“But—this is important—tell me a story, one that has a beginning and a middle and an end where everything is explained. Because I deserve that. Don't shake the rattle of your ambiguity in my face. I deny its place. I repudiate its claim. I want a story.” From a Buick 8, by Stephen King
Welcome back, Constant Reader.
Prefatory Matters: Back in September 2014, I decided to reread Stephen King’s entire catalog, chronologically, by date of publication. Then, I went a bit further. I decided to complete this challenge in a single year. That’s a decade of King every three months. These posts will be a bit emotional, as they are my personal experiences with King’s work. For spoiler-laden reviews of each novel, you can click on the corresponding title. At the end, I will attempt to tie all books back into the Dark Tower using my own theories and facts King himself has verified.
This, my fellow Constant Readers, is A Decade with King: 1995-2004
This is by and far my least favorite decade from Stephen King. Oddly enough, it was also one of the most tumultuous times in my life as well. King kicked cocaine and alcohol in this decade, but he also got turned into a speed bump/pretzel by a man who later overdosed on prescription pain medicine. He had a pretty shitty span of years there for a while, and so did his readership. I’m not going to bore you with why every book wasn’t up to par with his pervious two decades’ output. If you’ve read the last two posts, you know how this is done. I name a book and tell you the memory I have attached to that book. This decade isn’t pretty. King faced his demons and I faced mine. But through the best and the worst, he was a constant for me.
In 1998, a shitty friend introduced me to heroin. Yes, I have skeletons in my closet. No, I’m not sharing anymore than that about my habit. I made some bad decisions in my life and I’ve been trying to redeem myself ever since. During this time, I became friends with a man I would come to think of as a father figure. He mentored me and played editor and tried to fixed all my stupid mistakes both on and off the page (some of these mistakes I still make to this day), but I never appreciated him like I should have. He always said it was his pleasure, that I was going places, and the only person who would ever stand in my way would be myself. How right he was. If you follow me on social media you will know I’m prone to emotional outbursts and over-the-top reactions. Am I one-hundred percent mentally stable? Probably not. I’m sure I suffer from depression and several other undiagnosed neuroses I can’t pronounce properly, but I’m scared I’ll wind up like my father—doped to the gills on uppers so I can make it through the day and downers so I can sleep at night. I use the internet as my therapy couch. I rant and vent and make friends and enemies and it all helps me sleep at night.
Sadly, my mentor died in 2001, but I keep him alive in my heart. Every book is dedicated to him, even when it’s not.
In 2000, I decided to further my education, but heroin and college mix like oil and water, and I kept falling asleep in class. Finally, I dropped out. And then in May of 2001, I met a woman who would change my life. Suddenly I had a decision to make: this woman or the drugs. Some people claim that kicking heroin can be one of the hardest feats known to man. Love made it easy. I sweated and ticked and twitched and vomited for a solid week, but the thought of what I would lose if I kept chasing the dragon kept me from calling my connections. I married her the following May, 2002, and we’ve been together ever since. Our first child (our daughter Autumn) was born in April of 2005. I cut the cord and they placed her in the warmer and I reached in and she squeezed my finger and I was in love. My baby girl. My heart, taken from my chest and laid out before me. I’m not a religious man, but I finally knew what it was like to feel blessed.
And then we had an ectopic pregnancy in 2006. Some of you might know it as a tubal pregnancy. The baby doesn’t drop from the fallopian tube, and both the mother’s and the child’s lives are put at risk. That destroyed me. I knew that there was no choice to be made. Either they aborted the pregnancy or my wife would die. Still, it hurt. Holy fuck, did it ever feel like my chest was collapsing. I did my best to be there for my wife, but I still believe that we only made it through that patch because my wife is one of the strongest souls walking around on this revolving rock. Then again, I’m kinda biased.
