Thursday, November 2, 2017

It (Stephen King)

Stephen King
Signet Books
Fiction, Horror
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In the summer floods of 1958, Bill Denbrough's kid brother, George, went out to play with a paper boat... and was found dead, mutilated in the streets of Derry, Maine. Thus began another season of killing, a cycle of supernaturally vicious crimes that had played out, generation after generation, in the former logging town for centuries - only, this year, Bill and six other children stood in its way.
In 1985, the former "Losers' Club" has grown up and drifted away... all save Mike, now the town librarian. When the killings begin again, he calls on his old friends in the name of a blood-oath they swore, an oath they no longer remember - just as they no longer remember each other, or the thing they discovered lurking under the streets of Derry. They bested it once, in the forgotten summer of 1958, and only they can beat it for good, but that means returning to their haunted home town to confront once again the murderous face of all fears made manifest, the ageless entity known sometimes as Pennywise the clown, sometimes as Robert Gray, but truly known only as It.

REVIEW: Yes, I suppose I'm a bit late to the party on this one. (The reading backlog's pushing triple digits, counting digital files...) In any event, the 2017 movie remake release prompted me to finally get around to trying it. Well, that, and numerous recommendations, not to mention having been unexpectedly impressed by King's 11/22/63, which made me suspect I might enjoy other longer books of his. And this thing is, indeed, a long book, a doorstop volume north of 1100 pages. It takes a lot of story to fill that many pages, a tale of epic proportions - and Stephen King delivers.
Cutting back and forth between 1958 and 1985, between childhood and adulthood, with the odd trip even further back in time to previous outbreaks of It, King builds remarkably complete characters in a town with a complex, haunted history stretching back hundreds of years. It takes some time to build momentum, not to mention time to sort out the cast, but King masterfully weaves the mundane with the supernatural, the ordinary with the extraordinary, to keep the reader (at least, me) interested while creating a growing sense of horror, not to mention a sense that nobody, not even the main crew, is guaranteed safe passage, let alone a happy ending. His 1958 child's-eye view of Derry brilliantly depicts a lost age, not just in years but in maturity: childhood here doesn't have the blinding golden glow of nostalgia that some authors create, and can frankly suck even without supernatural entities stalking the streets, but it has its good points, too. The era comes alive again as a child experienced it, with favorite TV shows and double feature monster films and whole days spent wandering and playing in a way few children get to experience in this overwired, overscheduled, and (in some ways, at least) overprotective age. As adults, returning memories slowly remind the characters how they became who they are, in good ways and bad; there's no Hollywood moment where everything becomes magically fixed by a Moment of Truth or power montage, but there are answers and some sense of closure. Meanwhile, they must remember the power of their former friendship, even as they try to evade the gruesome traps It sets to stop them. In many ways, the tale is as much about the struggle of childhood, the repeating cycles of life, and the rites of passage (and necessary sacrifices) as one grows up and changes, even into adulthood, a struggle made manifest in the fear-feeding entity of It.
The whole comes together in a brilliantly powerful conclusion, both past and present, followed by a bittersweet yet inevitable ending. It fully deserves its status as a classic, not just in the horror genre but in overall epic fiction - and this is, indeed, an epic tale, even if it takes place mostly in one haunted New England town. I only shaved a half-point for a little bit of excessive wandering, particularly in the interlude flashbacks beyond the main scope of the characters' tales.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) - My Review
The Ghosts of Belfast (Stuart Neville) - My Review
Rough Draft (Michael Robertson Jr) - My Review

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