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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

King of the Thrill

The original manor house of the land upon which this development was built still stands. Carefully restored and sparsely furnished, it houses property management offices and serves as our community meeting place. It also has a library, of sorts, in a parlor cupboard. This "library" is really a jumbled hodgepodge of used books piled willy-nilly, in no particular order, on floor-to-ceiling shelves, crammed to the gills by well-intentioned residents. Six years ago, I tried to do a bit of straightening up and organization, but that lasted for just a short while. Borrowers and contributors alike quickly reverted "my" carefully categorized "library" of their literary leftovers back to the state it is in now—a total mess.

However, every once in a while, I peruse the confusing and crammed array, looking for a reading gem or two—you never can tell what you might find in your neighbors' discards. After an afternoon of tennis last week, I ventured into the house and began sifting through the stacks, finding a few interesting first edition classics, a biography of J. D. Salinger, and a thick, pristine paperback copy of The Stand by Stephen King. Knowing we'd have a few more rainy days this week, I stuffed it along with the other treasures into my tennis bag, anticipating a few long afternoons and evenings enjoying—pardon the pun—this royal find.

I have been a loyal fan of Stephen King ever since I read the first three books of his The Dark Tower series1. Just about every year for the last four or five years, I receive for Christmas his latest and have diligently spent the first week or so of each New Year reading it—a family tradition. However, outside of Carrie and Misery, I have missed many of his earlier, vintage classics including The Tommyknockers, of which
I have an original paperback still waiting to be read, and, unfortunately, his most classical and seminal work, The Stand. But that is quickly changing, as I have been, once again, spending most, if not all of my free time reading my manor house "library" find.

According to his "A Preface in Two Parts" of the SIGNET paperback edition2, this is an expanded version of the original King classic first published in 1978 by Doubleday and Sons. A lot of content was cut because of publication cost overruns—content that King felt was vital to the story and should be made available to his readers. Hence, the re-release of The Stand—complete, uncut, and unabridged, just as King originally intended. While "less may be more", with Stephen King much more is even better.

The premise is epically, classically highly imaginative King3: A containment breach in a California-based government facility releases a deadly viral superflu—called "Captain Trips"—which spreads like wildfire, killing millions upon millions of human beings, as well as decimating most animal species. In the United States, a few thousand are immune and survive the plague. Eerily harried—some tormented—by dreams of her, many survivors are drawn to an old (106) black woman, "Mother" Abby Freemantle, living in a farmhouse in the middle of a Nebraskan cornfield. Others rally around The Dark Man, Randall Flagg, who, we come to learn, is the epitome of evil incarnate. The last embattlement—the Stand--is made against Flagg and his followers. It is the ultimate apocalyptic conflicts of Good versus Evil, Life versus Death, "loss weighed against redemption and despair pitted against hope", all lying at the core of this truly faultless King horror story.

What is really captivating me about The Stand are the detailed, spot-on protagonist characterizations. King not only describes his heroes, heroines, and anti-heroes/heroines, he opens them up to us, revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings. Through them, he presents fluent sociological and philosophical analyzes that pinpoint his underlining themes. I am also drawn into and mesmerized by the chillingly bizarre plot twists and turns, as well as the many unexpected supernatural and mystical surprises that are interlaced throughout the novel.

This is definitely not See Spot Run light entertainment, but a gripping page turner that is keeping me awake at night4. However, it is also not a nightmare maker as most other novels of the horror/thriller genre are. True, this is really scary stuff, but King, as he does in all of his novels and short stories, uses the terrors he depicts to relate to his readers his deeper convictions of innate human kindness, the triumphs of good over evil, while, at the same time, starkly uncovering base evil in the world and in our human condition. He goes beyond crass sensationalism for the sake of the thrills and chills and takes, well, takes a stand, providing us with a poignantly thought-provoking read. Insights, if you will, into the depths of our own souls; the very essence of good literature.

King is, in my mind, a whole wonderfully unique genre unto himself. And that is the greatest thrill of all.
1 According to this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review, the latest installment--King calls it "Dark Tower 4.5"—was just released by Scribner: The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel. It already is already #57 on amazon.com and is rising to the top of the best-seller charts. Yeah!
2 May 1991. 1141 pp. New American Library/Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, NY.
3 Here is a link to King's website: www.stephenking.com.
4 In 1994, The Stand was made into an ABC-TV four-episode mini-series directed by Mick Garris, produced by Stephen King, and starring Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, and Jamey Sheridan. I have downloaded it from Netflix and am concurrently watching it as I read the novel. There is also, interestingly enough, an illustrated series of books based upon The Stand, apparently published by Marvel Comics. For more information, please access King's site.

