The Stephen King Marathon – The Running Man

This is another of the Bachman books, and one that I was crazy excited to reread.
runningman1I remember thinking of the Running Man when I read the Hunger Games for the first time, and upon this reread I wondered if Suzanne Collins was inspired by this book when she came up with the idea. It definitely feels like the Hunger Games could have been an homage to the Running Man.

I read this book in only four sessions, it’s so intense and fast paced. Right from the get go, stuff is happening, and in typical Bachman style, it’s pretty fucked up. Dystopian future, televised game shows that pretty much guarantee death, and an Orwell-esque government. There’s something wonderful about a character living in poverty totally sticking it to the man by playing the man’s game but playing it their own way.

I honestly can’t sing enough praises for this book. It is fucking fantastic. I kind of want to watch the movie now, although I really just don’t understand how they figured Arnold Schwarzenegger was a good fit for Richards. I was picturing somebody more… I don’t know, not Arnold-y.

For The Dark Tower Fans: Nothing really, except for King’s beautiful writing.

Fear Factor: This book isn’t all that scary, unless you start to think about what it would be like if our world ended up like the one in the book. If killing people on live television was a thing, and humanity just ate it all up. It’s really fucked up to think about. That’s what King does as Bachman, though, he really makes the reader examine the human condition, and how deep our depravity can go.

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The Stephen King Marathon – Cujo

I apparently had forgotten a lot about this book. I read it originally when I was a teenager, and all I remembered was a woman and her kid trapped in a car with a mean dog outside. There is so much more.

Grrrrr...

This book is fucking awesome. It had been so long since I’d read it. I look at his newer stuff like Under The Dome, and am so in awe of his ability to make a small town’s inhabitants so interesting. I was amazed to read something from so long ago in which he does the same thing, showing that he was gifted in this skill from the get go. Most of the book takes place in the lives of two couples, each with a child and a massive set of baggage and troubles. It’s so immersive and interesting, even though there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on. And because Cujo gets rabies right at the beginning and it slowly sets in over the course of the story, I found the dread and anticipation just building up in me. It is an intense ride.

I especially love the way that King writes from the point of view of the dog himself. He’s very good at vocalizing how I would imagine the thought process of a dog would be. I really felt the madness setting in, and found myself feeling badly for what Cujo was going through. On the flip side of that, now that I have a child, I was absolutely panicked at the thought of being stuck in a car in the heat of summer trying to protect my kid from a rabid St. Bernard. It was an intense ride.

Aside from the amazing writing and the masterful tale spinning, it wouldn’t be a King novel without some hint at the supernatural. As much as this is a very real story, with actual relationship issues and a normal real world disease on the dog, he manages to inject a little bit of creepy mystical shit. The kid sees a monster in the closet and it turns out that it’s the dog, and the father has dreams that point towards where they are, it’s just that little bit of signature King that ties the book together in a neat little spooky bow.

Love. So classic and awesome.

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For the Dark Tower Fans: There wasn’t anything that jumped out at me here, but I did happen to read an article that pointed out that Song of Susannah takes place in Bridgton, Maine, where this book also takes place. So there is that.

Fear Factor: While this book didn’t have me sleeping with one eye open, it was definitely suspenseful. I was invested in the characters at the beginning, but once I got to the part in the car, there was no putting the book down. Heart racing, goosebumps, just wholly in that car with Tad and Donna.

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The Stephen King Marathon – Danse Macabre

Ok, so full disclosure. I didn’t finish this book. Aside from the fact that I was in the middle of newborn hell and was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, it just wasn’t holding my attention well enough. It’s non-fiction, and I usually love reading about what Stephen King’s thoughts on writing are, but in my desperate cross-eyed nighttime feeding state I needed something super absorbing. I tried for awhile, but just couldn’t do it. So this post is a placeholder for when I come back to it.

I just needed some good storytelling, because I ate through Cujo and The Running Man within a week and a half. So yeah. I’ll come back to this later.

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The Stephen King Marathon – Roadwork

So, this book took me almost a year to read.

Dun dun dun! The 80s had the best book covers.

Dun dun dun! The 80s had the best book covers.

As with any of the Bachman books, this book follows a man sliding into complete lunacy due to the fact that the city wants to build a freeway on top of his subdivision, and he just can’t seem to let go of his house. He’s messed up because his son died, and in putting off moving out of the house even though the city is breathing down his neck, he ruins his marriage, his job, and his sanity.

