Sunday, July 8, 2012

For All You Fans of Stephen King

I'd recommend this article in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  In it, critic Dwight Allen tries to overcome his lifelong resistance to the writings of Stephen King.  Spoiler That is Not Really A Spoiler Alert: he fails.

The comments below the article (almost all of them aggrieved) are almost better than the piece itself.  I found Allen's article fairly mild and un-snobbish, all things considered; his readers, apparently, did NOT.

I have no real horse in the race.  I've never read any of King's writing, but that's only because horror and ANCIANT do not mix.  I still can barely sit through The Shining, and I'm told that the movie is much less scary than the book.  I have been a little confused, in the last few years, by the New Yorker's insistent championing of King's writings, but not to the point of actually caring.

The core problem, I think, with Allen's argument is his valorization of literary fiction.  The percentage of all fiction, in any genre, written in America in any given year that's actually good--whatever 'good' means--is maybe 10%.  Doesn't matter if it's literary fiction, horror, of sci-fi; excellence is rare--as rare if you're reading Franzen than if you are reading King.  Maybe more so.  Allen, however, seems to want to encourage all the lover of King's novels to turn instead to Zadie Smith, where true pleasure and enlightenment awaits.  That is not a winning argument.  White Teeth is not--it can't be--better than The Stand.  Nor is Freedom.  If you want to say: abjure Stephen King and read Trollope, or Sebald, or Penelope Fitzgerald, okay.  There, I can go with you.  But at least make it a contest.

Anyway, it's worth a read.

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