BOOK REVIEWS

Schoolhouse Gothic by Sherry R. Truffin

Schoolhouse Gothic, Sherry R. Truffin’s first monograph, is one of the first studies to address the role of the educational system in twentieth-century Gothic fiction. The work reveals Truffin’s in-depth understanding of the Gothic genre, its origins, methodologies and implications, focussing in particular on a branch of Gothic she terms ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’.
In Schoolhouse Gothic, Truffin examines late-twentieth-century American literature by authors such as Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and Joyce Carol Oates taking the form of Gothic narratives where the stones of age-old monasteries and castles are replaced by the concrete of school buildings and where classrooms and gyms function as prisons. Truffin focuses on those texts that express and exacerbate the increasingly uneasy relationship that Americans have with the academy and with the educational system as a whole. According to Truffin, ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ depicts the educational system through a Gothic lens with schools reifying old – and often outdated – traditions, and teachers and professors perpetuating an ‘epistemic violence’ that is ‘violence exerted against or through knowledge’ (26). Schools, within this strand of Gothic, provide the setting for race, gender and class inequities, which often result in physical and mental violence against students. Since Gothic is a genre that tends to explore subversive themes, often providing a conflicting view of our culture, it seems almost inevitable that it would turn its gaze to the country’s faltering educational system where high-schools and colleges form the backdrop to gun violence, economic inequalities, and racial and gender discriminations.
Woven throughout Truffin’s narrative are a diverse set of theories, for example, a view of institutional buildings as places designed to control and entrap individuals that echoes Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ and a concept of ‘epistemic violence’ stems from Michel Foucault’s notion of ‘Power/Knowledge’ in which power is simultaneously generated by and generator of knowledge). She calls upon eminent contemporary literary theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu and James A. Berlin to support her assertions about educational institutions, and references recent Gothic scholars such as Chris Baldick and David Punter when defining Gothic. Although her erudition emerges quite clearly, her arguments often seem convoluted and there is almost an excess of critical theories, which are sometimes not developed in full.
Truffin repeatedly refers to the ‘academic objectivity’ that ‘blinds scholars and educators to their own prejudices’ and stresses that academy’s ‘prerogative of definition’ is extremely damaging – above all to the students who are its primary victims: are we to assume that she considers herself exempt?
Her opening chapter begins with a personal account set during Truffin’s senior year of high school, when she first heard Pink Floyd’s ‘grim narrative’(2) in ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Truffin credits this song with inspiring her to embark on her inquiry into the nature and representations of ‘shadowy educators; nightmarish schools; and traumatized students’ (2), that is, the schools and teachers that she associated with that particular song. She goes goes on to explore the ‘forbidding schools and menacing teachers’ (3) within the Gothic canon.
In this introductory chapter she provides a brief definition of Gothic as a counter-Enlightenment discourse that serves as the basis of her inquiry into what she defines as ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’, which is not a genre per se but rather ‘a set of representations that articulates or embodies […] “a structure of feeling”’ (5). One of the defining characteristics of the Gothic is that it is a genre preeminently concerned with the past, yet ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ depicts the contemporary Western education system, albeit using traditional Gothic motifs and conventions to do so. Daunting family mansions and old monasteries are replaced by school buildings and college campuses. Within ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ standardized education is a means of control and indoctrination, schools are the backdrop to power inequalities, a place where students are entrapped, oppressed, and transformed into ‘psychopaths, zombies, and machines’ (5).
Truffin considers the teachers, students, and academic institutions within the ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ as correspondents to the Gothic tropes such as the monster, the curse, and the trap. The paranoia, violence and mental disintegration that takes place in ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ is such that students and teachers alike emerge from their school experience ‘so distorted as to become a kind monster […] no one remains unchanged by school, and no one changes for the better’ (27). Truffin uses the remainder of her introduction to establish the structure of her monograph, the texts she will analyse that focus on literature where the school is ‘the loci of the Gothic experiences’ (26), and the way in which she will approach these texts.
