When Craft Beer is King

by Renee on January 2, 2011

For many years Stephen King was a favorite author of mine, and I devoured every word of every scary story he wrote through my teenhood and into my early 20s. Most of his best work was at some point turned into bad movies, and in each case I’d admonish someone who had just watched the film versions of “The Shining” or “Salem’s Lot” or even “Carrie” to read the book instead.

As I grew up and my taste in literature matured, I found myself gravitating more toward literary fiction, leaving my friend Steve and his tales that went bump in the night to my reading history. (I gave him another shot more recently with Duma Key in 2008, but I couldn’t find that old goosebumpy feeling again, no matter how much I wanted to recapture it. In fact, the most compelling thing I felt King had published since the turn of the century was On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.)

This Christmas, my daughter gave me King’s longish-short story collection, Full Dark, No Stars, and I picked it up and gave him another shot. This time he got under my skin again, and I devoured each story like my 100-pound lab snarfs up dropped morsels at the table. King’s short-story collections Night Shift and Different Seasons were long-ago favorites–and these four tales gave me the psychological shivers I was hoping to find inside the pages.

King’s characters are well-drawn, and as he says in the afterward of the book, he puts them in situations that are “in your face.” He explains, “I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

One such subject is Tom Goodhugh of Derry, Maine, who appears in the third story, called “Fair Extension.” As usual in his writing, King manages to make me laugh as well as cringe in fear when I read his stories–and this one is no exception. In fact, it’s King’s characterization of Goodhugh as a craft beer drinker that made me laugh out loud. Another character is describing Goodhugh and says, “He drinks Spotted Hen Microbrew!” Streeter shouted. “Nobody in Derry drinks that pretentious shit! Just him! Just Tom Goodhugh, the Garbage King!”

A little later in the story, the character of Streeter is offered a Spotted Hen by Goodhugh. King writes, “Streeter took one of the bottles, tipped it to his lips, and drank. Pretentious or not, it was good.” LOL, indeed.

And so, Steve, you have endeared yourself to me once again with four stories that caused my heart to skip a beat or two, and search the dark corners of my closets. And I suggest to you, Dear Blog Reader, if you were once a fan of Stephen King, you might pick up this latest book and a good microbrew and give him another try. I don’t think you’ll find any pretention in either activity. They’re both just that good.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gerard Walen January 2, 2011 at 3:54 pm

You should read “The Dome.” It ranks with his earlier stuff. IMHO, I consider it his best work (narrowly topping “The Stand”).
Sometimes King takes half a book to develop back stories and character development before getting to the action, but “The Dome” starts fast and stays that way.

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Renee January 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I’ll pick that one up, Gerard! Thanks!

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Brad January 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I just finished this book last week. Really good collection, all solid stories that were long enough without being too long, and each kept my interest and kept the pages turning.

After reading his ‘Under the Dome’ earlier this year (which clocks in over 1,000 pages), I don’t think I would have picked this up so soon were it not in the short story format. But I’m glad I gave it a try, and am glad to hear I’m not the only one who enjoys reading such twisted tales.

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Renee January 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Did you enjoy Under the Dome as Gerard says he did? I may have to give it a try, even at that doorstop heft.

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Brad January 2, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I enjoyed ‘Under the Dome’ as I was reading it (and it went surprisingly fast despite it’s heft), but the end just didn’t do it for me. So I felt let down at the end after making such an investment.

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Gerard Walen January 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

King always has a problem ending a book. It’s like he’s in a writing frenzy and suddenly thinks “I have to end this thing,” then just cobbles something together and fails to tie up all the loose ends. I’m rarely satisfied with the conclusions, but it’s usually a helluva ride getting there.

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