#123 – IT, by Stephen King
- Read: 9/5/19 – 9/8/19
- Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s “Back to School” Readathon
- Task: A book with the good vs. evil trope
- Rating: 2/5 stars
DNF @ page 270 or so. I wanted to like this, but I simply wasn’t enjoying it and could face the other 700 pages. I’m no stranger to gargantuan King novels, but this wasn’t keeping me interested.
I feel like there’s a good story buried in here, under the weight of the constant misery every character faces. Dozens of named characters show up in the first three hundred pages, and nearly all of them are either victims or perpetrators of abuse–those that aren’t are generally helpless adult bystanders (teachers, the librarian, etc.) The kids are abused by their parents, or bullied by their classmates, or both. The lone female major character (and I’m assuming she’s major, because she’s the only girl who was present for whatever went down, and she’s introduced as an adult in the opening like the rest of them) is physically and emotionally abused by her husband.
It’s a slog, wading through all this trauma, and the constant abuse is so casual, so just-part-of-the-way-things-are, that it’s clearly not the point of the story. I lost my patience when a side story is interjected about Eddie Corcoran, told entirely though newspaper clippings, about how his disappearance (that is, murder by It) caused authorities to look into the death of his younger brother and determine it was actually murder by their stepfather. First, a side note, why is his name “Eddie” when there’s already an Eddie in the main gang? In the real world, Edward’s a common enough name and that happens, but in fiction, why have them have the same name when you have the power to give him any other name? But second and more importantly, yay, another kid was killed by It and that’s terrible and relevant, but it spins out an entire tangent about (surprise!) yet more child abuse.
Why is this book about child abuse? Is that the point? And if it is, why isn’t it taken more seriously?
Look, I get that this was published in the 1980s and I can’t be holding it to modern standards in terms of “staying in your lane,” but King came across as out of his lane constantly and whether or not it’s fair to judge him for it thirty years later, it’s horrible to read and I couldn’t take any more of it. Is he the right author to casually slap a homophobic hate crime in the beginning of his horror novel and do it justice? No, he throws out slurs constantly and even the most tolerant of the police involved are still clearly bigots, and even if that’s accurate to the time and culture of Small Town America, I don’t need to read about it like that to know it’s true, just like I didn’t need to read almost three hundred pages of bullying and child abuse. And was he the right author to do a mini chapter from the point of view of a Jewish woman reminiscing about the prejudice she faced in the past, while we the reader have figured out her husband has obviously committed suicide upstairs but she doesn’t know it yet, so we have to listen to her remembering all the slurs she was called? (Like, seriously, do we have to read slurs for everything in this book? If there were any black characters yet I’m sure there would have been n-words dropped, too. I’m not saying no slurs can ever be used by anyone ever, but the sheer volume here was ridiculous, and they were coming from a straight, white, male author, who is none of the things the slurs were applied to.)
I have a lot of complaints, yet I’m also saddened, because when the narrative wasn’t stuffed with wordy and unnecessary junk, the sense of dread pervading it was palpable–there were moments when I could see this was a good horror story suffocating under the weight of 500 extra pages of homophobia and child abuse and slurs and surprisingly extensive description of every single street in the entire fictional town of Derry.
I want to read a slimmed-down version of this story and find out what happened. Not sure I’d get that from the movie adaptations, I’d rather have a book that wasn’t so bloated, but I’m sure not finishing this one.
#124 – The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
- Read: 9/9/19 – 9/11/19
- Challenge: Mount TBR (79/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
- Task: A book revolving around a puzzle or game
- Rating: 5/5 stars
Since I read this as a child and loved it, when I was new to Goodreads and cataloging everything I could remember reading, I gave it five stars from a combination of loose memory and nostalgia. When this year’s PopSugar Challenge prompted me to read a book about a game, this was my first thought, because I still have my copy (purchased from the Scholastic Book Fair, one of my favorite things about elementary school) and I hadn’t read it for so long.
The question was, would I still give it five stars as an adult? Would it hold up?
Well, yes and no. My rating still stands, though with the caveat that it’s a five-star kid’s book. If I had read it for the first time as an adult, just now, I’d likely be less impressed, but there’s still a lot to recommend it if you remember the recommended reading level. So many things I would criticize in books targeted at adult readers–telling instead of showing, extremely short scenes, some head-hopping–actually work very well in literature aimed at children, because they’re more apt to understand and accept things at face value. I’m not saying children’s lit can’t have depth, but on the surface it needs to be reasonably straightforward. And despite the complex turns of the game and the numerous red herrings meant to lead a reader down false paths, in essence this plot is actually incredibly straightforward: it’s a game, and someone is going to win it.
I usually don’t take much care to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but in this case, I will, because though I remembered the thrust of the plot and a few key “twists,” I actually had forgotten most of the details, after so long, and got to be surprised by most things along the way. I was also impressed, as an adult, with how much personality is infused in each member of the large cast of characters, especially in so short a book–that’s where the telling comes in, and very well. Though the exposition about and description of characters is minimal at their introduction, only enough to make them distinct from each other at the most basic levels, we learn an awful lot about them through how they interact with each other, how they respond to the rules of the game, and what measures they take to win–all of those things speak volumes about them as people, and that’s quite honestly an amazing feat.
As for the game itself, I thought it was remarkably clever as a kid, but now it’s just… weird? But I totally buy that that sort of elaborate setup is the sort of thing bored rich people might do with their time and energy, with the right personal motivations in place. I realize that’s vague, but no spoilers, so I’ll just say the setup is weird and obviously contrived but also believable because it’s supposed to be both!