Not sure I’m ready for this

Okay, THIS post is going to be short. Seriously.

If Stephen King had cropped out 95% of the priest’s story from Wolves of the Calla and 95% of the garbage he wrote about Susannah in Song of Susannah and combined what was left into one book, everything would have gone much better for the Dark Tower series.

Seriously. The guy prattles on for, what, TEN CHAPTERS about a woman in labour. No, longer than that. Half the goddamned book. I totally “got it” after the first scene in Susannah’s “Dogan” (snicker) and did not need to be beaten about the head and neck with it any further. I don’t know if King figured that he had to throw “more stuff in there chix would dig”, or if he really thought that page after page of repetitive dreck was *appealing* to his readers (I’ll reserve my comment about a large part of what he’s produced in the last ten years being repetitive drivel), or if his publisher just said, “Steve, this is good, but we’re going to need another 150 pages to market it to all those people who like the series but who want to get their money’s worth if they’re going to spend thirty bucks on a paperback”. In short, I don’t know what happened there, and I don’t care.

I could even live with the expository narrative of the priest in Wolves of the Calla if that had been the worst of it. But, like that feeling you get after you throw up a couple of times and are sitting in front of the terlet, pale and sweating, and thinking “I’m sure most of it HAS to be over by now”, and then you’re surprised and disgusted when whatever it is decides to erupt explosively from your body at both ends simultaneously, it was not the worst of it. If the priest’s rambling, plodding tale in Wolves of the Calla was the uncontrollable vomiting, then Susannah Mia’s one hundred page labour (and three paragraph delivery) is the explosive watery diarrhea of this series.

Now that may or may not be seen as particularly harsh. And I want to make the point that I *really like the Dark Tower series*. I LOVE the story of the Dark Tower. But what I *don’t* like is when Stephen King, like the character of the same name who appears in Song of Susannah gets lazy and forgets that he really can be a wonderful writer. What *bothers* me about those two narratives is that they are pedantic, and they do not add anything whatsoever to the story.

The old maxim “show, don’t tell” is about expository writing in a narrative. Which is to say, don’t do it. I mean, I think there’s a real danger in assuming your reader either doesn’t have the required information or cannot suss it out from the context of what’s happening in a narrative scene or passage to really grok what’s going on. That danger, of course, is in, once again, insulting your reader and their intelligence. The very best books out there just assume you can follow along, and if you can’t, well, then, you’ll just have to catch up.

The real downfall of both of these two books, the fifth and sixth in the series respectively, is that King departs from what he’s *really* good at, and that’s narrative, and instead forcibly removes the story from itself. It’s jarring, and it’s not effective. And it’s MADDENING. If that was the point, I think there would have been far better ways to do it. It’s just another one of those cases of a bunch of information that bogged down the novel rather than propelling the focus forward.

To be completely honest, the first time I went through Song of Susannah, I skipped over most of those parts. I then went back, after I’d got through the *good bits*, and re-read the boring and pedantic ones. It was a whole lot of blah-blah-blah, self-reflective bullshit, if you’ll pardon my language.

And I’m not even talking about the Deus ex novella (heh). To be completely honest with you, I LOVE how King has written himself into this series. I think it’s excellently done, and I think it says an awful lot about what this series really is about. But that’s for another post. What’s got me, once again, is what seems to me to be a disregard for the reader’s intelligence and imagination. And/or just sheer laziness.

For all that, there really was a lot that was good in the Song of Susannah, but it was overshadowed by the sheer baddery of all the crap surrounding it. One of my favourite characters in the series is introduced in this book. Why is he one of my favourites? Because he’s real, he has imagination, he has depth, and he makes sense. He FITS. Just…just flip through the crap with Susannah and move on.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for the discussion with his manuscript editor wherein they talk about what bits to leave in the book and what books to remove. Actually, I would have liked to have been the editor with whom King was having that particular discussion. I would also like to be independently wealthy, weigh 60 pounds less than I do, and have a cabana boy called “Gustave” who is proficient with massage and who is on call at all hours of the day and night. But, as they say, poop in one hand and wish in the other and see which hand fills up first. (It’s the poop hand.)

  23 comments for “Not sure I’m ready for this

  1. 3 February 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I’m just going to stop saying “this will be a short post”.

  2. A to the N to the D to the I to the E!
    3 February 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Really I think the thing is, with King’s track record whatever he writes gets published. If a first time novelist were to try this they wouldn’t be edited, they’d be rejected; but this is part of a popular series so whatever it takes to fill the book.

    Stephen King HAS no editor – is my strong suspicion.

    At least, no editor for more than typos/style/basics.

    I haven’t read him for years; got sick of it. I just read a short story collection by him though, and it was good. There was a gunslinger short in it. I’d say this series/character is a blind spot for him?

    • Smarty Pants
      3 February 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Perhaps you can shed some light on this Ceno…

      My suspicion is that anything with “King” as the author will sell a booglazillion copies. If I’m his publisher, would it be within my power to request he stretch one good book into 2 or 3 so I can make 2 or 3 booglazillion bucks instead of just one?
      OTOH, if King has that kind of selling power and didn’t want to do it, he could tell them to pound sand.

      Nutshell? I agree completely with your critique of “Song of Susannah”.

      • 3 February 2011 at 8:07 pm

        I don’t know.

        Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the truth might be closer to Andrea’s ‘blind spot’ theory. This is King’s Opus, right? This series is something he really cares about.

        I just can’t get away from the feeling that these are parts that SHOULD have been cut out, but weren’t. I can’t see his publisher wanting to put a substandard product out there, no matter how big the publishers are.

