Friday, June 10, 2011

What Stephen King Character Would You Be?

I became a Stephen King fan somewhat reluctantly.  My best friend in high school more or less forced him on me.  She chided, cajoled, insisted, and all but tied me up and jammed the book down my throat, but she finally got me to read Salem's Lot.  I resisted so strongly because I have always been a little reluctant to be told what to do.  I guess that's why she's now a lawyer, and I once ran the daily operations of a company.  We are both stubborn, and she is persuasive.  Even back then, because she prevailed, and I read it, but not without a fight.  But, not only did I read it, I did it in the way she told me to:  which is to read it at night in bed with just the bedside lamp on.  I did this with some initial disdain.  The whole reason I hadn't read the book in the first place was because I was sure I was so jaded by a lifetime (all 16 years or whatever) of reading and watching horror stories that I figured nothing on the written page could scare me.  She was adamant that this could, particularly if I followed her instructions about the ambience while I read. (She did the same thing with Elton John by the way - not convince me that he was scary, but force me to listen to him until I finally acquired a taste for him.)

I confess.  She was completely right.  On both the book and Elton John.  By the time I finished the book - more like devoured it in marathon reading sessions - I was so completely terrified, I was keeping a crucifix hanging over my bed and refusing to even turn in the direction of either of my two windows, the curtains drawn very tight.  Forget about moving out of the dead center of the double sized bed to go to the bathroom, I'd wet myself first.  And, with that thrilling experience, I was hooked.  My freshman year in college The Stand was published.  I remember reading it IN French class.  It came out when Kelsey was an infant, and I was still in that you-should-be-sleeping-every-chance-you-get phase.  Instead I would stay up to read until 3:00 in the morning, then get up and have to be at work at 8:00.  Being a Stephen King fan was like being an addict.   Long before the Internet and text alerts and all the other savvy media tools used now, I knew when the next book was due to be published, and I was there at the bookstore On.That.Day.

Then Marissa came along, and then my job with my company, and even an addict couldn't get her fix as easily.  I remember reading Thinner on the plane on the way to see my dad only days before he died, grateful for the few hours of peace and quiet to be able to devour it, if you will, no matter the severity of the reason.  I finally got to the point where I couldn't keep up with his prolific writing, but I wasn't all that concerned about it after all those years.  Because, after a long, full career, the master tended to use some of the same basic parameters multiple times.  He was not a one trick pony, but he did fall back to some of the same plot devices often.  Among them, a group of New Englanders would find themselves somehow isolated and naturally split like an atom into two groups:  good v. evil while they battle to survive.  So, I would tell myself, "Been there, read that."  So, I would wait and get the books on the bargain shelf and not be in a particular hurry to read them.  As a result, I have a backlog.  Yet, every so often, I'll pick one up and immediately get sucked back in: losing sleep, working a hour or two less every day (no worries co-workers:  still putting in full-plus days), and sneaking an often over sized book in everywhere I go and reading every spare minute I have.

There is nothing particularly new about the premises he uses.  As a matter of fact, many are age old with a supernatural twist.  And even the twists are the old scary standbys:  aliens, vampires, government experiments gone awry.  But, Stephen King's genius is making you care, one way or the other, for each and every one of those characters.  None of them are one dimensional, good guys or bad guys.  The good guys have inner demons they are fighting.  Bad guys have sensitive sides and flashes of compassion or are sympathetic for some reason.  And, no matter when they meet their end, within the first 20 pages or the last, you will know something about them and you will not be reading about strangers.  These will be characters who resemble people you might know, whether you're actually in New England, or Colorado, Montana, Texas or maybe even France.  Maybe you see yourself in one of them.  It almost doesn't matter what supernatural force they're fighting, the reason you turn the pages just as fast as you can is to see what happens to people you've come to have feelings for, forgetting that they don't actually exist.  This is what has made him my favorite author - and unashamedly so.  It may be somewhat low brow, to count a contemporary best selling author as your favorite writer above all.  People who know me a little might me to at least expect me to reach for J.R.R. Tolkien, but nope, it's Stephen King.  He's laid a few eggs over the years,  but who hasn't?

So, what has that got to do with the price of rice in China, as my mother might ask?  Well, as it happens, I'm currently reading Under the Dome, and need to hurry and finish this post and then my work so I can get back to it.  I am once more totally sucked into the little fictional world he has created, hoping he won't kill off the hero, Dale Barbara, but worrying that he eventually will (and if you know, don't you dare tell me...), and I got to thinking the other night, "I'm the kind of person who would end up in a Stephen King book.  I have a complicated psyche.  I like to think I'm a good person, but I've mortally pissed off two long-term relationships (Greg's oldest sister and his best friend), my marriage is strained through the veil of grief, and I have my fair share of skeletons in my closet.  Maybe I'm not a shoe-in to be one of the good guys."  Not like I murdered someone with an axe, mind you, but suffice it to say, I highly doubt I would ever survive the vetting process if I wanted to run for public office.   Of course, I say that and then think about all the recent sex scandals, so maybe I would be considered squeaky clean by modern political standards.  Not sure that's all that much of an accomplishment though:  I'm at least not as scummy as John Edwards.  Bully for me.

So, what side of the good v. evil fence would I truly stride?  In my early Stephen King-reading days, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be in Boulder, not Las Vegas (that's a Stand reference to anyone not fortunate enough to have read it), but now I'm just not so sure.  Life is complicated.  I am complicated.  Things are rarely quite as neat and clear as they seem when you're reading about them on the clean, white pages of a book in the comfort of your living room sofa.  In a real time event, would you see things clearly enough to choose the righteous side?  Would you even want to, or would it be more fun to be the rowdy bad boys in town?  These are fun things to think about.  Less fun to ever be in a situation to actually have to make a choice like that - like people have to in times of war, for instance.  But, for now, have a little fun with it:  what kind of Stephen King character would you be?

1 comment:

  1. Richie Tozier, in IT. Sheriff Alan Pangborn, in Needful Things, and Glen Bateman (I should hope) in The Stand. I would like to think I am very "gunslingerish" - selfish, and focused, but only because I'm right.