In ‘“I’m out of your filing cabinet now”: Adolescent Angst in the Schoolhouse Gothic of Stephen King’ Truffin focuses on four narratives by Stephen King: Carrie, The Shining, Apt Pupil and Rage. Truffin identifies and addresses the similar themes explored within these stories noting that within King’s ‘rather extensive boy of Schoolhouse Gothic’ schools and their teachers are compared to ‘everything from bad parenting to rape, capitalist brainwashing, and monster-making’ (34). The schools and teachers starring in these stories are sources of ‘paranoia, violence and monstrosity’ (34). What emerges from Truffin’s approach to these texts is that the rage experienced by the students in King’s narratives is a reaction to the way that they have been abused, labelled, and misunderstood by their educators. These unequal power relationships will have deadly consequences – as revealed in Truffin’s close-analysis of these stories – as the victimized students turn against their tormentors.
When discussing Toni Morrison’s Beloved Truffin makes readers aware that the novel is ‘neither set in a school building nor centrally concerned with the victimizations of students at the hands of their teachers’ arguing however that ‘all of the elements of Schoolhouse Gothic find their way into the novel’ (82). While King ‘explores the effects of subjugation and entrapment on students’, Morrison’s novel considers the ‘subjugating effects of conceptualizing human beings as subject matters’ (82). Truffin details the way in which the character of Sethe, a freed slave, is viewed as ‘less than human–as in fact, an object of study’ (82). Truffin’s analysis centers on the way in which racism and slavery are ‘legitimated and perpetuated–given a (pseudo) scientific sanction’ within Beloved. Truffin views the schoolteacher – who is the primary discipliner of the slaves – as the embodiment of post-Enlightenment scientific racism. Truffin argues that his desire to study the ‘animal’ qualities of his slaves, such as when he measures Sethe’s head, instructing his pupils list her human and animal characteristics, is an ‘epistemic violation of his slaves’. His lectures and writings are accountable for the actions of his students who assault Sethe. Sethe herself is haunted by the schoolteacher’s practices. In this chapter Truffin grimly demonstrates that Beloved’s ‘critique of the history racist oppression in America’ revolves around ‘the horrible power of the academic’ (100) where students are programmed to dissect and discard human subject matter.
In her next chapter Truffin jumps from a 19th-century slave plantation to a college campus in New England during the mid-1970s. Truffin examines Joyce Carol Oates’s Beasts using the same rationale as her previous chapters, referring to the ‘monster, curse and trap’ that constitute her definition of ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’. Beasts follows Gillian, a student attending a women’s college, who is seduced by her Creative Writing professor Mr Harrow. Mr Harrow pressures Gillian into entering a sexual relationship with himself and his wife, Dorcas. Truffin describes Gillian as being enslaved by this relationship, and alongside her classmates, also implied to be fellow victims of Mr Harrow, becomes increasingly ‘jealous, paranoid, dehumanized and monstrous’ to the point of resembling ‘zombies, cadavers, dogs and […] beasts’ (107). Mr Harrow in turn exploits, humiliates and abuses his victims. Truffin observes the way in which Gillian’s college experience leads her to indulge in self-mutilation and self-flagellation and finally pushes her to kill the professor and his wife, that is, those who made her into a ‘beast’. Truffin highlights the themes and arguments she has touched upon in previous chapters, illustrating the way in which Schoolhouse Gothic narratives expose the inevitable monstrous transformation that students can experience at the hands of their teachers, who are either physically abusive or exercise ‘epistemic violence’ – wielding knowledge as a weapon – against those who are in their care.
Although many sections of Schoolhouse Gothic are highly accessible, to the point of being conversational in style, there are other passages that seem unnecessarily abstruse and fall back on awkward metaphors. The volume would have also benefited from attentive editing since the index contains several errors: the entry for ‘New Criticism’, for example, directs readers to nonexistent pages. Another serious shortcoming in my opinion is the author’s failure to address her role as a scholar and academic in her critique of the academy. Early on she briefly acknowledges the positive effects that the educational system can have but in examining those texts she identifies as being ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’, she often seems critical of the academy and educational system themselves rather than critical of the way in which they are within the texts. And while her ‘monster, curse and trap’ allegory gives consistency to her analysis of ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ literature this formula can be limiting since it melds together different readings and stories.
Nevertheless Truffin’s Schoolhouse Gothic proposes an interesting study, and her definition of ‘Schoolhouse Gothic’ gives expression to an overlooked strand of the Gothic.


