some of the plot elements are a little improbable and hokey, notably the Christian elements and the fact that consecrated crosses and hands bathed in holy water will actually glow with a beneficent light in the presence of a vampire. But that I also attribute to the times.

What I found scariest about the novel is not the vampires (whose effect was diminished by the instinctual and irrational fear the characters felt in the air being pounded into the reader's head when they got close) but how the town, though very obviously dying, kept quiet and refused to recognize the destruction around it. The denial speaks to something very real. King captured it well, especially in my favorite character, Parkins Gillespie, the old sheriff.

Anyway, it's a pretty good read, but I don't have much else to say about it. I didn't find it as fascinating as Carrie, perhaps because King tries to make you care about too many characters, and it's a bit of a tall order. I'm going to read The Shining next, which I hope will be more along the lines of what I expect.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lord Foul's Bane

Lord Foul's Bane

Lord Foul's Bane / Stephen R. Donaldson
New York : Del Rey, 2004
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, bk. 1
480 p.

He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, because he dared not believe in this strange alternate world on which he suddenly found himself.

Hmmm... I really thought I wrote and published a review of this last week when I finished it. It must have gotten lost, but I don't think it was very good anyway. Nonetheless, I don't feel like doing it all over again, so I'm going to be lame and just copy/paste what I wrote in my Goodreads account because it's not a short paragraph like other things I write there. Ready? Ok.

Dudes, this book is pretty bad.

So fantasy epics are fantasy epics, and they have to be allowed a certain degree of slack for hokeyness. But you don't get to name your evildoers "Lord Foul" and "Drool" without an eyeroll. Nor do you get to use adjectives (such as "wrong") as nouns, especially when the adjective has an accepted noun form (such as "wrongness"). Furthermore, using big words is nice, but one must fit them in naturally and with restraint because the word "chiaroscuro" is not so impressive the fifth time around and basically just makes it look like you're trying to hard.

But ok. Language issues aside, the main reason this book is frustrating is because it has all the great elements of an engaging, geeky fantasy novel (far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disg... oh, wait no prince, shut up Belle) but then it gets ruined by a main character so one-dimensional, unbelievable, and abhorrent that you hope he'll finally kill himself like he keeps thinking of doing.

See, he's got leprosy, and it's pretty crappy. But then he's summoned to this magic world, right, and he doesn't appear to have leprosy there. But instead of being kinda happy, he decides it's a dream and in order to keep his sanity, he has to feel sorry for himself and whine and yell at people so they don't think he's capable of anything because the minute he lifts a finger to do something useful, he'll forget he has leprosy and won't be prepared to handle it when he gets back to his real life. Yeah, it doesn't make any sense at all. Apparently the way to deal with leprosy is to constantly remind yourself you have it... even if you don't have it anymore.

Oh and he's a pacifist too. In the middle of the book after he saves the lives of his companions by killing a couple evil monsters with fighting skills he doesn't have, he decides killing is wrong, even to save the lives of he and his friends. God knows why. The explanation given is as incoherent as everything else having to do with this character.

It's not so much that he's "not a hero" because lots of stories make an anti-hero work. It's that his "anti" qualities are inconsistent, undeveloped and make no sense. And they're the only qualities he has. And nothing ever changes.

Right, so his magical superpower is self-pity, and even at the end when his travel companions and champions of good are being attacked by hordes of evil monsters and his magic wedding ring is the only thing that can save them, he decides to let them all die rather than embrace his power for 2 minutes to save the world. And he also doesn't want to kill, remember? He won't even kill the things that are described in the glossary as "creatures of pure evil." So in the end, one of the side characters with no distinguishing characteristics has to DO IT FOR HIM! The end. Then he fades away and wakes up in his real life and has full-blown leprosy once again, and we're supposed to be happy for him that he didn't break his stupid code or else he'd not be able to take care of himself anymore?

Ok. I'm done.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Worst Book Ever Edition

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!


I just finished Lord Foul's Bane, the first book in the series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, and I really hated it. Nonetheless, these kinda neat words were in it, so I suppose all is not lost.

bonhomie -- good-natured, easy friendliness

The man had been Joan's lawyer at the divorce -- a short, fleshy individual full of the kind of bonhomie in which lawyers and ministers specialize.

preterite -- of, relating to, or being the verb tense that describes a past action or state

Beggars and fanatics, holy men, prophets of the apocalypse didn't belong on that street in that sunlight; the frowning, belittling eyes of the stone columns held no tolerance for such preterite exaltation.

