Yes, I know; some of you are even now saying, “Whaaaa? She’s recommending a bestseller?! I want something more obscure!”
But here’s the thing. King has reached the point in his career where, as one NY editor put it, “He could publish a phone book and it’d make bestseller.” And since all his books are bestsellers, there are people who ignore him. What’s for the masses must not be good.
That dismissal would be a disservice to good, honest writing. Like fellow “pop lit” writer Terry Pratchett, King–even in the midst of his boyish fascination with making horror from human scatology and secretions–sometimes hits literature. Consider these quotes, all from Duma:
“When I look back on that time, it’s with the strangest stew of emotions: love, longing, terror, horror, regret, and the deep sweetness only those who’ve been near death can know. I think it’s how Adam and Eve must have felt. Surely they looked back at Eden, don’t you think, as they started barefoot down the path to where we are now, in our glum political world of bullets and bombs and satellite TV? Looked past the angel guarding the shut gate with his fiery sword? Sure. I think they must have wanted one more look at the green world they had lost, with its sweet water and kind-hearted animals. And its snake, of course.”
“Stay hungry. It worked for Michelangelo, it worked for Picasso, and it works for a hundred thousand artists who do it not for love (although that might play a part) but in order to put food on the table. If you want to translate the world, you need to use your appetites. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. There’s no creation without talent, I give you that, but talent is cheap. Talent goes begging. Hunger is the piston of art.”
When King is on, he’s on. When he’s off, welcome to Under the Dome. A friend and I were talking about King’s massive body of hit-and-miss novels, and we postulated that when he’s writing about something that has personal interest for him–his relationship with his wife and family, for instance (Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story) or people getting hurt in accidents (like in Duma)–he’s spot on. When he’s not that interested, well, can I just offer my opinion that Doctor Sleep sucked hose water?
In Duma Key, King explored something that definitely fascinates him: creativity. Hence, the book has that great mix his regular readers have come to expect of human nature captured so well in tiny sound bites, amidst tight storytelling about strange phenomena.
So, for all the aspiring writers, painters, chefs, and dancers among us, here’s one more quote from a guy who knows: “Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter. ”
Stay hungry, and enjoy.