Ooh, you guys are in for a treat (you are not in for a treat). This is perhaps the longest book review in the history of books! It is not as long as The Shining itself, only because that book is very, very long (it’s not actually hugely long, but it sure does read like it is).
I’ve always thought that I just don’t like Stephen King’s books, but to date, I’ve managed to only read his two most commonly disliked books, Dolores Claiborne and Thinner (actually I only read the first third or so of Thinner). Fans assure me that I need to retry King with one of his more famous works. In fact, several people have recommended The Stand, since it takes place in Boulder, but I’m not reading a 1000+ page Stephen King book.
This year for Tom’s* birthday I made us reservations for a night at The Stanley Hotel, where King was staying when he was inspired to write The Shining. (They also play the Jack Nicholson version on loop on one of the tv channels, leading me to rewatch it and scare the bejeesus out of myself on what was supposed to be a romantic weekend.) Watching Shelley Duvall sob and shriek her way through the movie, I was curious as to whether the novel has more nuanced characters, and decided to give it a shot.
Since The Shining is definitely going to take me more than a week to read, I thought I’d give semi-live-blogging a shot. This is a journal of sorts of my progress (absolutely with spoilers):
*I related a story to Tom in which I referred to him as “the dude I live with,” to which he took some exception. However, Tom is the dude I live with.
Chapter 1: Jack already comes across as kind of an asshole. I’d heard that Stephen King disagreed with Jack Nicholson’s casting because he comes off as creepy right off the bat instead of letting the insanity slowly grow à la Norman Bates. However, Jack in the book doesn’t come across as very likable or normal in the beginning. One of the problems I had with Thinner was that I had little to no sympathy for a protagonist who kills an old woman in a hit-and-run, and Jack isn’t much better.
Chapter 2: We meet Jack’s wife Wendy. In the five pages of the short chapter, Wendy blinks back tears four separate times before finally, “the tears which had threatened all day now came in a cloudburst.” Good Lord. I owe Shelley an apology for what I assumed was her acting decision.
Chapter 5: The Shining was published in 1977, which doesn’t seem hugely long ago, but the technology referenced is so out-of-date that I have trouble believing that Stephen King wasn’t making it outmoded on purpose. In this chapter, Jack sulks about Wendy insisting that they needed a phone installed in their home since they have a small child. Were there really houses without phones in 1977? Could you get through life without a phone in your home back then? I can’t even imagine what it would be like not to have one, to always have to go to a payphone every time you need to call someone, and they couldn’t call you at all. Crazy!
Jack also mentions that he “was producing nothing at his Underwood” and I was at a complete loss for a second before I remembered in the movie he uses a typewriter, so I assume an Underwood is a brand of typewriter. I actually do vaguely remember my parents using a typewriter in the late 70s. I remember the letters were on the ends of long, thin metal slats that would get all tangled up with each other if one typed too fast. (Jesus, I just looked up ‘Underwood typewriter’ in Google Images, and that thing looks like it weighs a ton! Jack’s going to lug that monstrosity all the way up a Colorado mountain?)
Chapter 6: King sure does explore the constant torment of a recovering alcoholic a lot. I started to get a little annoyed at all the florid text about it, and thought, “my god, it can’t be that bad,” but then I felt guilty because alcohol has never been my weakness, so I don’t know anything about having to quit that addiction. (The closest I ever got was having to shift from caffeinated coffee to decaf, and that was miserable enough that I should be more tolerant.) As I started reading more and more about Jack’s constant battle with the urge to drink, I started to get a suspicion and asked a friend who’s a King fan whether he was ever an alcoholic himself, and she said absolutely and that he writes all about it in his nonfiction book On Writing.
Which, Tom happens to own. So, I scanned though it, and found the part where he talks about his increasing drinking problem, and he just comes right out and says that things he’s not willing to acknowledge yet in his real life often come out in his writing. He didn’t acknowledge that he had a drinking problem until the mid-80s, but said that he was clearly writing about himself when he wrote Jack as a drunken author. It was actually far more interesting than anything in The Shining so far. I may read On Writing next.
The excitement of reading about someone reading continues in Part 2!