Book Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #7)

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The Dark Tower by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #7) – Available Here

This book is strange. It brings the dark tower series to an end but it does so with an awareness that seems to call to King to take and try every possible narrative strangeness he can muster. It was visible in the Song of Susannah as well, but here it seems to poke at the edges more, trying things on, discarding them regardless of effectiveness and moving on to whatever whim strikes him next. It’s a great deal of fun to read because even when things seem to dawdle a bit, there is this paragraph or string of words that strikes out like a light, a sometimes nearly invisible exercise. King could see something coming to an end and here he seems to be trying to figure out where he is going next by using narrator-as-character as an excuse. By the end of it, I was convinced that it was a place I would likely enjoy very much.

The story ends and it is flawed, but lovely. It is not some great majestic piece of literature, but it is a curious and at times wonderful read that was worth exploring just to see something come together over 30 years and develop a consciousness unique to any other book I have ever read.

I started off disregarding King’s work. After this, he is still something of an enigma, but one I can definitely see the appeal in if the rest of his books garner this level of transparency with the author’s psyche. It’s like being told a story on the very rails of a human mind. There is no time for correction, the fear of losing threads is too strong. So you race, sprawling out words like literary exhaust, hoping that eventually your be able to tackle the damn thing that compels you to write and maybe find a moments peace.

Maybe I’m projecting. It doesn’t matter. Writers all share a common madness and after spending the last 60 days drenched in this world I can see it beautifully displayed in King.

“And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.” ― Stephen King, The Dark Tower

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Book Review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #6)

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Song of Susannah by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #6) – Available Here

Finally, we are back to proper pace. No longer strangling back in the rooms of the past or the empty pathways of a dusty, broken town, we are dragged back into a rhythm closer to that of The Drawing of the Three with a tripling down of the time spent in the present. The fuse is lit and everything moves with the fierce determined moral ambivalence of Ka.

The actions scenes pop the way they must, The Gunslinger vs The Mafia. Enter King and the creative bloom of a man who knows where things must land before the powder keg finally goes off.

“Commala-come-come,
The battle’s now begun!
And all the foes of men and rose
Rise with the setting sun.”

“The gunslinger said, “I used to think the most terrible thing would be to reach the Dark Tower and find the top room empty. The God of all universes either dead or nonexistent in the first place. But now…suppose there is someone there, Eddie? Someone in charge who turns out to be…” He couldn’t finish.

Eddie could. “Someone who turns out to be just another bumhug? Is that it? God not dead but feeble-minded and malicious?” ― Stephen King, Song of Susannah

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Book Review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #5)

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Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #5) – Available Here

This book suffers in much the same way the fourth book does: it is slow. Walks when it needs to run, as if fighting against itself, fitfully roving towards a pay off like a damp-fused firework. King seems to try and find a deeper sense of character in the calla. It is unfortunate that he decided that this is most effectively done by refusing to diagnose anything as too mundane for his readers eyes. If it were properly surrealistic or rendered with a more thoughtful literary hand, things could have been different. As it stands it reads like an adventure movie that takes itself a little too seriously and by proxy goes bonkers with the budget. Had about a third of the book been cut and streamlined it would sing. I think the biggest issue is the sudden switch in what is driving the narrative. We go from searching for the dark tower to faffing about a village while waiting a little too patiently for the bad guys to show up.

There are vampires, robots, and, depending on who in the calla you talk to, wolves aplenty in this book. Father Callahan’s (of Salem’s Lot fame) appearance and story is perfectly formed and entrancing in a way the rest of the novel isn’t. It and a handful of other strings give the novel enough to keep one motivated enough to keep moving forward, especially if they survived the tired fumblings of the last book.

“Your man Jesus seems to me a bit of a son of a bitch when it comes to women,´Roland said. ´Was He ever married?´
The corners of Callahan’s mouth quirked. ´No´ he said, ´but His girlfriend was a whore.´
´Well,´ Roland said, ´that’s a start.´” ― Stephen King, Wolves of the Calla

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Book Review: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #4)

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Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #4) – Available Here 

This book is a mess. The prologue is a poorer version of the third’s final chapter. The rest of the book seems clumsily contrived to force out the truth of Roland’s past. And so we are left with 100 pages bookending both sides of an entirely different book. Sure there are two or three half-hearted intermissions to remind us that the main story, the original story, exists, but they ring poorly and contribute nothing.

I fear King has grown too many roots as a writer. I can feel everything about him I disliked initially in the tall tomes of Dream Catcher and The Cell. Plot aside, they are overwritten, reined too poorly to obey any sense of balance or rhythm. Were King a planner he could have dreamed, or carried away this story in pieces, thoughts scattered over the last two or three books and then had a palaver where the climax lands like a grenade and we are left properly emotionally manipulated and off to our next whirlwind adventure…but then that is not how King writes and it doesn’t always or necessarily end up hurting things, but with three books worth of history and narrative inertia the story being told here just doesn’t work. Instead of the high concept dystopian dream of the last three books, we have something closer to an invading force of just slightly-off high fantasy (with a western flair one supposes).