MY RATING: 2 of 5 stars

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If It Bleeds by Stephen King — book review

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“News people have a saying: If it bleeds, it leads.”

If It Bleeds presents its readers with four unnerving short stories. Yet, while Stephen King certainly excels at creating disturbing scenarios, there is something oddly comforting about his books. His distinctive voice feels familiar, and his stories are infused with a certain American nostalgia. King is a gifted and empathetic storyteller who is unafraid of entertaining dark possibilities. These stories in particular seem all too relevant for these uneasy times. King taps into anxieties about technology, media, and data privacy. Characters have to battle their own vices and make sense of what can only be evil. By thrusting his ‘ordinary’ characters into uncanny realities King challenges their perception of themselves and of the world. If It Bleeds features revenge, ambition, violence, apocalypses (?), corruption, and faustian pacts. But there are also plenty of moments in which human connections triumph: friends looking out for each other, dancing on the streets, moments of kindness.

MR. HARRIGAN’S PHONE: ★★★★✰ 4 stars
A very King-esque story. From the setting to the characters, this first story is great. I liked the atmosphere, the discussions around technology, and I was invested in the narrative.

THE LIFE OF CHUCK: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars
This story has a very interesting structure. There are some moving moments, especially towards the end. I was a bit confused but that was probably intentional.

IF IT BLEEDS: ★★★★✰ 4 stars
Holly is a blast and this story cemented my love for her. Her ‘peculiarities’ make her all the more relatable. Her pursuit of justice makes her into an admirable charter and it was fascinating to read of the way her investigation unfolded.

RAT: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars
Although I really like it when King writes about writers I found this last story to be simultaneously grotesque and hilarious. Also reading about a ‘snot-clotted bandanna’ during these pandemic gave me the heebie-jeebies.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.75 stars

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The Institute by Stephen King – book review

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“What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.” — Joseph Brodsky

The Institute is a gripping, if occasionally horrifying, read.
Stephen King is a great storyteller and The Institute showcases many of his strengths and traits: we have an engrossing narrative, children and teenagers with psychic abilities, and an army of evil characters.
While The Institute is in many ways a ‘classing King’, its story struck me for its incredibly relevant portrayal of America’s political and social climate (from Donald Trump to anti-vaxxers). The novel’s main concern however is the inhumane treatment of children: within this narrative we read of children who are used and abused, treated as commodities, and denied of their rights, freedom, and agency.
Their age, the fact that they are indeed children or underage, becomes a weapon that is used against them. King’s story subverts society’s notion of children, their role and place in society: children run away from home, they are rude, they don’t know enough about the real world or important issues, and they are egocentric. In The Institute not only do adults keep children in the dark but they use their limited knowledge and lack of experience against them. Those working for the Institute kidnap, imprison, and torture children. Yet, they believe that they are justified in their methods. They believe that as adults they have the power, if not right, to ‘punish’ and ‘educate’ children.

“I am having quite the adventure, Luke thought. Yes indeed, quite the adventure for me.”

This propelling narrative is populated by an array of believable characters. Rather than just focusing on the children, those who are oppressed by the Institute, King’s narrative is polyphonic. We become acquainted with the adults who commit such horrific acts, their working-dynamics, their motivations and beliefs. Still while we see that they themselves view their own actions as necessary, readers will still find most, if not all, of their behaviour and values to be utterly appalling.

