I’ve decided to start a new component to this blog. I am a voracious reader, mostly of fiction, and with pretty eclectic taste. For the past year, and very intensively over the past two months, I’ve been working on a podcast series that will ultimately become my first novel, SALT. I’ve found that I’ve never been more at home as a writer than working on this project and part of me wonders if prose fiction should have been a medium for me to work in all along. I wrote a lot of fiction in high school and then pretty much stopped when I got into directing plays and haven’t written any prose until now, which is a gap of about twenty-five years! Ironically, my relationship with theater has always been a complex one. I dislike a lot more plays than I like, though I can also find the experience of watching a play to be transcendent. But I’ve always been drawn to theatrical work that breaks the mold of what theater can be–hence the Live-Action Graphic Novel.
I’ve always been an avid consumer of novels, ever since I was in elementary school and stumbled upon The Hobbit in the library there. I was that kid who deciphered the runes on the cover. And looking back over the last 35 years or so, I can safely say that I consume many, many more books than I do any other medium. So, of course I should be writing fiction. That’s a medium I love!
I wouldn’t be writing SALT with confidence if I didn’t feel like I had a ton of books to fall back on for inspiration. And I love these books, but often when I talk about them with other people, even other writers, I’m surprised to discover that I’m often the only person in the room whose read many of them. Since I love to share the things I love, it seemed perfectly logical to start posting about those books. So here’s my first attempt at sharing a book I love (hopefully without ruining the joy of discovery for anyone who hasn’t yet read it). Please do comment if you’ve read any of the books I post about. And please let me know if I’ve inspired you to discover something new!
We’ve all seen the movie, no doubt, and even if we haven’t seen the movie we all can imagine a little boy making a funny voice while bending his index finger to the syllables RED-RUM. We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, over and over and over and over again. We all know that the Overlook Hotel has a hedge maze that’s scarily easy to get lost in. We all know that there are twin girls in green dresses living at the hotel who look remarkably like a famous Diane Arbus photograph. We all know that the elevators at the Overlook are overflowing with blood. What most people don’t know is that NONE of these things are in the book. Which in and of itself is a great reason to read the book–the analysis of how the adaptation process of book to film works.
What IS in the book, though, in my opinion, blows the movie completely out of the water. Stephen King is able to get into the heads of his three main characters (Danny, Wendy, and Jack) in a way that is both utterly believable and under-your-skin terrifying at the same time. More than anything else, the book THE SHINING is a study in character and, man, what characters!
Danny is a boy with the power to see visions of the future (the Shining of the title), Wendy is his mom, still married to Jack through a process of inertia more than anything, and Jack Torrence is a fired high-school teacher with aspirations of becoming a famous writer. He also happens to be a recovering alcoholic with a very occasional and violent temper. What King is able to do in a way that actually reminds me of Tolstoy (yes, I’m comparing Stephen King to Leo Tolstoy) is dive into the stream-of-consciousness of these characters that makes you feel like you’re living in their heads. In particular, the thought-process of Jack as he embraces his role of off-season hotel caretaker is just amazing. We all know someone like this–the alcoholic who on the one hand knows that he’s responsible for his own actions, but who on the other hand can’t help but blame everyone else for his problems. When five-year-old Danny falls under this particular scrutiny, that’s when things get harrowing.
I just reread this book for the first time since I was a teenager and I think I liked it even better this time. I followed up that book with King’s ON WRITING, his memoir. In that book he talks about how he, himself, was an alcoholic, but didn’t see himself in Jack until his wife pointed it out to him. Just this morning I was thinking about what a fantastic metaphor for the mind of an alcoholic the Overlook Hotel is in the book and how the mind of an alcoholic can be so completely destructive not just to him or herself but to his or her family as well.
But best of all, the book is a rollicking page-turning roller coaster ride. It keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
Dare I say it, but I think THE SHINING is a work of pure genius.
You think you know THE SHINING through the movie? Read the book!