It is a misstep so large as to be baffling. Roland’s story is one of overwritten love. Susan and Roland. Youthful love that even King acknowledges in the very pages of the book means nothing to the outsider looking in, is used and reused constantly to the point of rage. Yes they are in love. Yes, they make love in clearings, cafeterias and closets, but this isn’t some whimsical summer love tale it is an intricate web of world and character. And yet he cannot break away and just as the plot moves we are dragged back to Susan and Roland’s love. Over and over and over again. The most interesting characters, Roland’s old ka-tet of Alain and Cuthbert work with Roland wonderfully, but they, as with all things, play second fiddle to the love story being hatched amidst conspiracy. I would love a separate trilogy to truly explore and love them both better. Alas I do not. I have this. This messy, clumsily, bumbling thing that works only so well as to not be embarrassing.

“Like the scorpion said to the maiden as she lay dying, ‘You knowed I was poison when you picked me up.’ ” ― Stephen King, Wizard and Glass

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Book Review: The Waste Lands by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #3)

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The Waste Lands by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #3) – Available Here

“My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d
Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.”
– Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Robert Browning

The word magnum opus gets thrown a lot in certain circles, perhaps more specifically those of the prolific and the ancient. I have always placed the term somewhere between the overzealous recommendation and ‘yeah, this book literally killed (creatively or literally) the poor soul that wrote it’. Often times this is nowhere near accurate, creativity and circumstance have more than once managed to mingle in the arms of time through the conduit of the human mind and created deep, magnificent things.

All of that nonsense being written, I’m not sure that’s what this is. The Dark Tower Series has been touted as greatest of King’s not inconsiderable output. I write this sitting comfortably in year 4 (or is it 5?) of the process of warring my way through the first book at an age that, in my youth, I swore I would be delving comfortably into the sixth. I type this with the requisite amount of envy and rage, but having traveled the first nigh 40% of the way through King’s epic, I’m beginning to the see the makings of the thing people swear by. This comes in no small part because we are as awestruck and planted at the edge of our seats as King himself. He peers like a soothsayer into some cracked crystal ball, temporal shreds flittering across fish-eyed lenses. It is a world of endless inventiveness. It is not perfect in plot, in character, or in execution, but in that rare way that imperfect parts slip and fit into the gears of something greater than itself.

There is mystery everywhere and I think it’s the lack of authorial need to immediately give details that makes it so effective. King is, too my mind, one who overwrites. A person cannot react without their motivation being spelled out so as not confuse the casual reader. There is no room for emotional of expressive ambiguity. But the world, the world in its massive, endless decay is beyond the reach of his short sidenotes and explications. You are given pieces of rancid fruit only rarely and reminded that it is not unknown just to you, but from everyone, character or writer. But we are certain, given enough and given more so that we are certain that this history was there, real and rotting as the bodies of our history’s greatest effectors.

It reads like an adventure book, but offers the questions of great fiction. It is a marathon of narrative convenience hidden beautifully in the fate-laced dopplegangers Kef, Ka, and Katet. It is fascinating from a creative perspective to see the way we wields the ways of telling her knows with things I feel he may be trying on for the first time.

It is an author writing something that he either loves or consumes like narcotic bliss, his fan-base follows suit, some distrusting that it is him writing the books at all (I had a friend claim Peter Straub actually wrote them during their time working together on The Talisman, and if you read Straub’s work…well, enough said).

This is a book that, when I sat down to read it, I felt a sort of hidden joy creep over me. Like Susanna watching Roland confronting Blaine on the monorail. It’s a smile that surprises, leaves you running your hand carefully over your face, disbelieving that it’s actually there at all.

Until you open the book and remember the monstrously strange, beautiful, and grim thing staring back at you.

“Beating heroin is child’s play compared to beating your childhood.” ― Stephen King, The Waste Lands

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Book Review: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #2)

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The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #2) – Available Here

“Yes, yes, honey, I know you wish to stay up longer, but daddy must watch a gunslinger procure antibiotics from a pharmacist. No honey, I don’t expect you to understand. I expect you to sleep. Yes, daddy loves you, but quite plainly my dear The Dark Tower series was here first. Fairness in all things. Yes, yes, the bed is a jungle gym, roll around until you are content. Yes, feet out of the crib, face planted firmly into the mattress to drive your mother mad. Yes, good, fine. You are a large child. you will survive. I will correct you later, as your mother demands. Until then do as you wish. Yes, good night, Butt Butt. Daddy must go seek Roland lest he forget the face of his father. Go to sleep, Khef, ka, and ka-tet. We will smile and laugh again in the morning. Sweet dreams.”

That is a fake conversation I had with my 8th month old to make a point about how much I enjoyed this book. When I wasn’t reading I wanted to be. It was among the most conflicting books I have ever read so compulsively. And rightfully so in my shoes. What do you do with a man who spins a damn fine tale and simultaneously tackles a problem head on that I’ve spent a year at least trying to write with the barrel of a gun in my mouth.

Bastard.

Anyway, criticism. In the beginning the change in writing style bothered me but by the end it felt more confident and when telling any story that is the most important thing, the only thing. It gives the story motion, and motion it has. From there I comfortably sank into passenger and just sort of let the story fall over me, with only the occasional pang of jealousy for King’s handle on craft pulling me from my trip.

Is it perfect? I have no idea. I wasn’t watching. I was having too much fun.

“A lawyer’s answer…so close to the truth that the truth was able to hide in its shadow.” ― Stephen King, The Drawing of the Three

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

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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 http://opinion.jkohl.org karmic/main opinions
Get http://books4prez.org packages/king stephen [921B]
[working]
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

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