When 24-year-old Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse, veteran journalist Scott McGrath is determined to get to the bottom of it, even though all signs point to suicide. McGrath, a once celebrated investigative reporter, is still reeling from his public fall from grace years earlier, a discrediting prompted by his repeating an anonymous and disparaging tip about Ashley’s father, Stanislav Cordova, a fastidiously reclusive horror film director, who sued McGrath for slander over the remark.
Intrigued by Ashley’s death, and still hung up on the story that sunk his career, McGrath finds himself teaming up with an unlikely duo of “meddling kids“—Hopper, a drug dealer whom Ashley contacted shortly before her death, and Nora, a coat-check girl/aspiring actress who was one of the last people to see Ashley alive. The group’s research takes them deep into the world of Stanislav Cordova, an investigation author Marisha Pessl relays through both narrative and a series of photos, screen grabs of online news stories and pages from Cordova-themed message boards. The man that emerges is a Hitchcock-meets-Eli-Roth eccentric whose brief but cultish career left a trail of scarred employees and rabid fans in its wake. Continue reading
Walking to work sometimes—my office is in Times Square—I think idly to myself about the benefits of a post-apocalyptic world. Fewer people. More space. The environment would probably get better. With any luck, Texas would be wiped off the map entirely. “A plague hits, and half of us survive,” I think to myself as I push past Elmos and Darth Vaders lined up like Wal-Mart greeters on 40th Street. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”
For secret misanthropes like myself, Stephen King’s The Stand is as fascinating as it is horrifying. Felled by a government-created (and accidentally released) superflu known as Captain Trips, the U.S. (and theoretically global) population is eviscerated—only about 1 in 10 people prove immune. Those that survive find themselves cast adrift in a world absent their loved ones, and are scared by the arrival of vivid mass dreams, dreams of a faceless man and a kindly old woman, the former evil, the latter virtuous, the former Satanic, the latter Godly. Propelled by their visions, the country’s remaining residents gather together in two separate locations—Boulder, Colorado for the good’uns, and Las Vegas, natch, for the bad—where they begin to negotiate the formation of new societies, and to prepare for a final showdown between good and evil. Continue reading
If you’ve read this blog in the past, you’ll find that I enjoy me some Stephen King. He’s like a palette-cleanser, an old faithful I turn to between other books—more challenging books or less challenging books or books that are intellectually fulfilling but don’t quite suck me in. King for me is like a favorite record. You don’t listen to it every day, but when you do it’s like rediscovering music.
In the grand scheme of the King ouvre, Joyland is a throwaway. It’s more a novella than a novel, almost a campfire story. It occupies a limited universe, for the most part a single point in time, and lacks even one Maine resident, or rip in the space-time continuum (though there is a psychic kid). The book is short and sweet, and its supernatural elements are understated, almost to a fault. Joyland is the kind of novel I imagine King dreams up at a red light, or on a long elevator ride. “So…what if there was a carny legend about a haunted funhouse…” and then the signal goes green and he drives off. Bam. Novel.
And essentially, that’s what the book is about. Told in flashback by narrator/protagonist Devin Jones—now in his 60s—Joyland is the story of a summer and fall Dev spent working at Joyland, a seaside amusement park in North Carolina. While there, Dev makes friends, mourns a breakup and learns what it means to “wear the fur” on a 100-degree day in August. But throughout his time at Joyland, Dev is also haunted by the story of a girl who was murdered in the Horror House by her boyfriend. Carny lore is that her ghost still appears there to this day. Continue reading
As superhuman abilities go, mind-reading has to be one of the worst. I mean yes, it’d be nice to call people on their bullshit, and the bar-trick possibilities are endless, but for the most part humans are vile creatures, and our thoughts the headquarters of depravity. Add to that telepathic stew an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, plus a haunted hotel bent on your family’s destruction, and it’s no wonder that Danny Torrance, the child clairvoyant at the center of Stephen King’s The Shining, grew up to be Dan Torrance, an alcoholic and immoral drifter who drinks to dull the memories and manifestations of his own power.
Releasing a fiction sequel more than thirty years after its predecessor is the kind of gambit only Stephen King can pull off (though credit is due to the movie adaptation he’s so consistently talked down) and King, fortunately, seems to recognize the absurdity of trying to pick up where we left off, literally in ashes (in the book, the hotel blows up). And So Doctor Sleep is cast forward — through Danny’s troubled teenage years and his struggle to forget the Overlook (uh, YEAH), and into the present, where Obama is president, the Internet exists, and an adolescent boy band called ‘Round Here is at peak popularity. Even Twitter gets a mention.
In the present, Dan has learned – mostly through drinking – to temper his visions, and wanders from town to town doing odd jobs until some drunken episode forces him to pack up and move on. It’s only after settling down and getting sober that he is forced to face his shining head-on, and in so doing stumbles across a young girl in need of his help. Continue reading
Rarely in writing this blog do I stop to consider the intellectual implications of my book choices. Do I come across as well read? And not in the sense of saying “Yup, read that shit” to 75% of the books in Barnes & Noble’s “Buy 2, Get 1 Free!” pile (which I can, and do, say) but in the sense of actually using books to improve upon my understanding of the world, or to expand my horizons or whatever.
The short answer is: probably not. I do, on occasion, read books tied to current events, or on subjects about which I hope to learn more. But for the most part my choices are made in the interest of sheer entertainment. In all media really, I’m more MTV than PBS.
So it’s with that enormous disclaimer that I admit how much I fucking love Stephen King. Which isn’t to say that King isn’t smart, or that his books don’t stretch the mind—they certainly stretch the imagination—but only that I feel a certain guilt whenever I start out the week with a fat King paperback, sort of like sitting down to a dinner comprised entirely of chocolate.
I started Bag of Bones, a 1998 King novel, a few weeks ago because I was heading home for the holidays, and love nothing more than to scare the shit out of myself in my mom’s amazingly silent suburban house. Scary stories that struggle to make an impact through the unceasing din of Brooklyn street traffic have an entirely different effect on me out there, which is to say I spent each night over the Christmas weekend convincing myself that various unfamiliar shadows weren’t intruders/ghosts/mystical beings from another dimension. Continue reading