Literature Fiend

Every book changes your literary journey.

Month: April 2016

Cujo by Stephen King

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“He suddenly understood that THE MAN had made him sick.”

I watched a Stephen King interview once, in which he said that Cujo didn’t turn out the way he wanted. This is the Fourth Stephen King novel reviewed this year on literaturefiend and certainly isn’t one of the best.

There are a number of problems in this novel that constrict the reading experience. Cujo is written as one continuous narrative, which I don’t think worked well at all.

I think the film version of Cujo worked very well. I mean who can forget that image of the huge St Bernard Dog covered in blood!

The main part of the novel – and the best part – focuses on Donna and Tad Trenton (Mother and Son) who become trapped in their old Ford Pinto with Cujo waiting to rip them apart.

These sections of the novel made me feel on edge, and I felt their pain of being trapped in a small space with the unbearable heat from the sun beating down on them.

In fact all the sections of the narrative with Cujo were excellent: the build-up as he gets bitten by the rabid bat, the way Cujo battles to keep the rabies at bay; the fact that Cujo can’t understand why he is feeling so agitated and angry, all add to the compassion I felt towards the dog.

The subplots were very tedious.  The world of Victor Trenton – who co-owns a advertising company – is boring as we’re told about their campaign for ‘Sharp cereals’ or something. This is the reason why Victor leaves his wife and child alone (to go on a business trip), so I can see this as a device from King to make the main plot more plausible but it just went on and on and on and on…

About halfway through I began to skim read the sections that didn’t relate to Cujo. I didn’t loose anything from adopting this method, but it really diluted the reading experience. If the subplots were shorter it would’ve made for a really enjoyable novella, rather than an overworked novel.

The way King portrayed the workings of Cujo’s mind is brilliant. As a reader it makes you feel sorry for Cujo, as he can no longer control the advancement of the rabies virus. King highlights this at the end of the novel when he writes:

“He [Cujo] had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor” (p.420)

cujo2In the ‘Iconic Terror’ editions by Hodder Press, King writes an introduction on each novel and there isn’t one about Cujo.  This is the only novel King – a recovering alcohol and drug addict –  can’t remember writing, and probably one from a period of his life he’d rather forget.

That said, the novel is worth a read, if only for Cujo’s split personality (pre and post rabies) and the unexpected ending.

Section that Stayed 

This section shows how powerful and dangerous Cujo is once the rabies has taken hold:

“With a speed and agility that was terrifying, the big dog changed direction and came at the car. The awkward stagger was gone now, as if it had been nothing but a sly act all along. It was roaring and bellowing rather than barking. Its red eyes burned. It struck the car with a hard, dull crunch and rebounded – with stunned eyes, Donna saw that the side of her door was actually bowed in a bit.” (p. 285)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

“Sometimes dead is better”

Wow, Pet Semapet sematarytary by Stephen King really did live up to expectations. It’s scary as hell; personally the film also scared the crap outta me too.

In the introduction King writes:

‘When I’m asked (as I frequently am) what I consider to be the most frightening book I’ve ever written, the answer comes easily and with no hesitation: Pet Sematary.” (p.xi)

In fact the novel nearly wasn’t published, King continues:

“All I know is that Pet Sematary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far” (p. xi)

Luckily for us, King had one book left on his Doubleday deal before he could leave,  and instead of writing something new, he sent them Pet Sematary.  

Now it’s being review by literaturefiend.

The novel follows Dr Louis Creed and family as they move into a new house in the small town of Ludlow. The house is on a main road and it isn’t long before Jud Crandall (a neighbor from across the road) warns the Creeds about the dangers of the passing trucks. Louis – whose father died when he was young – discovers a paternal connection with Jud. The role of the father is to protect, but it is Jud who shows Louis the Micmac burial ground which ultimately leads to the catastrophic events in this novel.