(I dunno, this word still makes no sense to me here. I'm not sure what columns he's talking about either, or why they have eyes in the first place, much less belittling ones.)

chiaroscuro -- meaning "light-dark" in Italian, the use of contrast between light and dark in art

Covenant followed the red eyes upward, but he could see nothing there except the dizzy chiaroscuro of the cluttered stone spikes.

(This word's really cool, but he uses it about fifty times so that it stands out awkwardly and makes the book feel like an extended high school vocab assignment. He does the same with "incarnadine", which basically means red.)

atavism -- recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination; recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity

Gradually, he grew aware of other things -- the tree shade bedizened with glints of declining sunlight, the aroma of pine, the wind murmuring, the grass thickly cradling his body, the sound of a tune, the irregular tingling that came and went from his palms like an atavism -- but the warmth of his cheek on Lena's lap seemed more important.

(Uh, ok, in the book the man used to have no feeling in his hands. They were numb because of a medical condition. So the tingle wasn't "like" an atavism, it "was" an atavism. A lot of his comparisons are like that. To make up a simpler example: "The scary monster that ate her family approached her, and she screamed, as if both grieving and terrified." That's not from the book. It's not from anything. Nobody would say that. But do you see what I mean?)

anodyne -- anything that calms, comforts, or soothes disturbed feelings

The swelling night seemed full of soft communications -- anodynes for the loneliness of the dark.

(You'll be happy to know I have nothing to say about this one. I actually find the usage quite lovely.)

eyot -- variant of ait; an islet, especially in a river

Beyond him, in the bottom of the hollow, stood a single copse like an eyot in a broad glade.


abnegate -- to deny oneself

Prothall's abnegate eyes did not waver.

(Abnegate is a verb, not an adjective. But this character is something like a high priest/scholar, so I suppose he did make some sacrifices. Why we're being reminded of it in the context of where this line is from is beyond me.)

Anyway sorry for all the little interjections, but as you can tell, I am NOT enamored with this book. I didn't realize the problems I had with his writing would come out so much in these examples. Anyway, I plan to talk about it more later today so come on back if you like hearing people complain about things on the internet!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays -- 'Salem's Lot

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

After being so happy with Carrie, I picked up King's second novel, 'Salem's Lot. I've only read the introduction so far, so... well whatever.

So I have come here, to a town which was first told of to me by a most brilliant man, a former townsman himself, now lamentably deceased. The folk here are still rich and full-blooded, folk who are stuffed with the aggression and darkness so necessary to... there is no English for it.

Monday, January 18, 2010



Carrie / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 1999
Originally published: 1974
xv, 253 p.

A modern classic, Carrie introduced a distinctive new voice in American fiction -- Stephen King. The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time.

I've never read any Stephen King before, so I got this over the weekend and ended up reading it in one sitting yesterday. It's not a long book, but that's still a pretty amazing feat for me.

What struck me in the first few pages of the novel was, "Wow. He's a pretty good writer." Even though I've read some of his articles and have respect for the man and his opinions (and even his writing style), I've always had this impression of his novels as "genre fiction" and therefore my expectations were low. It's a silly preconception to have considering a) I've read his nonfiction and know I like his style, and b) I read genre fiction, and even though many popular authors write terribly, not all of them do.

Anyway, I saw the movie version of Carrie a long time ago. It was on TV, and I remember flipping back and forth between it and other things. So I basically knew what happened, but honestly, who doesn't at this point?

Still, the novel remains engaging. In most novel-length (or movie-length) horror stories, a number of gory or terrifying things happen throughout. This isn't the case in Carrie so King solves the problem of dramatic tension by juxtaposing regular third-person narrative with fictional excerpts from books and newspapers covering "The Carrie White Incident", so that even though all the horrific events happen on prom night in the last part of the book, the sense of tension leading up to it is sustained throughout.

The novel is a bit dated 35 years later, but the story is still affecting. Carrie is still a gripping and disturbing story. I definitely plan on exploring more of King's work this year.

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