For Better or For Worse

Once upon a time there was love and passion. When passion’s embers were banked and didn’t burn so intensely there was still love. And familiarity. 27 years of marriage witnessed both tenderness and dismay, the dismay being a wet towel left on the bathroom floor, the tenderness in caring for someone who ate bad shrimp. A good marriage is fluent in short hand and silences. A good marriage is being able to unbutton your jeans after pizza and beer. A good marriage is listening to an untalented spouse sing in the shower every morning and not flushing the toilet on them. A good marriage is gentle support: please don’t eat that candy all the time. I want to make sure you’re around for years to come. Even when you find out I’ve killed 12 women.

fulldarkA Good Marriage is from Stephen King’s novella collection Full Dark, No Stars. I’m writing about it because 1) I forgot I read it five years ago and 2) it’s the only novel from Full Dark, No Stars that I remember, mostly because I read it again last week.

Stephen King said that A Good Marriage is loosely based on serial killer Dennis Rader, the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer who slaughtered ten people and then quit killing for years. King wrote the novel after hearing about Rader’s wife of 34 years getting harassed by people who believed she knew what her husband was doing.

Bobby and Darcy Anderson have been married 27 years and have two grown children: Donnie, who’s getting his first business up and running and is becoming a success and Petra who is planning her wedding. Bobby is an accountant and a numismatist (I had to look up the word because it sounds like something a drunk person would try to say while concentrating very hard. It means someone who collects currency like old and rare coins). Bobby’s been obsessed with finding a rare Wheat Penny, the Holy Grail of coins.

Darcy finds one online and wants to buy it for him but he says no because he wants to find the rare penny randomly, mixed in with his change after eating at a restaurant or buying a cup of coffee. He wants fate to bring the penny to him. Bobby’s passion is Darcy’s passion. Darcy runs a small business out of their home selling memorabilia and coins. Like most coin enthusiasts, they’re continuously on the hunt for something rare, a coin that seems to be mostly myth and urban legend. But Bobby’s on an entirely different hunt. And has been for years.

Bobby often travels to smaller New England towns to fix the accounts of other businesses and to go to coin dealers and auctions. One evening when Darcy is home alone watching TV she tries to change the channel. The batteries in the remote are dead and of course there aren’t any in the junk drawer or anywhere else in the house. They’re all the way out in the garage. The garage is Bobby’s domain and the man is ultra OCD which is good for Darcy since she’s a little scattered. She finds the batteries in a neatly labeled drawer. When she goes to reach for them her knee hits a box and knocks it over.

Sitting on top of the box are stacks of mail-order catalogs. While flipping through them, she finds a magazine about bondage. At first she thinks it’s just one of those magazines that men are curious about, something along the line of Playboy but when she opens the magazine she sees it’s more than “exploration and curiosity”, it’s downright torture. Why would her Bobby have such a magazine around?

She tries to put it out of her mind and bends down to slide back the box she knocked over. She hears another sound. Getting down on her hands and knees she peers into the wall where there is a small hiding spot. A loose board has fallen over and she can see a small box inside. A little voice in Darcy’s head is telling her to leave it alone, put the piece of wood back, grab her batteries and go back into the house but instead she takes the box out and finds a driver’s license, library card and blood donor card all belonging to a woman who had been killed by the serial killer called Beadie.

Her entire being is reeling against the idea that the man she’s spent the last 27 years with, the man she thought she knew inside out, is a serial killer. She makes sure she puts everything back in the right way and goes back into the house. Darcy gets on the Internet and begins researching Beadie and his kills. With every article she reads, she gets sicker and sicker.

What would a good wife do? If it got out that her husband was Beadie there would be reporters camped out on their lawn, Donnie’s business would tank from the bad publicity and Petra, who idolizes her father, would be beyond heartbreak.  She can’t do that to her children. People would think she knew about it all along but kept her mouth shut. But 12 women have been mutilated and killed. It’s a good marriage. Can it still be a good marriage if she knows her husband is a serial killer but looks the other way?

Could you look the other way?

