Four Past Midnight

Four Past Midnight - Stephen King Not my usual cup of tea. Of course I've heard of Stephen King, and I have vivid memories of the movie "Carrie", but I'm not a horror fan in general. This collection of four novellas, however, presented itself to me on the book exchange shelves at work, and looking at the length of the book, and considering the longueurs of my lunch-hours, I said "why not."

Of the four, I found the first one, "The Langoliers" the oddest, chiefly because you have to buy into a whole new cosmology, where not only is it possible to travel back in time, but said time is munched up by scary-things. This one also features an out-and-out insane character, whose childhood trauma around the subject of laziness is thematically linked to the laziness - the complete lack of energy - of the discarded past.

The second one looked fair to be my favourite, because it featured a writerly nightmare - being accused of plagiarism. Though it's not a first-person narration, the point of view is so close to the writer's (Mort's) that we almost feel we've been played with by an unreliable narrator when the personality disintegrates and Mort and we come to the same unhappy conclusion - that it's all a trick of an unstable mind. (Or is it? I view the 'zinger' ending, like that of Carrie, to be just an expected trope.)

The same "or is it" ending appears in The Sun Dog, the fourth of the novellas. I wonder how well this story goes over with young people who have never seen, nor marvelled over, the apparent magic of a Polaroid picture - nor experienced the anxiety during that lengthy-seeming minute when the picture is developing. Magic boxes that we don't understand, and that link to some other, perhaps threatening reality... King builds well on that old, old fear.

That leaves "The Library Policeman" - another story where I had a personal window through my love of grand old library buildings. I had the crux of this story figured out the minute the protagonist flashed back to bushes near the library where no bushes were to be found in the present. I have become too good at spotting those clues. I have no doubt that King's vivid depiction of the rape of a young boy was distressing to a fair percentage of his readers, especially those who prefer their horror a little more alien or aerified. Of the four, this story was the darkest for me.

I still don't think I'm going to make a habit of reading Stephen King. But it was good to see what all the fuss is about.