I used to be a rabid Stephen King fan. Absolutely rabid. Which, considering the author’s genre, is really sort of appropriate, don’t you think (cue foaming at the mouth)? I’d read anything by him, eagerly await a new release, buy it the minute the hardcover hit the stores (this being back in the days where I had money) and disappear for a couple of days, doing nothing but reading. Until Tommyknockers. I hated Tommyknockers. That was the book that made me stop reading Stephen King for several years (until I got Bag of Bones from the library, which made me read him again, although less fanatically). As an aside, when I read On Writing, I found out he was crashing on an addiction to alcohol and cocaine when writing Tommyknockers and then it all made so much more sense.
A few weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly homicidal, I started reading Cell. Nothing better than a bit of apocalyptic reading to brighten your day when people piss you off. The book is good – classic King. I don’t know anybody who can more effectively make a little old lady seem menacing purely by what seems at first sight a fairly innocuous description. Which is what I’m going to be talking about today. Not the book, as such, but the writing and the reading thereof.
King has a unique style – reading a random page, you can tell he’s the writer. I’ve seen some people complain about his ‘wordiness’ and yes, Cell is wordy. In the beginning of the book, it takes him 3 hours (of audiobook time) to describe a similar length of time in the book’s universe and later, I sometimes noticed how much he took his time in telling parts of the story. However, I didn’t have any problems with it and it may be because of a new discovery: Stephen King is not made for the traditional type of reading. He’s made for listening.
I’ll be honest – sometimes, what makes King uniquely King annoys me. You know what I mean, don’t you? The style that in the past made me think Stephen King was best enjoyed by young people (especially young men), the toning-down of which style made me call Bag of Bones ‘a great adult novel’. Turns out that when you read by listening, that style rocks. Cell is read by Cameron Scott, who brilliantly captures the stoic Maine-ness of the characters and the aching despair of a world gone irretrievably mad. However, the writing itself stood out in a way I’d never noticed before.
When I re-read the audiobook of On Writing last year, it was narrated by Stephen King himself. His narration made me realize that he writes exactly the way he talks, that there’s a rhythm to him. Reading Cell felt familiar in a new way – despite it being narrated by someone else, I could hear King’s voice. It felt like truth. That his stories are true to who he is (which is either very cool or very scary). Becoming familiar with this rhythm also made me realize that his takes are really campfire ghost stories. I’d close my eyes and disappear into the story in a way I’ve never done with his writing before – I could imagine the fire, the dark forest and him scaring the bejesus out of a rapt audience. What might look like ‘wordiness’ on a page, becomes slow, torturous build-up in your ear, descriptions that so masterfully capture a feeling that you live it, instead of reading it.
How wonderful to rediscover a writer. Despite having read most of his books, I’ll be revisiting them in audio form.