Friday, January 14, 2011

Review of IT

I'm baaaaaackkk....

My first book review of the year! And it also helps with the Great TBR Book Challenge I mentioned in this post, as hosted by the ever-gracious RoofBeamReader.

I've decided, after reading so many other people's reviews, to change up what I do slightly. I'm still not going to pretend to be a professional book-reviewer / blogger, and so my reviews will still be gut reactions and will most likely continue to meander. If I feel it's necessary, I'll put portions behind cuts to avoid spoilers for people who may be considering reading the book, but most of the time you should be able to get my general feeling about a book without having to jump behind the cuts.

Book 01: IT
by Stephen King, isbn 9780451169518, 1138 pages, Viking (Stephen King Library reissue), $13.95

Premise: There is something darkly wrong with the town of Derry, Maine. In 1958, after the brutal death of his younger brother, Bill Denbrough leads a group of seven unlikely friends on a quest to drive that evil out. Almost 30 years later, those friends reunite as adults to confront that evil once again -- but will remembering their shared past help them succeed or shatter any chance of finally ending the cyclical horror of their home-town?

Rating: Four stars (after some consideration)

My Thoughts: Stephen King's second longest novel (20 pages shorter than THE STAND) has a great deal going for it. Characters that are deeply believable both as children and adults, tons of commonplace items and images that become the stuff of nightmares, the scariest clown in fiction, and a fictional town with such a deep history that you feel like you've been there more than once. All that being said, it's not a perfect novel, which is why I waffled on what rating to give it. Part of me wanted to downgrade to a 3.5, part of me wanted to give it a 4.5. I split the difference because ultimately my problems with the book were outweighed by what I enjoyed.

King does write kids very well. The pre-teen (barely) protagonists of fully half of the novel talk like real kids and mostly act like real kids; the few times where they might seem just a touch more precocious than they should can be attributed to whatever "higher power" is pushing them around the chessboard of the book's action. I genuinely like Stuttering Bill, Richie, Eddie, Mike, Ben and especially Bev; Stan Uris is the only one of The Losers I feel a total disconnect from -- the few scenes from his point of view did nothing to make me feel for him the way I felt for the others. And King transforms those pre-teens into adults so perfectly that you don't need to suspend disbelief that the kids and the adults are the same characters. The personalities come through even if some of the tics are gone.

Part of the reason the book is so long is the inclusion of the "Derry Interludes," compiled by the adult Mike Hanlon as a way of showing just how long-lived It/Pennywise has been around and just how severely influenced the town has been. Most of the interludes were interesting and felt like they could have been stand-alone short stories. One or two of them made the book slow down for me, but not so much that I lost interest in the book.

What I found scariest in the book was not the big group battles with It, but in the individual encounters, regardless of the protagonists' ages. The quieter the encounter, the more tense I felt. This is something of a truism for me with horror fiction (books or movies) -- the bigger the effect, the less scared I am. Darken the room and let things flit around the periphery of my vision, and you've got me hooked. The good news is, in amongst all the town history and big set pieces, there are plenty of these smaller encounters to keep folks like me on the edge of our seats.

Where the book ultimately suffers, for me, is towards the end as the two battles with It overlap. King goes off on a sort of metaphysical tear that I suppose is meant to be Lovecraftian, with talk of the borders of reality and aspects of It and so on. Again, it's the big set-pieces. I had the same problem near the end of THE STAND. Not that I'm afraid of big ideas about the nature of the universe; quite the opposite. But I did feel in this case it came just a little out of left field and lingered just a little too long, distracting from the final fight.

Once he gets that out of his system, the Big Finale tears along like a run down the Colorado River rapids and the ending, to me, is strong and worth reaching. Two moments made my heart beat faster, and at least two made me tear up (granted, an easy thing to do lately). I realized as I came to the end of the book that these were characters I'd come to care about, and while I wanted the book to end I didn't necessarily want their stories to end. Which, when you come right down to it, is a good endorsement for a book.

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