Send in the Clowns

Clowns have always scared me, yet I seek out the most terrifying clown images. A few years ago there were reports of a clown standing on a dark Northampton street, under just enough light to make it scary as hell. It’s not illegal to stand on a dark street corner dressed as a clown. It should be.

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On a side note, I worked at a grocery store years ago and there was a shady guy who liked to hang around and chat up the young checkers. He used to brag about being a clown and going to children’s birthday parties. The guy gave off weird vibes and a co-worker chided me: “How bad can he be? He dresses up as a clown for children.”

“So did John Wayne Gacy,” was my answer.

ItI first read Stephen King’s It when I was 13 (now the puzzle pieces are coming together to explain why I’m so….me) and then watched the TV mini-series with Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Nobody could have done a more terrifying job than Tim Curry. He’s helped to ensure millions of us sleep with a light on and dread hearing that the circus is coming to town.

King’s epic childhood fear book, It, begins in 1957 when kids start disappearing from the small town of Derry, Maine. Bill Denbrough is down with a cold on a rainy day. He makes a paper sailboat for his little brother and puts paraffin wax on the bottom so Georgie can sail it in the rain run-off in the gutters. It’s the last time Bill (or anyone else) will see his brother alive. Georgie’s body is found with one of his arms ripped off. Bill’s family and his childhood are forever changed.

Bill, Ben, Eddie, Ritchie, Beverly, Stan and Mike are all outcasts in school and for many of them, outcasts from their families. The summer of their twelfth year, they find each other and form the Loser’s Club. Strange things are happening in Derry. The bullies seem to be bloated with rage and cruelty. And these aren’t pulling- your- hair or putting a whoopee cushion under your seat kind of bullies. These are kids who in a few more years will be robbing liquor stores and killing old ladies for their pensioner’s checks.

More kids are disappearing but now there’s an even darker undertone to it. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a supernatural shape-shifter, knows every child’s fear and uses it. To Ritchie, it’s his fear of the werewolf from I Was a Teenage Werewolf. For Eddie, a mama’s boy and a hypochondriac, it’s a leper. Pennywise feeds on their deepest fears and calls the fear “Salting the meat.” That summer, the Loser’s Club finds out that the evil in Derry has a cycle.

Every 27 years people disappear and it’s not always kids. Back in the 1700s, It woke up and 300 residents of Derry disappeared. In 1957 a vicious storm ripped through the town, awakening It. That summer, the Loser’s Club defeated Pennywise but they know that in 27 years, he will be back. The group ends up going their separate ways, moving out-of-town and losing touch. Mike, however, has stayed in Derry and has become the local librarian. Since Mike stayed, he’s the only one who truly remembers that summer. The others have repressed the memory so deeply that nothing from that summer stands out. They even forget about each other. 27 years after their defeat of Pennywise, Mike begins to call the Loser’s Club to say it’s happening again. It’s back.

One by one they all come back to Derry to defeat evil again. But this time, they’re not scared kids. They’re scared adults and realize they’ve always been haunted and that their grown up lives aren’t as glamorous as they seem. But the bond that brought them all together as kids is still there.

If you want to be scared (and probably end up huddled in a closet with a flashlight and winter coats covering you) by clowns taking children and eating them and you like stories where a bunch of lonely 12-year-old kids find friendship and banish an evil clown, this is the book for you. And if you see some clown standing under a street lamp during the darkest part of night, run. Just run.

The Dark Tower Series

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.  The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Is there any better first line to start a novel? 

The beginning hook when I’m writing is usually “Okay, there was this guy running around the desert.  And then there’s this other guy who’s being chased by that one guy.”

I’m headed for the best-seller’s list, aren’t I?  Look for the sequel That Girl in the Orange Shirt Standing by That Tree.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was actually inspired by Robert Browning’s poem  “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. The Dark Tower novels (starting with The Gunslinger and ending (?) with The Wind Through the Keyhole out April 24th) are among his most popular works.  He gets batches of mail from people asking how and when he’s going to finish the series. One woman in her 80s wrote to him and said she didn’t have much time left because she has cancer so could he please tell her how the books are going to end? She then added “I won’t tell anyone.” 