I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one. One would think that because it took me so long to get through it that it sucks, but every time I picked it back up again it felt like coming home. There’s nothing quite like curling up with King, his words are like a warm blanket of imagination that just sucks you into a cocoon of awesomeness.

The whole time Bart is going nuts, I’m tumbling into insanity with him, watching him be a witty motherfucker even when he knows that he’s hitting rock bottom. He’s likeable even though he’s a complete antihero, which King is fantastic at, that is making characters so flawed and thus relatable. I found myself actually kind of rooting for Bart, wondering what he was actually going to do and where he was going to end up.

And then… I guess I just found it a bit anticlimactic. King has a knack for ending things just the way that they’re supposed to end, and I know that it was naive of me to think that Bart was going to just fuck up some machinery and then skip off to Las Vegas and party it up with Olivia while trying to find himself. But I feel like it ended too fast. For him to go out the way he did… and then nothing really changed anything.

That’s reality, I guess. One man in a billion suffers, goes out with a bang, and the world moves on. Depressing, but that’s Bachman. Nothing supernatural here, Freddy, just the human mind, which can be scarier than any ghost or evil clown.

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For the Dark Tower fans: Nothing really, except the Bart on the cover above this sentence kinda looks like Roland.

Fear Factor: I would call this more of a psychological discomfort.

“[…]there’s a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters.” -Bart Dawes, Roadwork, Richard Bachman

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The Stephen King Marathon – Firestarter

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So much awesomesauce slathered all over this book.

Meet Charlie McGee, a little girl who can set shit on fire. That’s what you see on the surface of this book. Inside, you discover that the government is behind a series of tests trying to bring out psychic abilities, and by happenstance Charlie is born to two if these test subjects.

I’d also like to take a second to point out that this is the first of King’s books to feature a girl as the main child character, and that there is no insinuation of abuse here. Aside from the weird circumstances of Charlie’s abilities, she grows up with a loving and wholesome family life. This book breaks a string of abused little boys with alcoholic fathers, and I find this is where King starts to really explore some new relationships.

Also, the way Charlie is written is so convincing. It’s fucking hard writing child characters, and not only does he make her realistic, he also jumps into her POV and it feels natural. It feels like you’re seeing through the eyes of an eight year old. It’s really amazing. Especially given that she’s dealing with a murderous power and being captured by the government. Somehow it’s all so realistic. But that’s a King tale for you.

All in all, a fantastic read. This is one of my favourites from my childhood. Also Drew Barrymore is just the cutest!!

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For the Dark Tower fans: Could the Shop have been an offshoot centre for training Breakers? Could Charlie and Andy McGee have been really awesome Breakers, and ended up sitting next to Ted someday? Questions that us DT nerds must ask.

Fear Factor: Was I able to read this book alone at night? Yes. Was it suspenseful enough that I was on the edge of my seat? Definitely.

“The world, although well-lighted with fluorescents and incandescent bulbs and neon, is still full of odd dark corners and unsettling nooks and crannies.” -Firestarter, Stephen King

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The Stephen King Marathon – The Dead Zone

Dun dun dun...

Dun dun dun…

So, here is another one that I read as a teenager and didn’t remember one fucking thing about. I thought that the Dead Zone was an actual Zone of the Dead. Because memory is funny that way. But no, it’s actually about a guy that has a little bit of foresight after smashing his head in his younger years. Then he gets into a car accident and is in a coma for quite a few years, wakes up, and is pretty psychic.

While some people would say the coma/wake up/supernatural abilities thing has been done to death, this stands apart from the genre. The way that the coma has affected the main character (Johnny) and his relationships, is uniquely described. Also the way he finally decides to use his powers for good, and the outcome at the end, oh man. So awesome. I hope one day I have even an ounce of the kind of skill that King has for opening and closing a story. Fucking genius.

For the Dark Tower Fans: Not any huge references here, but a few subtle ones. When Johnny has his first real premonition, he’s playing roulette at a carnival, and he bets hundred of dollars on 19. And the guy that’s cheering him on calls him long, tall, and ugly. Which made me laugh extra hard because Christopher Walken plays Johnny in the movie.

