Thursday, January 5, 2012

Constant Reading Project: Shine On

The Shining is one of the books that people instantly come up with when they think of Stephen King. Even my mother-in-law read it when it was a new release at the library (and always makes sure the shower curtain is pulled back in the bathroom).

There are very good reasons for this.

Story and characters drive King's best work and serve each other. At the top of his game, every King character matters to what is happening. There are no throw away extras. When this happens, every action and every word from a character moves the story forward. Every little detail matters. This is how King can give us a satisfying novel with only three main characters as well as the later books in which it seems characters just fall out of his ass.

King is a master of the set-up, too. Sometimes, he's so good at setting things up that the conclusions can feel rushed. In The Shining, King spends about 300 pages making sure every little thing is in place before rushing to the explosive (ha ha) end. One of the reasons this can happen is that the characters take over, living their lives and doing whatever it is they do until it's time to finish the darn thing off. The Shining easily could have become a bloated novel filled with more backstory into the Overlook Hotel instead of just the glimpses King gives us. Everyone one of the ghosts in the hotel has their own tale. The Torrances weren't the first family to spend the winter up there. King could have done an entire chapter or more on Delbert Grady and his shotgunned twin girls. Rather, King uses the past to inform the present of the story he does tell.

The Shining, particularly when paired with its predecessor 'Salem's Lot, shows us that King was still still working his influences out in his work. While the vampire novel has roots in Dracula, The Shining frequently references Edgar Allan Poe and "The Masque of the Red Death," specifically. Nineteenth century allusions aside, King is 100 percent a 20th Century American author. The haunted hotel story feels uniquely American. The Brits have their haunted castles, we have spectres roaming motor courts. In other words, it's the perfect venue for King's early style.

Another note before moving on: We all know that Jack Nicholson went stark raving mad in the 1980 film based on this book. But look at that picture above, the one of the original dust jacket. Is it just me or does that dude look like Warren Beatty?

Anyway, The Shining is read, bringing our total page count so far to 1,216. Next up is the first of King's short story collections, Night Shift.

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