Wednesday, September 25, 2013

We All Shine On

Ask me what my favourite book is and I'll stall for time, as much time as you'll give me. There are so many. I have neither read particularly widely nor particularly deeply -- a failing I chalk up to my abortive stint in Honours English Language and Literature, abbreviated as you'd expect -- but when I find an author I like, I tend to get a bit obsessive about him or her. It's not as bad as it used to be: ten years ago I cycled through four or five authors, re-reading books over and over again until some of them were nearly memorized.  Nowadays, I'm always out looking for new authors to add to my stable, and my re-reads are relatively few. (Which brings up the question of why I keep so many books around, if I have little or no intention of picking them up once I'm done with them...there's no answer to that question except shut up.)
I'll stall, I'll equivocate...but if you absolutely insist on an answer, I'll probably say my favourite book of all time is THE SHINING, by Stephen King. Pedestrian, I know...but that novel still gives me nightmares a quarter century after I first read it. Hands down it's the scariest thing I've ever read, and there's a part of me that delights in being safely scared.
If your only exposure to THE SHINING is through Kubrick's film, do yourself a favour and read the source material. The movie is widely considered a masterpiece...sometimes it seems like only Stephen King and I dislike it. Of course King would feel his book is much better, but he gives solid reasons for thinking so, and I concur with each of them. Kubrick's treatment has some wonderfully spooky moments, and a soundtrack that will never be equalled in the realm of horror, but there's no soul. Shelley Duvall is, in King's words, a "scream machine" and little fact, she's so goddamned whiny that I found myself rooting for Jack. Which brings me to Jack Nicholson. The man does great lunatic, there's no denying that. But that's all he does, in any movie I've seen him in, and certainly in this one. His Jack Torrance is nutso from the first reel. The true horror of King's novel lies in watching a loving (though deeply, deeply flawed) father and husband go insane by slow degrees.

I'll make no more criticism about the film. Revere it if you must--many do--but read the book, okay?

Rarely has a story drawn me so completely into its world. I read The Shining at my dad's house, always and forever the home of Adult Content when I was a kid. I don't know how that book came into my possession; it just appeared one day, with its grey nondescript cover promising dark wonders within: open me, Kenny. Read me. Forever...and ever...
What I do remember is my dad scaring the pants off me just by calling my name. Macaw*, he said, and I uttered a startled shriek and practically levitated off the couch. This was quite amusing to my dad, because although he had absolutely no compunction against scaring the ever-loving shit out of me or anyone else, he hadn't set out to do it that time. Nevertheless, off the couch I flew, making a little-girl sound that I would have been ashamed of had I not been so terrified.

Because in reading that book I became Danny Torrance. It wasn't hard to do, even though he was five and I would have been twelve or thirteen. I lacked his psychic gift/curse (and thank God for that...the ability to read thoughts and see the past or future would drive me out of my skull in short order)...but I was a precocious five-year-old myself, with a vivid imagination, and yes, even at that tender age, I had seen violence and felt bad intentions. You don't have to be psychic to feel those, if they're strong enough,
And I had an imaginary friend. It was all too easy to imaginate myself right into the Overlook Hotel, in the dead of winter, alone but for my parents and a collection of...things.

You can go to the place where King was inspired to write the book--the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado--stay in Room 217 (which is actually reputed to be haunted) and watch The Shining on a 24-hour loop. Yeah, I'll get right on that. Even worse would be to go in winter--unlike the Overlook, the Stanley is open year-round--and mentally edit out any other guests (live ones, at least) that might be sharing the place with you. I'd like to think I could handle being alone with Eva in a hotel for a winter. Truth is I'd probably go shack-wacky, though. Especially if it turns out the hotel has a little something to help me along. At least alcohol has no allure for me...

I'm on my second copy of The Shining, having read the first one to tatters. It was the novel I picked to buy in French, being as I am so intimately familiar with the English version. Give me a sentence of any length and while I might not be able to tell you what page it's on, odds are fair I'd give you the correct chapter.

I bring this up because King has just published a sequel, called Doctor Sleep. I'm sixty pages in and totally enthralled. King's greatest strength as a writer is his characters: they live and breathe. His portrait of a grown-up Dan Torrance is very unflattering and very realistic. And the story coalescing around Dan is every bit as interesting and frightening as Mrs. Massey, the woman in 217 who makes an appearance right early in this book.

If you'll excuse me, I have ghosts to chase.

*Macaw--my nickname from earliest childhood. I still answer to it today. Coined, says Dad, because all I ever did was squawk and shit.

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