In the early 1980s, Stephen King had death on the mind. Moreso than usual. Cujo is the second in what is at least a loose trilogy of meditations on grief and mortality and, given that it is famously the novel that King does not remember writing at all, it speaks to something in his subconscious. It is a pity on all counts, because this killer dog story is one of King’s harder hitting works, emphasising his skill with the mundane. With no supernatural elements in play, and without the deep-seated nihilism that infected Roadwork, Cujo is a dark work with a sparkling undercurrent.
Let’s be real: it’s amazing that Gillian Flynn didn’t properly explode until Gone Girl. Her first two novels were accomplished. Sharp Objects was disquieting and deeply unpleasant in places, but it was pointy right to the very end. Dark Places is more assured, with a strong mystery intertwined throughout and a more immediately understandable main character. Dark Places is a prescient novel; the fringe that it depicts is no longer underground.
There’s a general rule in Young Adult fiction that applies often enough to stick: if a story is about a boy with deep-seated character flaws, the characters around must adapt to accommodate him; if it is about a similar girl, she will have to undergo some growth and change so that the people in her life don’t give up on her forever. Hot Dog Girl, possibly one of the best cover and title combos on the YA market this year, definitely falls into this mould.
Elouise May Parker is a piece of work, and no one in her book understands her cockamamie scheme.
Some books can never hope to live up to their covers. Roadwork is one such novel. Richard Bachman goes introspective, shifting his focus to the family. The first Bachman book about adults is dark and nihilistic, with none of the optimism that characterises many King novels that run along similar lines. There is a certain distress involved in reading Roadwork, a crushing inevitability that perhaps can’t be helped. It’s a theme that King will return to as himself in Pet Sematary, but with no supernatural interference, Roadwork hits hard.
If batrock.net was a paid outlet, Lot would likely be given to a queer person of colour to review. As this is a one man outfit, that’s not an option, but this review of Lot will attempt to tackle the stories contained within this collection without the air of tourism or gentrification.
Short stories, that publishing bastion which was once dominated by genre and feared by book vendors, are suddenly commercially viable. Between Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black and Bryan Washington’s Lot, the form is receiving a renaissance of public attention. Lot itself is a stunning debut collection that asks the reader what constitutes a collection of short stories and what makes up a loose novel, when every story shares the same neighbourhood and most of them the same narrator. Regardless of its taxonomy, Lot is a book worth more than dipping into.
Can anyone truly know the law? So many crime novels are predicated on police ignoring conflicts of interest that you’d think they’d never heard of recusing themselves. The Scholar, Dervla McTiernan’s second Cormac Reilly outing, appears to take the procedure out of the procedural, but it’s not a bad novel for that.
Time is a harsh mistress. At the time of On Writing’s publication, Stephen King was 26 years into his career, and a year out from his near fatal car accident. Nearly twenty years and approximately 29 books later, it is hard to conceive that On Writing almost didn’t happen, and that King was going to retire. Perhaps it was the cry of Constant Readers who thought that they would never know what would become of Roland and his Ka-tet; perhaps King himself could not resist the call of the Beam. On Writing heralded the return of the King, and Constant Readers remain grateful to this day.
People who dismiss the idea of literature, both modern and classic, tend to view it as variants on a single story: a middle-aged man grappling with the perceived failures of his life seeks solace in the arms of a much younger woman. This is often further reduced to a professor and student dynamic. In Stay Up With Hugo Best, Erin Somers flips the script with the concept “what if that alleged classic literary had its script flipped: the exact same story from the perspective of the woman”. The thing is that it’s exactly the same. A woman ineffectually tries to save a boring but overly wealthy man from himself. Without finesse or an actual point of difference, Stay Up With Hugo Best doesn’t work.
Karen M. McManus’ second novel is an evolution of her craft. One Of Us Is Lying was a hooky little high school mystery that couldn’t quite grasp the concept of unreliable narrators, but Two Can Keep A Secret is a small town extravaganza that ticks a lot of boxes. If you tick the right boxes in the right ways, it doesn’t matter if they’re clichés. This is a genre based around the right material done well.
You don’t have to always follow your heroes through the gates of Hell. If Indiana Jones asks you to step into the Temple of Doom with him, you say “no thank you, Mister Jones. Call me when you’re looking for the cup of a carpenter, I want something a bit less imperialist.” This is a laboured metaphor already, but it turns out that Danse Macabre, Stephen King’s first non-fiction effort,is full of them. And “heh heh” asides. And blatant errors — Peter Pan and the “Wild Boys”, “Anarchy for the U.K.” — that have not been corrected in thirty years of reprints.
It’s not a case of don’t meet your heroes, but rather a case of “the past is a different country, you weren’t born yet, and nothing in this book means anything to you”. Danse Macabre does not hold up to a modern reader, dealing as it does with works that have largely been obscured by time, none of which have endured like the output of its author. Scrappy, and written with a giant chip on its shoulder, Danse Macabre is a curio.