“He was only twelve, and understood that his experience of the world was limited, but one thing he was quite sure of: when someone said trust me, they were usually lying through their teeth.”

The characters I cared about the most where of course the children (Luke, Kalisha, and Avery in particular). King gives each child and teenager imprisoned in the Institute a distinctive personality, which is no small feat given that their horrifying circumstances threaten to erode their very sense of self. They are repeatedly humiliated, tortured, and dehumanised. Yet, the fact that they are all living through this nightmare, create a powerful bond between them. They have a camaraderie of sorts, they distract each other from their terrible surroundings and heinous experiences.

King’s depiction of good and evil within The Institute’s brutal world although complex and ultimately open ended convinced me that the end does not justify the means. While in many of his novels there is an unseen or arcane evil presence, something un-human, within The Institute it is the seemingly ‘ordinary’ people who cause the most evil.
What is most terrifying is that they are often completely desensitized to the violence that they are committing against these children (and their parents). When we follow them in their ‘daily routines’ we see that they do not consider or second-guess their job requirements. They consider their horrific actions towards and mistreatment of these children as part of their job descriptions. After all, these children have psychic abilities, and therefore they are not really normal children. They are ‘soldiers’ and they have to do their duty. The way the Institute’s employees normalised their own violent and gruesome behaviour brought to my mind the notion of ‘the banality of evil’.

In spite of the novel’s dark themes and difficult subject matters, this novel never comes across as heavy going. King manages to inject this story with a healthy dose of humour and compassion. He also is one of the few authors who is able to incorporate popular American culture in a way that is accessible to non-American readers (most of his references are made clear because they aren’t just thrown out in the open air, they have some context). Speaking writing of America…I just enjoy the way he portrays small towns. He perfectly captures the ambience of the places he writes of, giving us an impression of a community within the space of a few lines.
King also excels at dialogue. The children and teenagers within this novel have the most entertaining of conversations and arguments. I particularly liked the way in which he employs various slangs as well as managing to convey a person’s inflections. You can see that King pays incredible attention to the English language, to the way people speak, and to the significance of their chosen words.
The novel’s occasional intertextuality (the horror fiction is after all a rather derivative genre) create some moments of entertainment, but it is his self-referentialism that is particularly effective (“They were holding hands and clutching dolls as identical as they were. They reminded Luke of twins in some old horror movie”).
Another thing that I appreciated is that the children’s psychic abilities doesn’t make them into unstoppable forces. Even Avery isn’t made into an all-mighty figure. He is a ten year old who didn’t have a lot of friends before meeting Luke and Kalisha. These children have all too believable fears and they obviously affected by their environment. And it’s perhaps because their powers are limited, because they are afraid and they have everything at stake, that makes their determination to leave the Institute all the more admirable.

“Telepathy always sounded great in stories and movies, but it was annoying as fuck in real life.”

The Institute’s story and its characters, even King’s writing itself, are—in more ways than one—incredibly vivid. With its thrilling storyline and through plenty of slam-bang chases and action scenes, this book makes for an adrenaline-fuelled read.
While there is a lot of stomach-churning violence (often committed against children) King’s descriptions never struck me as gratuitous. If anything that I was ‘forced’ to silently witness what these children endure made me all the more irate towards those who committed these vicious actions.

“Because it was chess now, and in chess you never lived in the move you were about to make, or even the next one.”

King examines the way in which power structures and or authoritative figures abuse and oppress those they perceive as expandable (in this case children) and he portrays in almost painful detail the way in which Luke, Kalisha, and Avery, are robbed of their ‘innocence’.
The absorbing narration, the captivating dialogues, and the edge-of-the-seat plot combine together into an exceptional reading experience.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger — book review

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“Whatever happens, Odie, we’ll still have each other. We’ll always be brothers.”

