This past week, I finished Stephen King’s latest book: 11/22/63. The week before that, I read King’s mid 90’s serial novel The Green Mile. The week before that, I read King’s late 70’s horror masterpiece The Shining.
You could say I’ve been reading a lot Stephen King lately.
One of the things I noticed when reading 11/22/63 is that King finally seems to have figured out how to write fiction. He simply knows what words to put where to keep you reading. But that doesn’t mean his work is good. Now, I really liked 11/22/63. But I loved The Green Mile. And I will forever be affected by The Shining.
In The Shining, King is still figuring out this whole writing thing, and it’s apparent on the page. The writing is awkward and clumsy at times. King takes chances with unique phrasing
and narrative techniques. He wrestles with the possibilities that are available to him, and it works. The Shining is the most terrifying book I have ever read. After reading thirty pages on the subway, I was unable to order coffee or read submissions. I was shaken.
In The Green Mile, King tackles a very serious challenge – a literary and suspenseful story about an older man looking back on his past. There isn’t much action in it, but I was on the edge of my (subway) seat the entire time. Again, King’s prose here really helped accentuate the right aspects of the book.
In 11/22/63, King’s writing has become formulaic and universal. There are parts of 11/22/63 that are truly gripping and very, very real, but there are other parts of it where the story fall flat because King is utilizing his perfect writing. And while that may work all of the time, it’s not necessarily appropriate every time.
So what I’m learning from diving headfirst into the deep, deep pool that is The Works Of Stephen King is that prose and plot must always be dancing with each other. When King adapts his writing to suit his story and vice-versa, the effect shines. When he doesn’t, when he sticks with his tried and true prose style, well, it doesn’t fall flat – it is Stephen King, after all – but it simply doesn’t work as perfectly.
But, of course, everyone has their own opinion on craft vs. plot. What about you? Would you endure a terrible plot because the writing is beautiful? Would you drag through clunky prose because the story is great?