In April of 2012, after six years of nothing, but not for lack of trying, my son Chris came along. I never wanted a boy. My relationship with my father was a terrible one, and I didn’t want my family name to live on and that was the only reason my own father wanted a boy so badly. Yeah, I realize how petty that sounds, but it’s the truth. I would have been perfectly happy with two girls. Christopher is a wonderful, bright, hilarious little man and I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but I look at him at least once a day and think: How much am I fucking up with you? My greatest fear is that he will someday grow to hate me like I hated my father.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I told you all that so that I could tell you about these other memories without going on too long. Anyway, here we are, starting with…
Rose Madder reminds me of my oldest sister. This isn’t the first King book connected to her that I’ve mentioned, but it is the first that connects to her personal life. Her second husband liked to tool up on her, and it was around the time that his fists started flying and the sunglasses started showing up at night and the makeup got thicker that I read Rose Madder and wondered if my big sis might be going through the same shit as Rose. She moved away to Alabama with that wife-beating motherfucker, and we followed shortly afterward. I read Insomnia on that trip, as you might recall from my last post, and Rose Madder came next.
Hurricane Opal came through and wrecked my fucking world. The Green Mile reminds me of that, and you can read about why in my review. All of my reviews for these books are linked toward the end of this post. Feel free to check them out as you hop along.
Desperation reminds me of the only year I went to Christian summer camp. Our youth group leader was a fat guy named Bill. He had an orange beard and kinky orange hair. He was one of those guys that yank up his jeans only to have them slide right back down again. The kind of guy who needs suspenders, not a belt. Anyway, Bill caught me jacking off in my bunk. I was thinking about the pretty lady who’d played guitar and sang for us after dinner that night. That Old Rugged Cross indeed…I sure as shit wouldn’t have minded getting nailed. Bill told me what I was doing was completely natural but not to spill any seeds on any stones. That shit might be the death of me. I had no idea what he was talking about. It wasn’t until years later that I found out why that was so goddamn funny. When I got home from camp, Mom had Desperation waiting for me. She was so happy that it would be the first Stephen King novel she could let her son read because it seemed King had finally found Jesus. Mind you, Mom didn’t know I’d been stealing her King books out of the mail every month, so this was a special time in our household. Behold, the first Christian-friendly King novel! PRAISEJESUSAMENANDTHANKYOULORDLETUSEAT! Any of you who have read Desperation will now how inappropriate it is for a teen to read, what with all the sexy-time stuff the statues make the characters think about, but there was a strong Christian message about the power of faith in that book too, and Mom felt that message overrode the naughtiness. Excuse me while I laugh my ass off…
Wizard and Glass was the first Stephen King book to make me cry because it was so fucking terrible. I would go on to hate three other books before this decade of King’s career was over, but W&G started it all. 600 pages of romance garbage with 50 pages of denouement. I was livid. I told my mother, her being the King aficionado of the family at the time, that I was done with King. Fuck him for making me read all that nonsense only to end by ripping off The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What a hack! The nerve! Fuck. King. Of course we all know…
I read Bag of Bones and hated it. It’s now one of my favorite King novels after my 2015 reread, but back in 1998 I was too busy trying to find out if we all really float (heroin assisted floating of course) to be bothered with what might be some of King’s best writing. It’s the one shining gem in a pond filled with a decade of scummy water. Let’s face it, King was on his way out. This should have been his final novel. I think, deep down, he knew it. He poured his very heart into this book, but I was too high to appreciate it. The only thing this book was good for was chopping up lines to snort. I lost that copy when my storage shed flooded. That’s probably for the best. The front and back of the hardcover were sliced to shit under the dustjacket (razorblades, God love ‘em, can make a mess of a book). Hey, at least I thought enough to remove the DJ before cutting up what amounted to twenty bucks a toot.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon slid under my radar. I would love to tell you a great little story about my time with this book, but the first time I read it was in May of 2015, the year I am writing this post. I do recall losing a good friend while reading this one. They didn’t die. They just showed their true colors. Anyway, I always thought The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was a novella and I was waiting on King to release it in a collection. Even the best of fans drop the ball from time to time. My bad.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably a King fan. Even if you’re not, you probably know that the man was hit by a van in 1999. After they scrapped him off the side of the road and he suffered the tortures of physical therapy, he went home, where he tried to rebuild his life, his craft, and himself. During this time, he filled ledger after ledger with text describing the silly antics of a group of man-boys plagued by shit weasels. There are over 200 pages of fart jokes in Dreamcatcher. It truly is the product of a pain-addled mind. King wrote that entire book at his kitchen table because sitting at his desk and working at his typewriter was too painful. The result was… well, it was terrible. I don’t attribute any memories to this awful book. I read it, and then I reread it in 2005. Because I’m fucking stupid, that’s why. But not as stupid as I was when…
I reread From a Buick 8. I don’t want to talk about this book. If you want to read my thoughts on it, click on the review downstairs. Fuck this book. Fuck King for submitting it and Viking for publishing it. King is the only author with books on both my Best of list and my Worst of list. In my opinion, It is the greatest horror novel ever written, and From a Buick 8 is one of the most terrible.
