19 October 2023

The Last Stephen King Post. For Now.

Stephen King
Stephen King © Rolling Stone

It finally happened. Last night, I finished Holly, the latest Stephen King novel, which concludes my reading of his entire canon. There was, of course, a sense of "What do I do next?" (Answer: Read someone else. Congratulations, Mark Twain. I'm already halfway through your canon.) Something tells me I'd have enjoyed this journey more if I'd have started with Carrie in 1974. My mother did, and as my eighth birthday was a month away the day Carrie debuted, Mom was not about to let her oldest boy read it. My oldest brother had just turned one. My youngest brother had yet to appear.

Mom loved scary novels. Not an out-and-out horror fan, she did, however, enjoy The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. Then again, she and Dad every Friday night religiously watched the schlock horror show Ghoulardi/Houlihan and Big Chuck/Big Chuck and Li'l John, introducing us boys to its UHF counterpart Superhost. So the spooky, despite some early religious admonitions, was always there for them. 

But The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby were a different kind of horror from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the lurid type of paperbacks King referred to as "Just Plain Books." I bought a few of those when I turned eleven and never really got through the first chapter of Hand of Cain. Amazingly, I also bought a Western from such a desolate rack and somehow held onto it into middle age. I'm glad I did. It was written by Elmore Leonard. 

Carrie fit the mold of The Exorcist, but the writing also attracted Mom. (Dad was a TV-and-movie guy and went to his grave sick to death of Star Trek. Sorry, Dad. I might have been a little overzealous.) She eagerly snapped up Salem's Lot when it came out in paperback. By then I was ten, and while again, I was not allowed to read it, I was allowed to watch the miniseries three years later. And then I saw why mom loved King.

I didn't read The Stand at that age, and missed The Shining and Firestarter. I did see the Kubrick movie. Despite King's protestations how Jack Nicholson was wrong for the part of Jack Torrance and Kubrick missed the point, there was a vibe that would inhabit all the best King adaptations and even one of the worst. Lawnmower Man retained only the title, but the script they slapped it on could easily have come out of King's trunk.

So my first King novel was actually The Dead Zone, which bewildered me. I, being a sheltered, naive teen, didn't get a lot of the adult references. I did, however, take special glee in the fate of Gregory Stilson. I went back and read Salem's Lot. Tell no one this, but I like it better than Dracula (which I've reread a few times.) My first King to be gifted was It, which I absolutely loved as I was in that stage halfway between child and adult. I even had a mental cast for the movie. I was disappointed the miniseries did not cast Marilu Henner as the adult Bevvie.

The original Mrs. Winter bought me Gerald's Game shortly after our wedding, partly knowing I loved King, partly as a gag, and mostly as a... hint. By then, I was stuck on Mr. King from Maine. I missed a few novels and came back to them over the years. Hated Christine. Found some of the 90s books meh. Was impressed by the effort of the Dark Tower Series but not really connecting to it.

And absolutely fell in love with On Writing. Harold Bloom should have been made to read it aloud to students before his death. OK, I'm still bitter about Portrait of a Lady on his novels list. 

And so here we are, in 2023. I started in 2010 to read his entire canon, minus Faithful, a collaboration about the Red Sox season in which they won the World Series. Sorry, Steve, but I came of age in Cleveland when the then-Indians were owned by a dead guy. When your team becomes a farm team for the Yankees and the Blue Jays, then you can talk to me about true sports suffering. (And Cubs fans would like a word.) But I even read the screenplay Storm of the Century

But I just finished Holly last night. It's a straight-up crime novel, a serial killer novel actually. There are references to Brady Hartsfield (who became supernatural in the third Bill Hodges novel) and the Holly Gibney novels The Outsider and If It Bleeds. But Holly laments her quarry is a pair of plain ol' evil human beings (and wildly off their rockers, which you figure out within the first 50 pages.) One thing odd about this particular story is King's tendency to go off into the past and tell a related story. Sometimes this works. Often it doesn't. Instead, he uses flashbacks to show the reader what horrific monsters the nonegenarian Harris's are, not to mention racists, homophobes, and intellectual snobs. You just want to punch Emily in the face despite her nearly debilitating sciatica. And Rodney? Oh, my God! Some people should not be permitted to read Jonathan Swift, and he tops the list.

That said, finishing the book, which I enjoyed very much, capped a years-long personal project for me. King is by no means done. He has a collection due out next year, You Like It Darker, and that always accompanies a novel. So what next?

Does there have to be a next? I edit. I write. And there are thousands of books out there, some of which we talk about here. Some of them we write. But I got through this author's canon, and I'm glad I did.

Now, off to read Tom Sawyer Abroad.


  1. Congratulations on finishing the King project! Where to turn to? You’ve probably read Dean Koontz, but I think of him being close to King in scary effect. He’s apparently written 130+ novels, which should keep most boys and girls out of trouble.

    Lawnmower Man… I didn’t read the short story until long after I saw the movie, and frankly I found the story disappointing, more a Bachman experiment rather than a full-fledged King entry.

    But the movie’s plot is very different. I recall walking out of the theatre thinking it’s a retelling of Frankenstein.

    1. I read one particularly chilling novel without realizing until later it was Koontz. The Taking begins with a weird, oily rain that the reader could feel. For reasons you state above, I think it might appeal to you, but to say more might spoil it. Let me know what you think.

  2. Well, you could always read the complete works of Shirley Jackson. Even her humorous stuff - "Life Among the Savages", "Raising Demons", etc. - will occasionally raise a chill up your spine (thinking of "Charles", of course) and, of course, if you sleep well after reading "The Haunting of Hill House", well... nothing scares you.

  3. Jim, I too have read everything King's written, and I have my copy of Holly right here ready to read next (after I finish Nelson DeMille's latest). I agree with you on most of your opinions, including those on Christine and It, and although The Stand was the first of his novels that I read, back in the late 70s, I then went back and read Carrie and Salem's Lot as fast as i could find them, and since then I've bought every one of SK's novels as soon as they came out. No matter what his critics say, the man's a great storyteller, and when he's at his best, he's hard to beat. Loved this post.

    1. I've been reading some Arthur Conan Doyle lately and he and King have this in common; they are gripping storytellers. (Said it before, I haven't read that many King novels but I've loved his short-stories since College 40+ years ago!)

  4. Great post. I have read some of King, maybe a third of the canon, and have enjoyed most. Unlike you, I actually liked Christine. Not so much for the plot, but for the characters, who've stuck with me for a few decades now, despite never having reread the story. I thought Thinner was chilling. And The Shining, despite being a book King says he doesn't remember writing, was one of his scariest, for me.


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