I honestly can't remember if this was any good or not. Who am I kidding, it's Christopher Walken, it has to be good!

I honestly can’t remember if this was any good or not. Who am I kidding, it’s Christopher Walken, it has to be good!

Fear Factor: Only a bit of underlying creepiness here. Good for King newbies who don’t want to jump feet first into terror.

“Well, they ate a bad hot dog called Vietnam and it gave them ptomaine. A guy named Lyndon Johnson sold it to them. So they went to this other guy, see, and they said, ‘Jesus, mister, I’m sick as hell.’ ANd this other guy, his name was Nixon, he said, ‘I know how to fix that. Have a few more hot dogs.’ And that’s what’s wrong with the youth of America.” -Cabbie, The Dead Zone, Stephen King, 1979

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The Stephen King Marathon – The Long Walk

HOW LONG IS IT?!

HOW LONG IS IT?!

A lot of people have said over the years that Stephen King is the master of spinning a tale taking place in one spot and making it interesting somehow. I would say that King is good at it, but Richard Bachman is the master. Rage was intense, and the Long Walk is just as if not more.

The basic premise is that every year, kids from all over America apply to be in the Long Walk. 100 get in, and they all start walking at the same time, armed only with a toolbelt of food and water. If any of them fall below 4 miles an hour three times, they ‘buy their ticket’, which actually means getting shot in the head. They keep going until there is only one left walking. Or likely trudging along all fucked up, because I don’t know about you, but I’d have probably bought a ticket within the first few hours.

This book was published in 1979, long before any of these new young adult dystopian novels of our time were even thought of. Even good ol’ Battle Royale didn’t come out until 1999. We live in a culture now that loves to imagine sending our children to kill each other, but I would be willing to bet that the Long Walk was pretty jarring in the seventies.

The story follows Garraty, who is the only one out of the 100 who was born and raised in Maine, where the Walk starts. He makes a few friends, enemies, and alliances, but mostly he learns about himself as fatigue sets in, physical and mental. You learn about the characters as they start to break down.

In classic King style, the book ends with Garraty not even realizing he’s won and pretty much insane. So you never really find out anything beyond this little clip of his life. Not a whole lot before, and nothing after. You never find out who the Major really is, and why the Long Walk exists. Which is frustrating, but the story is so good that it’s okay. I feel like King was just trying to put down a glimpse into this kid’s world, and at that he succeeded.

Side note, there are no girls in the Long Walk. I don’t know if the competition is closed to females, or maybe it’s not and the girls are too smart to enter? (Ha ha!) You have to admit that entering a contest where you have a 1 in 100 chance of not getting shot in the head is pretty stupid. Obviously these kids have some kind of damage, one of them comments that they all entered because underneath it all they want to die.

Let’s say you trained for it, and walked every day for hours and hours, maybe even did a few trial runs where you walked for four days straight without changing shoes or stopping to piss, let alone taking a dump. So you’re physically ready to walk at 4 miles an hour for as long as it takes to win. You’d better make sure your immune system is good too, because you don’t know what elements you’re going to face. The kid that was the #1 favourite and most physically suited to win died of pneumonia on the third day. So, there’s that.

Are you mentally ready to watch 99 other people die? Because that’s how you win. You have to watch them all deteriorate and wither away until somebody puts them out of their misery with a bullet.

So I guess if you can deal with all of that and still be standing and sane afterwards, then it makes sense to do it. But of course these are all teenage boys. They weren’t prepared, though some of them were cocky enough to think they were. It’s so fucked up. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But that is what Bachman is intensely good at.

For the Dark Tower Fans: Nothing really. Unless you, like I, suspect that the Major is actually Randall Flagg.

Fear Factor: This story isn’t necessarily scary. I found it rather uncomfortable. It’s that subtle disquiet that King is oh-so-good at. It’s fucked up, and it leaves you shaking your head and feeling like the human race is kind of shitty.

“You don’t know,” McVries said. “You’re dying and you don’t know why.”
“It’s not important after you’re dead.”
“Yeah, maybe.”

-The Long Walk, Richard Bachman, 1979

I also just wanted to point out that in the reprint I have, at the beginning there is an essay by King called ‘The Importance of Being Bachman’, in which he explains why he had a pseudonym and why it sucked really bad when he got found out. It’s really interesting, and you can read it here.

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