Stephen King meets Charles Dickens in William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land. Set against the Great Depression Krueger’s Odyssean-like narrative takes inspiration from stories such as the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and/or Huckleberry Finn. Rather than offering a rehash of these tales, This Tender Land presents us with a series of complex and thought-provoking adventures. The experiences of our protagonists, four orphans who call themselves the vagabonds, will surely strike a chord with most readers.

Unwanted and neglected, these four children will experience hardship after hardship, and throughout their travels they will encounter many different sides of their society. Lincoln School ( a school where Native American, after being ripped away from their families, are ‘educated’ ) has left both physical and emotional scars in all of them. The only two white boys there Odie and Albert together with their best-friend Mose and Emmy, a recently orphaned girl of six, embark towards their own idea of home. In their journey towards safety and love they are hunted down by Lincoln School’s superintendent Mrs. Brickman, a woman who holds a particular grudge against Odie.
Soon the four vagabonds will learn that the world outside their prison-like school is a lot bleaker than they’d hoped for. The land is harsh, the people are desperate, and soon they come to understand that their ideas of ‘home’ do not coincide. As each child gains understanding of who they are and what they want, they risk drifting away from each other.
Odie, our narrator, particularly struggles with this. The cruelties he suffers time and again have made him cling all the more desperately to his chosen family. His lack of judgement and impulsivity often get the better of him, yet readers will find themselves sympathising with him even in his biggest mistakes. His gift for storytelling and playing the harmonica provide some truly heartfelt scenes.
In his odyssey Odie is forced to question if the end justifies the means…yet even as he lies, steals, and does even worse, he begins to interrogate his own morality making for some provoking reflections on justice, duty, and the extent to which we can categorise are choices as being right or wrong.

The vagabond’s mis-adventures, similarly to the winding river they travel on, will whisk them far away from Lincoln School. Krueger’s depiction of Minnesota is startling vivid. The land he writes is a harsh mistress indeed. It causes strife, poverty, starvation, and death, turning good men into husks of their former selves. Krueger also doesn’t flinch away from the time’s attitude towards child abuse and labour, the persecution and dehumanisation of Native Americans, and the large quantity of homeless people…within his tale there is cruelty, hatred, racism, greed…and yet the story never succumbs to darkness.
There is the beautiful friendship between the four vagabonds, as well as the big and small acts of kindness and love they witness along the way, and there is always hope for a better future.
Krueger’s poetic style provides plenty of melodic descriptions, thoughtful reflections, and heartfelt conversations. He has an ear for the way people speak, which makes his dialogues all the more authentic.

All of his characters were nuanced and believable. Regardless of our feelings towards a particular character we couldn’t easily label or dismiss them as being good or bad. Each character has individual circumstances that have shaped their worldview and their actions. Also Krueger makes it quite clear that often our narrator’s descriptions of certain characters are influenced by his own feelings towards them. Similarly to him, Odie’s friends are also affected and shaped by their journey. Unlike him however readers can only witness their character development from the outside, so that we see how they slowly begin to behave differently without always knowing what exactly is occurring ‘inside’ them.

I switched between reading this and listening to the audiobook edition and equally enjoyed both version. Readers who are looking for an emotional tale of forgiveness and hope should definitely consider picking up This Tender Land.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.75 stars (rounded up to 4)

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Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Lisey's StoryLisey’s Story by Stephen King
★★★★✰ (4 stars)

Stephen King is such a skilled storyteller. He has a ‘voice’ that I find incredibly compelling.

 

“And then sometimes a day would come, a gray one (or a sunny one) when she missed him so fiercely she felt empty, not a woman at all anymore but just dead tree filled with cold November blow. She felt like that now, felt like hollering his name and hollering him home, and heart turned sick with the thought of the years ahead and she wondered what good love was if it came to this, to even ten seconds of feeling like this.”

