Not-Recommended Reading — the new Stephen King "book"

BLOCKADE BILLY, the new “book” from Stephen King.

Unless you’re a King purist or if you love baseball stories, you won’t miss anything if you leave this one on the shelves.

First, it’s barely a book.  It’s packaged like a kid’s book, about 7.25″ x 5 1/8,” much like The Series of Unfortunate Events series.  There’s no dust jacket, it’s only 132 tiny pages long, and it contains two short stories.  ONLY two stories.  And the price is $14.99.

Thank God I got 30% off at Target.

Second, I love King’s work.  I’ve been a fan since 1976 with CARRIE and ‘SALEM’S LOT.  I used to collect his limited editions, I’ve met him, written about him, and am, simply, an aficianado.

And I simply can’t recommend that you go out and get this book.  It’s just not worth it.

The two stories are, at best, minor tales.  Like much of his short fiction from the last few years, they are realistic instead of supernatural — nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong is my third point.  King used to be imaginative and innovative in both story ideas and in the ways he told a story.  Lately, though, he has fallen back on his old tropes and two particular ways of storytelling, both of which are, in their own ways, now quite trite.

“Blockade Billy” is told in the voice King has come to be known for: the voice of Old Uncle Steve, telling you a story on the front porch — and you won’t believe what happened when . . .

That voice has become so clichéd that, in many ways, I cringe when I read his stories.  I still can’t finish his last short fiction anthology.

“Morality” is told in King’s modern fiction voice.  The narrative more straightforward and economical — but the mechanics of telling the story are not “Kingian.”  It’s “McSweeneyan.”  It’s like typical 300-level college fiction, where the writer will leave the end open, without much explanation, thinking that the reader can supply his own meaning — that minimalism and contemporary storytelling is more important than the story itself.

King became famous for his own individual and twisted vision of life.  The short fiction in NIGHT SHIFT and SKELETON CREW are, perhaps, his best short pieces, simply because they were so singular.  An astronaut who suddenly develops eyes popping up from beneath his skin.  A fog that moves in, opening a doorway to a netherworld filled with pale, unhuman nightbeasts.

“Blockade Billy” and “Morality” are far from original, far from well-written, far from imaginative and far from enjoyable.  They are, in short, nothing special — and that’s a damn shame, because I miss the Stephen King who gave us an American Lord of the Rings, a Maine visited by Dracula, a crazed number-one fan, and an extremely haunted hotel.

I miss primal King.

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