There is a path which leads from the Creed home to the Pet Sematary. This is a  lovely concept, started by the town’s children to bury their beloved pets; the majority of which killed on the road by oncoming trucks. Death is something all children must come to terms with and you really feel their innocence with little devices, such as the misspelled Pet Cemetery sign which has an “S” instead of “C”. Also I loved the handwritten grave markers with little messages from the children:

“TRIXIE, KILT ON THE HIGHWAY SEPT 15, 1968” and “HANNAH THE BEST DOG THAT EVER LIVED 1929-1939” (P. 38)

Things are no different for the young Ellie Creed who takes her first visit to the Pet Sematary (and experience of death) pretty hard. She has a beloved cat named Winston Churchill (or Church for short) who she would like to live forever.

“He’s my cat! He’s not God’s cat! Let God have his own cat! Let God have all the damn old cats He wants, and kill them all! Church is mine!”

When Ellie’s cat is killed by a trucchurchk,  Jud tells Louis about the Micmac burial ground which lies beyond the Pet Sematary.  This is a place of evil, a burial ground that somehow brings what is buried back to life – only when they return, they aren’t the same.

When Church returns King writes:

“The feel of the cat caused Louis to break out in gooseflesh, and he had to clench his teeth grimly to keep from kicking it away. Its furry sides felt somehow too slick, too thick – in a word, loathsome” (p. 162)

You get the idea right?

The book then gets even darker. Think of the horror, chasing your young son who is running towards the road, a speeding truck coming from the opposite direction. King explores this scenario when it happens to Gage Creed (Louis’ son); would you just accept it, or… exhume your sons grave, and bury him in a place where you know he’ll return?

Read it to see how it plays out…

The central theme of this novel focuses on coming to terms with grief and the loss of a loved one. There is Rachel Creed, haunted by the memory of her sister who suffered from spinal meningitis before her death; Pascow,  a young student who is killed by a truck on the main highway to mention a few.

I can see how Pet Sematary scared King, as much of it is based on personal experience. His own child Owen running for that main highway (thankfully King tackled him in time), his daughter’s cat Smucky flattened by a truck (thankfully, not coming back from the dead) and the real  Pet Sematary (thankfully, the burial ground beyond is fiction).

This all happened and I think it shows King’s creativity at its best. He certainly highlights the notion that “sometimes dead is better.”

Section that Stayed

A university student is brought into the campus surgery after being hit by a truck. The finality of this passage stayed with me throughout the whole novel.

“He was a young man, age approximately twenty, and it took Louis less than three seconds to make the only diagnosis that mattered: the young man was going to die. Half of his head was crushed. His neck had been broken. One collarbone jutted from his swelled and twisted right shoulder. From his head, blood and a yellow, pussy fluid seeped sluggishly into the carpet. Louis could see the man’s brain, whitish-gray and pulsing through a shattered section of his skull.”(p.70)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.  

Why Limit the Different Options of Storytelling?

“Mmmm,” said another chewing on a sandwich. “Me too. I like the feel of the pages.”

Here I was feeling battered by an argument I’ve heard and read about many times before. Fair enough, I thought and continued to eat my lunch.

All I’d said was how much I loved my Kindle; I mean come on guys, it’s not like I mentioned a nationwide book burning saga.

It’s not even an “either or” question.

It’s the “either or mentality” that really puzzles me. A kindle, a physical book, or a audiobook aren’t a mutually exclusive thing.

It’s the story that matters.

The story is the juice; the story is the petrol that keeps the car rolling along at 70 mph; the story is the soul of what – we ravenous readers want after all. Does it really matter if it’s told on a piece of paper, a computer screen or through a speaker?

The Guardian recently published a article titled, Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds. You can probably guess from the title that the study found that readers using an e-reader were worse than readers with a physical book at recalling events from a mystery story.

Great. And?

Don’t get me wrong but it’s an interesting factoid – one that may, in time be brought up in a pub quiz – but one that also doesn’t bother me in the slightest. We’ve all done it; Got to the bottom of a page… [a little pause] … and then you think, What the hell have I just read?

This happens, not just on a Kindle but with a physical book, audiobook or in fact when your partner talks to you about their day. This isn’t anything to worry about, it’s just little old life trying to impose on your “quiet time.”

So what do we do? Roll the sleeves up and go back to the top of the page (or re-wind in the case of an audiobook)

So, it’s a mystery as to why people segregate themselves into little groups. “I only read YA,” or “I only listen to Indie music,” or “Oh no, I couldn’t read a book on a kindle!”