 

Lisey’s Story differs slightly from King’s other works. Yes, you can tell his style from the very first page but in Lisey’s Story he plays a lot with font, words, and sounds. Really, King has a right go at it. And I loved it. I always noticed how King pays attention to accents and expressions but here he outdoes himself.

Lisey’s Story introduces us to Lisey, a middle-aged woman, widow of Scott Landon, a famous writer and a somewhat troubled man. Two years after his death Lisey and her older sister, Amanda, go through some of his stuff in his office. Old memories are ignited by the sight of a photo, making Lisey recall much of her life with Scott. The border between past and present seems to blur and because of this the story isn’t always easy to follow. Nevertheless, I think that the confusion we might feel is intentional: Lisey herself is confused, so why should we get a clearer recollection of certain events?
Sadly, Lisey has other troubles demanding her attention; Amanda’s health reaches a new-time low, and a man wanting Scott’s surviving work is leaving increasingly threatening messages.
The novel unfolds slowly, but really brings to life the character of Lisey. Her memories, her grief, and her frustration are perfectly rendered. We are given many different impressions of her marriage with Scott. Lisey herself forgets or doesn’t allow herself to remember the worst things that happened to Scott, keeping the reader ‘out of the loop’.
The ‘sister-thing’ was another strength of this novel. The relationship between Lisey and Amanda was so incredibly vivid: their history, the way in which they spoke to one another…these moments between them felt all too real.
Last, but not least, I want to praise King’s ability to picture different times and places in such an evocative and clear manner.
Lisey’s Story is a bit of a dark horse: it is slow and labyrinthine but it also has a lot going on.

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On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little hearts desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.

Cheers for that!

‘Good’ books about writing are not easy to find. Too often, the writer comes across as being rather (which is British for extremely) condescending. Their tips and advice brim with their own superiority. Stephen King instead is just plain honest: he tells you what he believes and shows us why he believes that. If he says writing this way is bad, he shows us why it is bad. And he knows that we, the readers, will understand him. He assumes that we are intelligent or clever enough to understand him. He says things as they are, and I loved him for that.
Moments of his private life and amusing literary-related anecdotes pepper On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. so that I was always entertained (then again, I would probably find King’s shopping list interesting so…). It has do, funnily enough, with King’s writing, especially the way in which he tells a story. Wherever fiction or not, his words hold my attention. There is a fluidity in his style that makes anything he writes a pleasure to read, and in this case, he also gives ‘aspiring’ (he would probably wouldn’t like the term but…) writers solid and useful advice as to improve their own writing.

My rating: 5 stars

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Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King


Exceptions were not the point. The point was the general case. The point was history.

King & son are so bloody good.

This novel is an epic: both in its proportions and for the sheer amount of characters involved. Different plotlines intertwine into a complex and detailed tapestry that combines many different genres. King’s portrayal of a small community rings true to life: there is an authenticity in his depiction of this close-knit community that makes the both the town and its inhabitants incredibly vivid.
With the appearance of Aurora in Dooling, existing tensions within the community bubble to surface. Dooling houses a female prison which plays a large role in the novel. There are no real protagonists given that the novel follows a multitude of characters, all of which are depicted as neither good or bad. King’s gives us multi-faceted characters, some change through the course of Aurora, others remain rooted in their beliefs. I loved reading about the same scene from different perspective: by doing so, we get a fuller and fairer view on what was happening. King doesn’t side with anyone in particular: he doesn’t idealize Lila and Clint, nor does he vilify Frank or excuses the female prisoners. They are all refreshingly human.
On the one hand, you have the suspense, the thrill, created by Aurora and Evie. On the other, this novel addresses social, political, philosophical, and religious issues. As it were, King seems to use the supernatural, the ‘Other’, to confront and explore a myriad of topics.
Skillfully written and thrumming with tension, King has created an engaging and challenging novel that doesn’t shy away from depicting humanity at its worst.
Bravo.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

“Whatever you want,” he says, “and you will want it, the owner of the box always does. It’s normal. Wanting to know things is what the human race is all about. Exploration, Gwendy! Both the disease and the cure!”

