Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skeleton Crew

You can skip this little "intro" if you want, but before I get to the book and stories, I just feel I need to go on record with something. I love Stephen King. LOVE the guy. I don't feel like I say it enough, so I'm doing it now---I love him so much, I'd read his grocery lists. There are three reasons I love him like I do:

1. I love his work. (The Shining, Misery, and the stories I'm about to wax on below, Skeleton Crew, topping the list just slightly behind my hands-down favorite book in the world, On Writing). Oh, and speaking of writing . . .

2. I love his openness in discussing the craft of writing. Every time I read something he's written that's personal, about himself or about how he writes, I damned near fucking *die* because it's so honest and true and it just resonates inside me . . . I obviously can't write as well as he does (yet?) but I find myself agreeing with how he describes the process and how writers in general are and think. I like him as a person and have come to think of him as an excellent teacher, as well.

3. He's a huge part of my history. Maybe even a guiding force in what I decided to do, before I even knew it. What does a elementary school girl who was into horror films at way too early an age do when she's not able to watch scary films? Read scary stories, of course. Once when I was about seven or eight and at some ridiculous card club party or something that my parents hauled me and my brother to, I was extremely bored because there were no other kids there, and started investigating the bookshelves for anything interesting. What I found was a paperback of The Shining, and what I thought was an extremely disturbing illustration (over there) on its cover. Ha! No more boredom, I paged through it trying to find scary moments and *begged* my mother to ask the friend (whose book it was) to let me bring it home. Later, I started rating the coolness of my mother's friends by how many King novels were on their bookshelves; Karen Sheehan won that honor; I think she had all of them.

I grew up on King. I grew up on horror and sci-fi stories, whether films or books didn't matter. I do what I do now (write about stories I love and try to make up my own) because of all this. I love stories so much it gives me a constant thrill knowing there are more in existence than I can ever imagine, and that a big part of my life is to dig into them. Like what Henry Bemis's life would have been like at the library, had he not broken his glasses----I am Henry Bemis with stacks and lists higher than I am tall.

LL's copy looked like this.
All right. Now that that's out of the way, here we go:

Skeleton Crew, 1985, by Stephen King.

For Scares: The Mist, The Monkey, The Raft, Gramma
For Shudders: Cain Rose Up, The Jaunt, Beachworld, Survivor Type
Clever as Hell: The Wedding Gig, Word Processor of the Gods, Uncle Otto's Truck

That covers almost all of them, which is to say the entire collection is great and fun to read. The three I'm choosing to write about in a bit more detail are (funny enough) three that I completely skipped over in my younger days, but ones I really dug this time around. A lot.

1. Mrs. Todd's Shortcut.

"David, friend of a caretaker named Homer, is an older man who is spending his later years hanging out at the local gas station in a small town. He narrates a tale about Mrs. Todd, who is obsessed with finding shortcuts. Homer admires her persistence but begins to have doubts, as there are only so many shortcuts someone can find. Mrs. Todd's habit of resetting her odometer shows remarkable evidence that something weird is going on." (Wikipedia). 

This is really a women's story. I project myself, my thoughts, my experiences and philosophy onto any character that I remotely identify with--- and I loved this little "journey." Unable to carry a child, always volunteering, racing around trying to get things done, husband seemed to be gone a lot; yeah, Ophelia Todd deserved a short cut. It's funny to read a male perspective of a woman sometimes, in this case, an older guy's, but the things he remembered about Mrs. Todd were kind of sentimental and sweet---hair in a "hoss-tail," calling the car the "go-devil," how her eyes and face changed and made her look younger when she smiled or got excited, and so on. My favorite passage gave me a happy, pro-woman kind of feeling . . . 

"Her eyes turned toward that little go-devil in the driveway, and narrowed. Then she smiled. 'Or to drive, Homer. A man will not see that. He thinks a goddess wants to loll on a slope somewhere on the foothills of Olympus and eat fruit, but there is no god or goddess in that. All a woman wants is what a man wants---a woman wants to drive.'" 

You got that right, babe. 

2. The Reaper's Image

"A museum curator, Mr. Carlin, ushers a man named Spangler through the building, recounting the storied history of a rare Elizabethan mirror, which has been plagued by incidents of attempted destruction. Carlin tells the skeptical Spangler the image of the Grim Reaper is rumored to appear in the mirror, standing close to the viewer. Spangler scoffs, but feels unnamable horror when he looks into it . . . " (Wikipedia)

The buildup was what got me in this one, almost like a condensed version of the same kind of scary in The Blair Witch project (wait, wait, wait---OH JESUS SHE'S MAKING HIM STAND IN THE CORNER) but for some reason mirrors are all the more terrifying, aren't they (Bloody Mary)? This was the most fun of all the stories to read, partly because it scared me but also because it was so to-the-point. I liked that. 

"Spangler took his hand away and looked into the glass. Everything in it seemed a little more distorted; the room's odd angles seemed to yaw crazily as if on the verge of sliding off into some unseen eternity. There was no dark spot in the mirror. It was flawless. He felt a sudden unhealthy dread rise in him and despised himself for feeling it. 
'It looked like him, didn't it?' Mr. Carlin asked. His face was very pale and he was looking directly at the floor. A muscle twitched spasmodically in his neck. 'Admit it, Spangler. It looked like a hooded figure standing behind you, didn't it?'"

3. The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet.  

"Henry, an magazine editor, receives an unsolicited short story from up-and-coming novelist Reg Thorpe, and considers the story to be very dark, but also a masterpiece. Through his correspondence with Thorpe, Henry learns of – and, due to his own alcoholism, eventually begins to believe in – Thorpe's various paranoid fantasies." (wikipedia). 

Do all writers love reading stories about other writers? Because I sure do. So many of King's characters are writers, and I think an ongoing theme for a lot of them is being trapped or thrust into the obscure, the fantastic, or the bizarre (which happens in his novels again and again) because for writers, these things are completely business-as-usual, together with an, I don't know, heightened sensitivity or tendency to over think and over-feel normal situations as well as the strange ones. Anything is fair game for a writer. I loved this one, a lot. 

"When you shoot yourself with a flexible bullet, you really don't know what the outcome is going to be."
Oh, Jesus Christ. On second thought . . .

"'Hello from Bellis. I am sorry for your problems, my friend, but would like to point out at the start that you are not the only one with problems. This is no easy job for me. I can dust your damned machine with fornus from now unto forever, but moving the KEYS is supposed to be your job. That's what God made big people FOR. So I sympathize, but that's all the sympathy you get." 

"The curse of serving writers is that they are all selfish." 

Yes, quite true. But you think I wouldn't want an elf-muse to FORNIT SOME FORNUS onto my typewriter? Be my guest!