        • 4 February 2011 at 8:22 am

          Wait. Let me change my answer.

          I think there *are* publishers who don’t care as much about the quality of the products they put out. I don’t think that the combination of King’s publishers, editors, and King himself would make a decision like that. I *can* see King thinking he needed all of that exposition because “otherwise the rest won’t make sense”. He’d be WRONG, but I can see it being just a simple mistake in judgement. With huge consequences.

          Like the decision to release the un-edited version of The Stand.

  3. Chris
    3 February 2011 at 3:46 pm

    King published 5 and 6 in a hurry because he thought was going to die, didn’t he?

    • 3 February 2011 at 7:58 pm

      I don’t think so.

      I mean, they were published four or five years apart.

      There’s no way of knowing when he WROTE them, but the accident that nearly killed him was in 1999, and the 5th – 7th books were published between 2004 and 2008, I think.

      He did attempt to “retire” in the early 2000s for many reasons, not the least of which was lasting pain from the accident that did nearly kill him. But I don’t have any reason to believe he rushed the books.

  4. Cheruby
    3 February 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Self-edit has never been one of Stephen King’s strong suits. He was better at it early in his career, but I suspect that now that he’s a rich, famous moneymaker nobody likes to question him, including himself. His problem is also a question of taste, though. There are times I wish I was in the room with him not just during an editor’s meeting, but his creative process, to say, “Steve, I’m not sure this is such a good way to end your novel,” or “Really? That’s the monster? REALLY?”

    And lastly, I suspect that most of what he writes is done with little or no forethought, that he just gets an idea and follows it wherever it leads rather than planning a story structure.

    So many people I know read his novels and swear that they’ll never read another one again, but then a few years later, what happens? They’re complaining about him again. Is this what it’s like for all Stephen King readers, or are there people out there who actually admire his style and think he’s brilliant? Should we begrudge him that he gets to write what are essentially stream-of-consciousness novels without having his work ransacked by an editor? And then whatever he publishes gets lapped up by millions? What freedom! What joy!

    • 3 February 2011 at 8:05 pm

      Pure creative expression is great. It’s not always fit for consumption, but it’s great. Speaking as an artist.

      Speaking as a reader, sometimes it’s just shit, and not worth the paper it’s published on. I’d also argue that what’s going on in these novels is very, VERY far from stream of consciousness.

      I take offense to the suggestion that the work an editor does is ‘ransacking’, though. If that’s what you really believe editors do, it’s clear that you both a) probably need one and b) have never worked with a good one.

      There’s a really good line in The Dark Tower. A character is talking about his books, and she says, “they’re not very good; I’ve read about four of them.”

      And Roland says, “If they’re not very good, why didn’t you stop at one?”

      I think a lot of people pick up King’s books *because* they’re popular. Same reason they pick up Dan Brown or Johnathan Franzen. And they expect to like it because the authors are popular. And then they are disappointed. And disappointment breeds contempt and anger.

      My personal feeling is that King CAN BE a hell of a good writer. That he suffers from mediocrity is something that should make me feel better, not worse, about him as a writer. And really, it does. Just not in my favourite series of his books. I want him to have done this one *better*. because the story *deserves* better.

      • Cheruby
        3 February 2011 at 11:06 pm

        How isn’t editing like ransacking? Are they not both the process of going through somebody else’s shit and finding the good parts to keep?

        • 4 February 2011 at 7:36 am

          “Ransacking” usually has a connotation of rummaging pell-mell through, stealing what you can, and leaving the rest in a mess. That is precisely the *opposite* of what editing is.

          But, there are some mistaken people who think their work doesn’t need editing. Proper editing will always make a writer’s work better. Or a musician’s recordings.

        • TUO
          4 February 2011 at 12:19 pm

          “How isn’t editing like ransacking? Are they not both the process of going through somebody else’s shit and finding the good parts to keep?”

          Oh, yes, because when I pay the maid to come in and clean my house, get rid of garbage, and polish and rearrange the valuables, I *totally* comment on how well she “ransacked” the place. *Completely* the same thing.

          • 4 February 2011 at 12:28 pm

            Dude.

            You have a maid?

            Lucky bastard.

            As an aside, I know people who actually do that. Speaking as someone who’s worked as a maid (as well as as an editor (how’s that for a weird clause?)), it’s a strange attitude.

          • rilla
            4 February 2011 at 1:32 pm

            Oh, TUO, I love you. Next time I stay with you, I’ll edit your bathroom all over again.

    • Smarty Pants
      4 February 2011 at 9:12 am

      “And lastly, I suspect that most of what he writes is done with little or no forethought, that he just gets an idea and follows it wherever it leads rather than planning a story structure.”

      For the record, King has admitted this.
      I am one of those people who love Stephen King. I read most of his stuff on purpose. I forgive him his little mistakes because I don’t want to “miss the forest for the trees”. He’s the “burger and fries” of U.S.Lit and please pass me the ketchup.
      Maybe he’s not “meta” anything, but he spins a great yarn and that’s what I’m looking for.
      MTB.

      • 4 February 2011 at 10:53 am

        I quite like some of King’s writing. Some of it, I don’t care at all about. He’s strongest when he’s challenged, and he’s finest when he’s well-edited.

  5. 3 February 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Y’know. I’ve always wondered about the metaconnection of his fake last name and the villian of his mega-series. Any comments?

  6. Michael
    3 February 2011 at 11:21 pm

    And furthermore UBB Dragon’s den! Metaconnections you big fat whore.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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