Yet another absorbing story by Stephen King. Gwendy’s Button Box brings to life King’s trademark style, a style that gives a strong sense of place and an unsettling sense of something other. When Gwendy is handed a mysterious button box, she finds herself capable of fulfilling most of her wishes and without her say so. As the years pass the box is a constant in Gwendy’s life. A secret that she both wants to be rid off, and keep to herself. As always with King, things start taking a dark turn when Gwendy’s curiosity makes her push one of the buttons of her box.
A quick and vivid novel that perfectly combines humor and drama. King has done it again.

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

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11.22.63 by Stephen King

There are several reasons why 11/22/63 should not have appealed me. First of all, I’m European. So I knew nil very little about Kennedy and American politics. On top of that, I was born in the late nineties, so I am probably not part of this book’s ideal target audience.
And yet, I devoured this 730 pages long beast of a novel. If it had been up to me, I would have read it in one sitting.
I would recommend just reading its opening chapter before deciding wherever this is the sort of book you would like. Those first few pages really captivated me.

But we never know, do we? Life turns on a dime.

It’s hard to imagine a story that manages not to lose momentum over the course of 700 pages or so. King, however, showed me that, yes, stories like that do exist.
Despite being intimidated by the size 11/22/63, while reading it, I never felt that it could have been made into a shorter novel: every single page is a thread of a rich tapestry. (It sounds corny, but that is what I think).
King has an eye for rendering in vivid details life in small communities. What may seem as a trivial scene, impacts somewhat our understanding of Jake’s ‘new’ world. Seemingly mundane conversations are as important as the more tense, dramatic moments. I loved the way in which King is able to render those ‘small-town’ vibes. The conversations Jake has and what he observes in various neighborhoods made this story very evocative.
There is also plenty of humour. Jake is an amusing narrator whom I found endearing. His relationships with other characters are equally diverting. Him and Sadie… well, I felt very invested in them.
King tops it all with a sense of the Other. The storyline transmits a sense of foreboding into the reader. We know that Jake’s ‘journey into the past’ has consequence (I was equal parts curious and uneased by the ‘Jimla’).
A gripping and complex plot combines with an amusing cast of characters resulting into an engaging novel.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Eerie meets fun.
King’s strength – I believe – lies in his engaging storytelling. The particular way in which he narrates Doctor Sleep is on of the best aspects of the book itself. His voice holds your attention.
Doctor Sleep tells of a supernatural tale: Dan, previously known as Danny in The Shining, is a recovering alcoholic who first started drinking because of his psychic abilities, his ‘shining’; the True Knot is a group of quasi-immortal ‘people’ who survive through ‘feeding off’ the shining of children; and finally we have young Abra Stone, whose shining is incredibly powerful, so much so that she is able to reach Dan trough a psychic link.
We follow these characters journeying through America: King has a knack for depicting small towns. He captures the ‘vibe’ of certain places and the people from these places.
Using plenty of references, from books to music, he makes his story one that is filled with relatable things. He counteracts this with an abundance of the uncanny. From Dan’s and Abra’s shining to the True Knot’s peculiar ways, King offers plenty in terms of the supernatural.
Dan is perfectly unperfect. He is shown to us at his worst and at his best. Dan, to me, is a realistically flawed main character, who I liked, and rooted for in spite of some of his past actions. Abra reads faithfully as a child, someone full of possibility and unaware of things that older characters take for granted. She was a real breath of fresh air. The True Knot is made of despicable yet somehow humane individuals: I hated them but, when certain scenes where from their POVs I couldn’t stop myself from liking them.
I eagerly followed Dan and Abra during their creepy and suspenseful adventures. Whit a plot that is somehow quiet yet intense, Doctor Sleep, is a compelling novel.

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

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