Just for the halibut, as the fisherman said, I thought I’d revive (just once) the old title of this column (my 30-plus-year-old 3-way pun), which used to be the fan column in the print Amazing Stories when Elinor Mavor (under the pen name of Omar Gohagen) was the editor—and also a pretty good artist! (Figure 1) We had a very good relationship (but somewhat tumultuous, because of my procrastination) ; we’re still friends to this day. (One of the reasons I’m very careful not to miss any weeks in this blog/column is that I was sometimes tardy under Elinor’s stewardship; I hope this shows her that I have improved over my younger self!) So, on to the column! (There are no cons in this one, however, either in the fannish or grammatical sense. I’m very much in favour of the book under review.)
Two weeks ago I was grocery shopping in Missouri, where we had gone to assist my wife’s somewhat elderly parents in prepping for a move early next year from a somewhat isolated home they’d occupied for 68 years to an apartment in town. Passing the book rack, I gave it a cursory glance and immediately glommed onto this hardcover, which came as a surprise. I would expect a new Stephen King novel to come out with a bit more fanfare, and I happily paid the $30 US cover price (the book had a 25% off sticker on the cover, and I naively assumed I’d get $9 off; as it turns out, the clerk charged me full cover price, which was a small price to pay for a quick and engrossing read; classic King, this novel takes you on a scary journey into the lives of two men. Amazon.com calls it “A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.”(Figure 2)
You know something’s going to be different when Stephen King, who usually starts a book with a rock’n’roll quote, opens with this:
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.
—H. P. Lovecraft
Really? A Mythos story from Stephen King? I guess we’ll see, won’t we?
Somewhere in Maine in 1962–over a half-century ago–a small boy (Jamie Morton) playing with his toy soldiers, meets the new minister, Charles Jacobs. Jamie doesn’t realize it, but Jacobs will be what in movie-making (according to King) is called “the fifth business, or the change agent.” Jacobs will be a part, off and on, of Jamie’s whole life.
Jacobs and his beautiful wife Patsy change the local church for the better. Not only is Reverend Jacobs charismatic and handsome, but Patsy (who plays piano at the Fellowship meetings at the church) is also beautiful, and they have a young son everyone likes. Jacobs is also a bit of an electricity nut; where others would build a model railroad layout in their garages, he built a “Jesus walks on water” layout powered by electricity, and brought it to the fellowship. He shares his love of electricity with Jamie. He uses electricity—secret things built by himself—to work some “miracle cures” on a number of people. Everyone in the town seems to be in love with the Reverend and his family for several years, until a horrible automobile accident leaves Reverend Jacobs just crazy enough to preach “The Terrible Sermon,” blaspheming against God and religion and shocking the whole town. Jacobs is banned from the town and disappears, but before he does, he tells Jamie that all the miracle cures were just placebos, although he felt confident that, properly used, electricity could do all that and more.
But Jamie has his own problems. His beloved sister Claire dies of cancer; in the early stages of teenhood, he learns to play the guitar and joins a succession of bar bands across the country. Learning to smoke pot, then shoot up heroin, Jamie Morton begins a downward slide, losing his last band connection until—addicted, stranded and desperate—he meets Charles Jacobs again at a state fair (no longer a Reverend). Jamie becomes Jacobs’s assistant in a new electricity-fueled stage career and begins a new chapter in his life until the two part again.
The book follows Jamie from childhood to adulthood; his life interwoven with that of Jacobs (who turns into a tent preacher, aided again by electricity) until the book climaxes with a final conflict between the two men, who are no longer friends. Along the way King does his usual masterful job of describing not only the characters of both men, but also most of the settings and people. At a bit over 300 pages, it’s not a long read, or a slow read, but King keeps you interested every step of the way.
And the HPL connection? Well, you won’t find rats in the walls, or people shouting “Iä! Iä! Ftaghn!” or mysterious crypts and Pickman’s models, but there is a full-on Mythos connection if you wait long enough. In my opinion, it’s worth the wait. This is one of King’s better books lately.
By the way, a new King book has been announced for February on Amazon, called Finders Keepers. We’re told it’s a sequel to Mr. Mercedes, which I reviewed in June of this year. I have no other information on it at this point. That book was not a “horror” story in the sense of supernatural horror, like It or Christine; it was about a serial killer. It’s possible that King’s auto accident in 1999, in which he was accidentally run over while jogging on Maine’s back roads (shades of Christine!), made him realize that there are horrible things in this world that don’t require supernatural agencies. (According to King, his wife, Tabitha King, bought the van that hit him in order to keep it from “being auctioned on eBay or something,” and had it destroyed in a car crusher. Sadly and somewhat ironically, Bryan Smith, the man who hit King—insisting he was distracted by his dog—died in August of 2000, possibly from medications he was taking.)
Another new book? Not bad for a guy who “officially” said he was going to retire first in 1999, then in 2002. One awaits his next retirement announcement with almost as much enthusiasm as, let’s say, Cher’s next retirement tour, of which there have been several. Oh, and in other news on the King front, I suppose you know that besides the new movie (Oct) A Good Marriage, inspired by the real-life “BTK” killer Dennis Rader, he also has The Stand movie remake (directed as of this moment by Josh Boone [The Fault in Our Stars]) coming up next year. (Casting suggestion: Timothy Olyphant as Stu Redman; Walton Goggins as Randall Flagg. Olyphant seems to have the same kind of screen presence Gary Sinise had in the TV-movie. And maybe, just maybe, they can undo the terrible choice they made of casting Molly Ringwald, which has bugged me and dozens, if not hundreds, of The Stand fans over the years.) It the movie (2015) will be written and directed by Cary Fukunaga, together with Chase Palmer who’ll be co-writing the screenplay from New Line Cinema, it appears. I have no idea who could possibly beat Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Clown—his was a performance for the ages, in my opinion. Considering the limitations of commercial TV, that was a terrific TV-movie.
And King’s son, Joe Hill, also has a movie out: Horns, with Daniel Radcliffe! What a family of writers they are!
By the way, sorry this is such a short review; it’s been a long week—I’ve had to take the car (no, not Christine) in to the shop twice already this week. Apparently the replacement fan is too powerful for the car, and when it’s on “defrost,” the car shudders and shakes and makes a noise like it’s taking off, plus I’m running the campaign to raise money for Spider and Terri Robinson, so I’ve had less time this week. Anyone know anything about a 2007 Pontiac Sunfire that would make it do this? Anyone? Bueller?
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