Finally, we come to the last three Dark Tower novels. I used to be a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (more on that in my final post, coming in October), and I was working at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama as a Nurse Support Tech (a fancy name for a CNA who’s been trained as a phlebotomist too). The night I heard about the final DT novels, I was on the floor, making my first rounds, getting vitals and tucking folks into bed, when my buddy Florence came bursting out of the break room. She hollered something unintelligible about Stephen King calling wolves, and disappeared back into the lounge. Of course I wanted to know why the fuck King was pulling a Jack London, so I left the Dina-Map (blood pressure machine) out in the hall and went in search of an explanation. The charge nurse on duty that evening—this was Foot, if you recall Foot from my first post—had come in with news about an interview she’d either read or seen (sorry, I can’t recall which) wherein King mentioned that the next book in the DT series would be entitled Calling Wolves, and would be followed shortly by two other books, completing the series. Well, we all know how badly Foot fucked up the name of Wolves of the Calla, but she was on point with the rest of her info. I reread the first four DT novels and bought each new book as they came out. It was grand. It was heartbreaking. It was the best series I had ever read. Too many horrible and happy memories of that time to mention them all (you’d be bored to tears if I did… hell, you might already be bored or gone off to read or review or play with your kittens and have left me sitting here talking to myself, but what’s new in my neighborhood, right?), but I will bring up one special memory. I was reading the coda in the back of The Dark Tower (I had also started a reread of Carrie in an attempt to do what I'm doing now; trying to read his entire catalog in a year, but I failed back then) when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child. She was already two months along, but that did very little to dull my excitement. Also, I’d tried to tell her she was pregnant the month before (her breasts seemed to have grown by half, so I was either married to the Wonderful Inflatable Woman, or she was with child, because it wasn't plastic surgery), but she said she was still having her periods, so I dropped it. Then, about four weeks later, guess what? She told me I was gonna be a daddy. I knew it was a girl. I had always known it would be a girl. And I knew my life was going to change. Awesome, man. I could dig it. Then I hurt my back and some asshole in a gray dress shirt with black pinstripes and an ugly-as-balls charcoal-gray tie and a stupid beard told me I’d never be able to pick my daughter up out of her crib and carry her around or rock her to sleep. Hell, I might not even walk again, period, and I should be thankful I can still feel my legs and he’d see what he could do. He’d see… what he… could do…
But that’s a story for another time.
Ring Around the Tower:
This is where I will begin to repeat myself, so I will make it easy on all of us. All of the book reviews at the end of this post mention how each novel ties into the Dark Tower series. You can find even more information on my first two Decade with King posts (look upstairs, just after Prefatory Matters)
My theory is simple: King has stated that a certain number of his books tie into the Dark Tower universe. I say they all tie into that universe to create the King-verse. More exactly, every one of his books fits in with one of three works: It, The Tommyknockers, and the Dark Tower series. The Grays, man. It's all about the Grays. I believe they come from the PRIM.