In Dark Tower I: Gunslinger, Roland Deschain is the last of his kind: a gunslinger. Gunslingers were boys raised to fight and protect their world, the old ways and old traditions. But his home has been destroyed by the man in black who some call the devil and others call a dark magician. For years Roland has been on a quest to kill the dark man, traveling in a world that is parallel to ours (except Roland’s world doesn’t have  Wal-Marts or McDonald’s but has some hold-overs like “Hey Jude” and “Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit”). Cities have been decimated, migrations patterns all askew, and mutated humans roam in the dark places. 

I’ve read the book 3 times and, honestly, I have no idea why Roland needs to get to the Dark Tower. When I ask other people who’ve read the book about it, instead of enlightenment I get a blank stare. Hey at least I know I’m not alone. But in the end it doesn’t matter. All you neeed to know is that the Tower is the gravitational pull for both good and evil.

In addition to Roland’s obsession with destroying the man in black and getting to the Tower, there is the story of Jake a boy from our world who was hit by a car in the 70’s and ended up in Midworld. Roland finds himself torn between caring for the boy and continuing his chase for the man in black. He and Jake meet up with the Muties who are horribly deformed humans that live underground. Did I mention the spiders the size of a monster truck wheel? That alone had me checking the corners of my ceiling and tucking my biggest spider smashing pair of shoes under my bed. Just in case.

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger is a fast paced novel that barely skims the surface of what’s to come for Roland and the people who fall into his life. This book is followed by The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower and the soon to be released The Wind Through the Keyhole

So if you want a book about good versus evil (and maybe a little gray area mixed in between) this one will be absolutely perfect.

But make sure to check for those spiders.


You Must Blurb This Book!

I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But is it OK to judge a book by the blurbs on its cover?

"More Engaging Than Any New Fiction In Years" - Chuck Palahniuk

I’m talking about those positive reviews—some subtle and others over-the-moon—by other writers plastered all over book covers these days.

A blurb from Stephen King is not guaranteed to get a book racing to the top of the bestseller list the way an Oprah Book Club selection most undoubtedly will. But it will convince a good portion of his millions of fans to read something new. (Check out the hilarious analysis of Stephen King as blurb king over at the Seattle Public Library’s book blog.)

But just because you like the books someone’s written, does that mean you’ll like the same books that person’s read? Are those gushing celebrity endorsements really helpful in deciding which books to read?


book coverAnn Patchett is one of my favorite authors. And so I decided a few months ago, having read all her books, that I should read books written by her friends. These are books I probably would not have read were it not for the Patchett connection: Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. While I enjoyed these books, I didn’t love any of them the way I loved Bel Canto.

And yet I still find myself putting books on my ever-growing “to read” list based on Ann Patchett’s blurbs.  Here are a few of her blurbs that have tempted me lately:
The Outlander by Gil Adamson

book cover“The Outlander deserves to be read twice, first for the plot and the complex characters which make this a page-turner of the highest order, and then a second time, slowly, to savor the marvel of Gil Adamson’s writing. This novel is a true wonder.”

Sacrament of Lies by Elizabeth Dewberry

book cover“In Sacrament of Lies, the line between certainty and madness is as thin as a razor and equally as dangerous. Elizabeth Dewberry has given us a rare gift, a literary thriller that will keep us up all night. This book is riveting.”

Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick

“A cause for celebration in the world of literature. Here we have a heroine to love, a story we can’t let go of, gorgeous sentences, and ideas to wrestle with. I didn’t just read this book, I devoured it.”

Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg

book cover“In telling the story of his very unique childhood, Myron Uhlberg has created a book that is universal. His feelings of love and responsibility, of shame and enormous pride, can teach us all something about being a member of a family. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this book.”

 Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

“Kevin Wilson’s stories show us a world that is both real and full of illusion…He forces us to look at our own lives in a new and slightly off-kilter way.”

 Are there any authors whose blurbs you trust? Do blurbs make any difference in the books you choose?