Just embrace everything (within reason that is) All three mediums mentioned here hold great and different ways to explore literature. So here are a few benefits for each:

The Kindle

  • The majority of the classics are free to download
  • You can take a vast amount of reading material on holiday without using up your precious EasyJet carry on space.
  • It’s practical (It’s also useful when you don’t want an ‘epic’ straining your arm. I recently made this mistake when I bought Stephen King’s IT  in paperback – All 1,336 pages – meant I had to read at home)

The Physical Book

  • Adds that air of authenticity to the work
  • Is great because it’s easy to pass onto friends or family.
  • There is no better feeling for a literaturefiend than finding a book that you’ve been looking for; in either a second hand store or tucked away at the back of a dusty library shelf.
  • It also enhances the bathing experience. If the book it gets wet, who cares; just sling it on a radiator.

The Audiobook

  • Easily accessible on a smart phone, tablet or computer.
  • If you get a good narrator it can enhance the story.
  • Great for a bike ride, car journey, or just aimlessly walking the streets.

 

So yes. I do love my Kindle, and, in fact my bookcase full of physical books. Also,  I’m beginning to become fond of audiobooks too.

And, of course everyone has a preferred way of ingesting a good old story, but placing yourself in the “Kindle,” “Physical Book,” or “audiobook” camp limits the literaturefiend’s options. Surely there is a place in this world for all mediums of storytelling.

“Story” being the optimum word.

For it’s the story that gets the reader horny, sad, frightened, angry, happy and inspired.

The story is what we – the reader – want to survive, just like they did long before books were even printed. Just feel lucky that we live in a time where we can hunt that book down in a store, receive it with the click of a button or listen to it in the dark.

Did you enjoy this article? Did you hate it? How do you feel about the different mediums of storytelling? Whatever your opinion literaturefiend would like to here it.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck, Cannery RowJohn Steinbeck is a great humanist writer who focuses the majority of his work on the less fortunate members of society, usually in California. His main qualities as a writer lie in the description of landscape and the tender aspects of his character’s. For the above themes, I suggest you check out Of Mice & Men, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.

Cannery Row was published in 1945 and is set in Monterey, California during the great depression. Cannery Row is a waterfront street which had a number of sardine canning factories (the last of which closed in 1978.)

Rather than focus on the workers of these factories – many of whom were out-of-towners – it deals with the colourful inhabitants of ‘The Row’ during the time the canning factories are closed:

“It is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”

At the beginning of the novel Steinbeck writes:

“It’s inhabitants [Cannery Row’s] are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing” (p.5)

A group of men, led by Mack, who have no ambition except to sit around and get drunk and live rent free in an old shed, affectionately called, The Palace Flophouse and Grill. Instead of looking at them in a stereotypical way, Steinbeck has Doc – a well respected marine biologist – describe them in a positive light,

“Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think. […] Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time where people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed.” (p.106)

The local shopkeeper, called Lee Chong who’s store is described as “while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply” (p.7), has a similar air of affection. The people who work at the local whorehouse are all described with similar fondness. This is Steinbeck’s way of showing the reader how reliant the inhabitants are upon each other.

This novel marked a change in his normal style, in the sense that the novel had no real plot. Just a series of chapters highlighting the “real” Cannery row. Aside from human interaction,  Steinbeck talks about nature; particularly about animal life and how it co-exists alongside human life.

“A well-grown gopher took up residence in a thicket of mallow weeds in the vacant lot on Cannery Row[…] It was beautiful in the early morning when he first poked his head out of the burrow. The mallows filtered green light down on him and the first rays of the rising sun shone into his hole and warmed it so that he lay there content and very comfortable” (p.144)

There are many descriptions like this in the novel, but I think it really highlights the way Steinbeck was thinking at this stage in his life. He is deeply pondering man’s place within the eco-system of the natural world.

Overall, Cannery Row is littered with excellent description, heartfelt dialogue and deeply human character’s. It shows an author who is brimming with confidence,  and who has deep compassion towards the poor. On top of that it is a rapid read at 147 pages; this comes well recommended.

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.  

 

 

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