Monday, November 16, 2020

62. It by Stephen King

Whew!  Epic!  I have been looking for It for quite a while now, but would only read a used paperback copy.  These are actually quite hard to find, especially after the latest movie came out.  I did finally discover this really beat-up copy (not the ideal cover, but I am not complaining) in the big book dump in my alley last summer.  While I was still looking for it, I made the mistake of watching the first installment of the new movie.  When it came out, I hadn't been that interested in it, but the trailer for the second installment was so good (the one where she is visiting the old lady) that it made me want to give the two films a chance.  That was a huge mistake.  The first movie fucking sucked.  They had all this money and now we live in an era where it is okay (and even desirable) to actually tell the story and instead they ruined it like so many of Stephen King's properties. This one just devolved into tired repetitions of the way clowns could be freaky with only the smallest hints of the true storyline of the kids friendship and the evil that is the town of Derry.

The purity of my reading the book was thus somewhat spoiled by having seen the movie, as it imprinted some imagery, especially that of Pennywise and Beverly.  Fortunately, the rest of it was mostly forgettable.  I had also started reading It right at the end of my big Stephen King phase and then abandoned the book.  I just wasn't interested at the time.  My memory told me that I had only read a few pages before giving up, but I was 100 pages in and still remembering stuff, but couldn't tell if that was from the movie.  Finally at some point, I realized I had definitely not read it and could just enjoy the book.

I consider It to be the last of the early and for me best phase of Stephen King's writing. This could be erroneous, but it felt like after It he started going into more literary territory and doing things like The Dark Tower series.  I was always into his more adventure/sci-fi than his horror books.  Firestarter and The Dead Zone (and of course The Stand) were my favourites.  It is definitely mostly in the horror category but it gets pretty cosmic near the end.  There is a lot going on and it is a long book.  I am too lazy to fully and fairly analyze it.  I will say that I mostly enjoyed it and loved some parts of it enough to remind me why I was so into his books as a teenager. It's a bit long at times, especially in the early part.  There is so much horror in it, that it starts to get a bit not scary.  I am not into horror that much anyways, but I think the gruesome child murders could have been brought out a bit more slowly.  As it is, you are barely a third of the way in and you know there is a killer clown ripping lots of kids apart. The sexual and racial politics are questionable and interesting.  I think we can mostly give King a pass here as he was really trying.  The one black character, Mike the librarian, has some Magical Negro elements, but is also a fully-fledged character (though still getting somewhat second billing in the final action given his importance to the plot).  Beverly is really great as a kid, but somewhat weird as an adult, the abuse victim pattern doesn't feel entirely realistic (though the abusive husband does and is one of the scariest characters in the book).  There is also a super weird part in the end when they are kids that I am just not smart enough to unpack but seems somehow very wrong to me.  

Overall, though, the portrayal of this nasty town takes this book to the next level.  Stephen King knows America and though the evil here is from elsewhere, the manifestation it takes in Derry, Maine is all American and all too relevant today.  The real evil here are the racists, the bullies, the abusers and worse of all, the people who look away when it is all going on.  King describes the history, the geography, so many people, the establishments, the weather, everything to such a degree that I feel like the town should be findable on Google Maps and Wikipedia.  And he just savages it.  One wonders about his own childhood. He seems to know the darkness in small town America all too well.  And this is Yankee Maine!

As I mentioned when complaining about the shit movie, It is fundamentally about childhood friendship and before it gets really weird, this is the second-strongest part in the book. Each character and their confused perspective on their world is well written and when they start to find some salvation in each other, it is really quite moving. The part where fat Ben escapes from the bullies and meets Bill and Richie and then helps them build a dam and is blown away when they ask him to come and hang out with them is especially touching.  

Accomplishment achieved and thoroughly enjoyed! 

Now that is a well worn paperback!

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