This is my first stab at Stephen King. Honestly, being the literary snob that I am, I wrote him off years ago as a hack genre writer. In recent times my snobbery has lessened—a little; I'd heard some good things about King so I thought I'd give him a chance. Although I'm not opposed to giving the author's horror a try, I wanted to start with something else; I chose Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” “Apt Pupil,” “The Body,” and “The Breathing Method.”
Throughout these stories, it is clear that King is a wonderful storyteller. He is filled with original ideas and knows how to tell them in fresh ways that keep the reader nailed to the book. His stories move swiftly; it's clear why so many are made into successful movies. Story aside, craft sometimes eludes the author—lack of characterization, poor choices in narrative design, and overall wordiness plague many of these stories. They're very characteristic of the stories one may expect from a Master's level student in writing: great story by a writer with a decent grasp of the trade.
That being said, “The Body,” the story which was adapted into the film Stand by Me, is fabulous. Here King proves he has the talent. Excellent design. Wonderful narrative. Characters that are not easily forgotten. “The Body” is gritty and beautiful, juvenile and intelligent. The Catcher in the Rye be damned, this is the story of growing up. This is the confessional coming of age story real people can relate to. Even if you didn't grow up in the sixties, or walk miles along a railroad track to view a dead body. Even if Gordon Lachance was played by Wil Wheaton in the film. Even if a bunch of literate people tell you that Holden Caulfield is God while pointing out that Stephen King wrote a story about a killer clown. Even so, “The Body” is real. And it's so much more entertaining than feeding ducks at the pond and searching the walls of the Museum of Natural History for graffiti. (For additional bagging on Catcher in the Rye, follow my reviews; there will be more to come.)
As for the other stories, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” had a great premise, but lacked the characters and magic necessary to pull off a fabulous read. “Apt Pupil” was intriguing in theory, but droned on far too long. “The Breathing Method” was pretty good, but felt more like a short story unnecessarily stretched to accommodate the classification of novella.
All good stories, but only “The Body” was great in my opinion. Now which King book do I tackle next? I'm leaning toward The Stand, but I've also been eying On Writing and Duma Key.