Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #1)


The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #1) – Available Here

Stephen King writes that there are two types of writers: “architects” and “gardeners”. Architects design their work in detail before even beginning to build and gardeners throw seed to the earth and see what grows. King falls, by his own admission, firmly in the world of the gardener. Which makes sense as far as I can tell. The only possible way you can be as prolific as he is by some horrifyingly unlikely combination of skill, dedication, and the self-renewing joy of discovery after every paragraph.

That being said I have never cared much for King’s writing (this was a younger me that formed this opinion, a slightly younger version of the one who would derided Faulkner for being unremarkable). Every time the man speaks, shares an opinion on the real world, I love him. He is smart and he is knowing and there are certain points where you’ve read enough of his essays and heard enough of his publically stated opinions that even one as haughtily self-assured as myself has to look in the mirror and ask myself over and over again, “Why the hell am I still paying any attention to the crap I felt in high school?”

Time after bloody time I come back to things I tell people I have strong opinions on and then find out that I disagree with myself. And so I am slowly (more slowly than I would like) overcoming my mythos entrenched feelings and finally, I hope, getting things to a proper state of fact and opinion.

~$ sudo apt-get upgrade
Hit karmic/main opinions
Get packages/king stephen [921B]
Fetched 921B in 10yrs (.00000291B/s)
Reading package lists… Done

All right. Let’s do this.

The Gunslinger is a strange and slightly flawed piece of fascination in my eyes. It is disjointed in a way that I found myself wondering if I had simply missed a couple of intervening pages that would have segued one chapter to another. A cursory glance told me that there is a reason they are disjointed. This is not a novel but a collection of comingling short stories that in the best way a series of off-the-cuff short stories can be a novel. The style is more thoughtful, tending towards the sparseness of Cormac McCarthy and even at times stretching out and brushing against that biblical tone that truly powerful epics demand. This hangs partially on the fact that horror as a genre depends on harnessing at least a small part of the declarative masculine language that instills the reader with the sensation of a child receiving or perhaps watching a grave mistake being made and recognized. It is cause, it is effect, and in that mindset it is the weak and all powerful crushing down upon the weak and unready.

You never stop feeling like a child in this book. When the most self-assured and archetypal badass is plagued with fear, doubt, and paranoia, the reader has no choice but to double down on those emotions out of an act of simple sympathy. It borders on the point of too many vagueries at once, but always manages to pull a few from the fire (or at least distract us with a few curious familiarities) before tossing in some more.

The journey is everything a surreal western needed to be, it is unfortunately the ending that has the potential to rip the world open like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but instead pulls back at the last possible moment slaps the literary equivalent of a TO BE CONTINUED… across the screen. I’m not opposed to this, what I am opposed to is the buildup of the baddy and the ultimate relegation of him to messenger of a greater who answers to something greater still. These are fine ideas, but dumped as they are at the end, I wish the book at been a longer game of cat and mouse. I loved the tone, the story, the tragedy of Jack Chambers, and the irritating way that I have apparently discovered a book that has confronted and solved every narrative problem I’ve been having with my book before I was even born (if you want to experience a truly mesmerizing combination of self-loathing and jealousy find someone who did something you tried for yours to accomplish and made the entire process look like something as simple as cracking one’s knuckles. I may never be the same.

This book is a trip I enjoyed, but it is far from perfect. I have started the second book and within the first few pages realized that that terse and tonal purity of the book had been set aside in order to gain a greater ease of writing. For example in The Gunslinger King goes out of its way to say anything explicit about the genital-area of any of the characters in the name of that high biblical style. However the next book drops trough and talks about Roland’s crouch within five pages. It’s not bad I suppose, just a very obvious tonal shift I’d rather have no happen. There were ways it could have been added later, and more cleverly, like if it was added after he encountered Eddy (New Yorkers speaking as they do) I might be more forgiving, him picking up the language of his Ka and the narrator as well, but without that it simply rings with the “Bah, this flows easier, don’t over think it Stephen, come on!).

Still, it is a very, very good book. And book 2 is shaping up to be even more interesting if not quite as well written. I am glad I am finally giving King a proper chance to breathe on my shelf. Better late than never one supposes.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” ― Stephen King, The Gunslinger

About Tietsu

Someday the words that fill my brain will fill cheap paperback books. Until then, I will collect them here.
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