Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rereading Stephen King: Different Seasons

Three of this book's four novellas are better known as films, and rightly so. But the fourth has an odd, unsettling power
Tuesday 15 January 2013  

The Shawshank Redemption
Better on film ... Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption. Photograph: ITV / Rex

I once had an argument with somebody about The Shawshank Redemption. It wasn't complicated: they didn't believe me that it was written by Stephen King. When I assured them that it was, and that it was published in the same novella compendium as the story that became the classic 80s movie Stand By Me, it was possible to see their belief system crumble. This film that they loved – like so many people, their favourite film (going by the fact that it's currently rated the best movie of all time over at IMDB – was based on a story by the man who wrote that book about the killer clown. That it says it at the very start of the movie, in the opening credits, is almost immaterial: to most people, it doesn't feel as they imagine a Stephen King story should. There's nothing weird, mystical. There's no horror, and he is, after all, a horror writer. (Of course, now I see that there is horror in the stories, just maybe not the horror that I was used to from him: instead, it's the horror of emotional lurches, of war crimes, of being an overly inquisitive kid, of telling stories designed to unsettle and shock: but it's a horror you have to want to see, I suspect.)

Way back when – and I actually can't remember the first time that I read this, only that I did; and possibly more than once, given the state of my collapsing copy – I didn't read this with any baggage. It's a King book, I thought. And the cover of my edition was about as "generic horror book" as it's possible to find. Based on that cover (bats, full moon, screaming woman, slash of blood), I expected Salems Lot 2: A Lot More. So, I read the stories, but found myself marginally disappointed. Different Seasons is a collection of four novellas, published together because they were, according to King, "mainstream (almost as depressing a word as genre)", and yet sold as any other of his novels was. So, my misunderstanding of what I was coming to read was understandable; my relative dislike my fault, however, not his.

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