Some of you will notice that Hearts in Atlantis is nowhere to be found here. That’s because I still have no idea how to classify it. It’s not really a short story collection. It’s kinda a collection of novellas... kind of, but not in the same way books like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight were. Hearts in Atlantis is a beautifully rendered masterpiece, and it deserves a special place in King’s catalog. I will speak about it one day. Until then, my apologies for not including it. And yeah, I know all the connections between it and the Dark Tower. That’s what makes it so damn special and magical. We'll talk on the subject eventually.
I have received some questions as to why I’m not including any of the Bachman books in this project. I have a very specific reason for this. I consider the Bachman books to be trunk novels. They are books that King would have never released had it not been for this other personality he created. The tone of these seven novels is much different than King’s other work and they deserve their own project. According to King, all seven novels (The Long Walk, Rage, Roadwork, The Running Man, Thinner, and even the more recent Regulators and Blaze) were all written between 1966 and 1973. We’ll get to these, I promise, but they will likely have their own posts. Something like… Seven Years of Bachman. Or whatever.
Likewise, King's collaborations with Straub will be covered in a separate post once the third and final Jack Sawyer novel is released. If you're waiting for my thoughts on The Talisman and Black House, your waiting on King and Straub as well.
A final note on this project. I’ve said from the beginning that this journey has been about the novels. I have tried to keep up with the collections, but I’ve pretty much given up on getting through them all before October. I will, however, be finishing all King’s full-length ventures on time (ONLY 6 BOOKS LEFT!). If my King hangover is not too disastrous in size, I will finish and review all the collections by the end of the year (2015). I'm not fretting over the collections because not every story fits into my Dark Tower/King-verse theory. Many do, don't get me wrong, but there are ones where King simply wanted to stretch his literary muscles and does not mention anything from his other stories. I actually believe that Everything's Eventual was supposed to be his final collection, a scraping of the shit at the bottom of the barrel, as it were. The only good story in there is the Dark Tower tale, "The Little Sisters of Eluria", but that's just my opinion.
This has been so much fun. Thank you all for joining me. One more decade to go, which should be out some time in or before October, and I can finally relax. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to do Dean Koontz of Robert McCammon next. If you have any requests, drop them in the comments below. Dean Koontz's catalog will be a chore, as he's been hit or miss (mostly miss) for the past twenty years, but his books are mostly shorter than 400 pages and can be read in a day or two. McCammon is far more long winded, but his books are better as a rule. Other authors I would consider would be Richard Laymon, Dan Simmons, or John Saul.
Cool little side note. If I published all these Decade with King posts along with the individual reviews of each book, I’d have a novel over over 100,000 words on my hand. That might be an option, but I wouldn’t do it without King’s blessing. We’ll see.
Until next time, Constant Readers…
Rose Madder - June 1995
The Green Mile – Release first in serial format March – August 1996
Desperation – September 1996
The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass – November 1997
Bag of Bones – September 1998
Dreamcatcher – March 2001
From a Buick 8 – September 2002
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla – November 2003
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah – June 2004
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower – September 2004
Short Story Collections:
Everything’s Eventual - Review Pending
Hearts in Atlantis (if you can truly call it a novella collection) Review Pending
From a Buick 8
Bag of Bones
1,000 Page Novel:
The final three Dark Tower Books, as I believe he wrote them all together, meaning for them to be read as one volume. If you want to argue a single-book case, the paperback version of the final book The Dark Tower, is 1074 pages long.
Dark Tower Novels:
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
(I would like to mention my fellow King aficionados Ruth and Cody. If I ever get King's approval to publish these, I'd like your help filling in any blanks I might have created in my theories. It would be a pleasure and an honor to work with you.)