12:31 pm edt          Comments

Monday, May 21, 2012

Motley Stew

Last Tuesday, I wrote about one of my most favorite authors, William Kennedy, referencing a few of my most preferred in his Albany series of novels1. In that posting, I mentioned peeking into my Christmas box of books and sneaking one of them out to enjoy before the busy hustle and bustle of the Holidays set in.

In the opening scene of Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes young Daniel Quinn meets Bing Crosby as he sings, accompanied by Cody, a very talented black piano player. I was instantly and thoroughly intrigued. Thus assured that this would be an absorbing novel and caught up in what as going to happen next, I sank deeper in the oversized, plush pillows of my couch, ready for a full evening’s enjoyable read. And then the phone rang. As I was swept up in a long, whirlwind conversation with a dear friend from high school, Kennedy’s latest literary triumph was forgotten. It sat for a while on top of the books-to-be-finished stack, with Crosby still crooning in mid-stanza.

Last Tuesday, I picked it up again and, this time, could not put it down except, each day for four days, to eat, walk FrankieBernard, and play a set or two of tennis—the weather being absolutely gorgeous the remainder of last week. Most of my time was spent with Kennedy; actually, with Daniel Quinn in his journalistic adventures.

Kennedy, who was born and bred in Albany, New York, where he still lives today, started his writing career well over fifty years ago as a journalist. I am almost convinced that his main protagonist in Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is his alter-ego—that this novel, as well as his earlier seven in the sequence, are semi-autobiographical; almost roman á clefs, if you will. This follows the prime directive when writing, be it fiction or non-fiction: write what you know. And it is evident that Kennedy does; with complete and authoritative knowledge of his subjects, as well as the historical events in which his plot and interwoven sub-plots are laid.

As a young boy, Quinn, the grandson of the protagonist in Quinn's Book, one of the first in The Albany Series—hears Bing Crosby sing as he is first introduced to the nuances of racism and the world of gangsters and drugs. For example, his father, we soon learn, was a “numbers runner”—a gambler who took bets on illegal lotteries. Skip ahead twelve or so years and we meet Quinn again in the Floridita Bar in Havana Cuba in 1957, the pivotal year during the revolution in which Fidel Castro disposed and replaced Batista. Quinn is following in his grandfather’s footsteps to write about a revolutionary—his goal is to meet and interview Castro.

In the bar, Quinn is befriended by Ernest Hemingway, who tells him to write in simple, declarative sentences. “Remove the colon and semicolon keys from your typewriter,” Hemingway declares to the young journalist. “Shun adverbs, strenuously.” Hemingway, if you recall your high school English, was the forerunner and primary proponent of the KIS(S) theory of journalism, literature, and life: Keep it Simple (St***d). This radically changes Quinn’s own life overnight, as he is quickly hurled head-long into revolutionary intrigue and romance.

This is what I’d like to term a testosterone tale, written by a very talented man who in all probability has first-hand knowledge of the experiences of the characters about whom he writes. Kennedy’s story of Quinn’s epic journey carries our hero through the night clubs and jungles of Cuba during the rise of Castro and then propels him through the streets of Albany on the day in June 1968 when Robert Kennedy is fatally shot in Los Angeles. It is a tale of heroic journalism, gun-running woman, drug-running gangsters, crooked politicians, and Albany race riots. Sure to stir the adrenalin and raise the hormonal level of any adventurous reader, male as well as female alike.

This book is definitely not one for the faint-hearted. However, it is a novel well-suited for those adult readers who are looking for a hearty beef stew of a story whose ingredients include intrigue, the multi-faceted lighter and darkest sides of human nature, the power of love, the influence and symbolism of music, mysticism, the stark realties of life, and the complex rewards of revolution and redemption, all simmering in the rich, broiling broth of history.

1 To refresh your memory, here’s the link: http://junejmcinerney.com/2011.12.11 arch.html.
2 © 2011 William Kennedy. Hardback, 328 pp. VIKING Penguin/Penguin Group, Inc., New York, NY.
12:45 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,