22. A book by an author you have never given a fair shot: The Shining by Stephen King
I don’t know where I got the idea that Stephen King books are pulpy, but it has been set in my head for a while. I don’t know if it is a knee-jerk reaction to a prolific author, thinking that anyone who writes that much that quickly must be writing insubstantial books. It might be my subconscious perceptions about the horror genre and the authors who write it. Or I might have just been soured knowing how many campy adaptations of King’s work are out there. But I will be honest that I was expecting a certain amount of schlock when I picked up The Shining, his third novel, published in 1977, and his first major hit. I was expecting some pulp.
I could not have been more thrilled to find an incredibly strong book with stirring prose and depth to pair with a fast-moving horror plot. And I can attest that the horror strikes home, because I have been having some very intense dreams this last week. All of which is to say, I was very wrong about Stephen King, and very wrong about The Shining.
At over six hundred pages, many of them filled with horrifying abuse and violence, this is not a book to take on lightly. But the lush prose and creative imagery keeps this from being a slog, and the characters kept me engaged until the end. I have never seen the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation of The Shining, but from what I have heard, the characterization there leaves something to be desired in sacrifice to imagery. But this book spent so long building the relationships between the formerly-alcoholic Jack, his wife Wendy, and their psychically-gifted son Danny, that the horror scenes carried so much more weight. I liked all three of these people and wanted to see them safe and well, which in my mind is one of the most important ingredients in a long-form horror story.
For those who have not picked it up from cultural osmosis, the story is this: writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance has lost his teaching job and has one last chance: accepting a job as winter caretaker for a remote hotel that is blocked off in the snowy mountains for several months every year. He brings his wife and five year old son, and they live in isolation until ghostly beings start to awaken in the haunted Overlook Hotel and come for Jack.
It bears mentioning that the three of them are not stuck in the hotel until at least one third of the way into the page count. This space is spent slowly teasing out the intricacies of their personalities, relationships, and situation and is probably my favorite part of the novel, building slow, careful suspense. Honestly, once the explicitly scary things starting happened, I lost a bit of interest and thought the middle third could be tightened a bit. But the conclusion made it feel very worth it, the inevitable disasters that had been built up from the first page and crawled towards across the whole book. Deeply messed up, scary as hell, and beautifully written.
I don’t know if I will dive into more Stephen King soon; this one was an intense ride to get through and I can only take so much brutality in my media at a time. But I am very glad that I stretched my reading boundaries on this and at some point in the future will be thrilled to try his work again.
Would I Recommend It: Oh yes, but with trigger warnings for abuse, violence, addiction and racism.