The Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren't even alive for? This book was published eight years before I was even born. But whatever. I still pine for the
Or I should say, he had a way of doing that. These days, it seems like King has gotten to point where he's writing just to write, and writing horror because it's what's expected of him. His recent works--in my admittedly limited experience, that is, I've by no means read them all--are mostly stories that go nowhere and say nothing, offering the reader cheap chills and thrills, but nothing to feel or to think too deeply about. And after having read such abortions as Duma Key (a steaming pile of shit) and Under the Dome (socially astute, perhaps, but seriously lacking in resolution and, well, a fucking point), getting back to roots and reading one of King's early novels is an almost painful reminder of the writer he can be.
Part of what makes The Shining so good is that, unlike most novels of this type, which offer a slow build meant to maximize suspense, this is instead a novel of constant terror. Even when the characters are going about their daily lives, more or less, there is an undercurrent of dread running just beneath the surface that really gets under your skin and is punctuated only by scenes of balls-out fear and panic.
And another thing that makes this book so good, what makes it truly scary, I think, is that you can never be entirely sure what's really going on. Is Danny actually having visions, or is he just a lonely little boy with an overactive imagination? Is the hotel haunted--or possessed, or whatever--or are these imaginings simply the result of fear and stress and isolation? Is the hotel really bad, an evil entity twisting Jack's mind, or is he simply going mad? The story is a constantly and subtly evolving thing you can't quite pin down until the very last chapters.
But even in the end, you have to wonder: is this really a story about an evil hotel, or is it a story about a man's descent into insanity? On the surface, it's both, of course, but personally I feel that, deeper than that, it's an analogy for a man being destroyed by his own inner-demons. After all, there is a reason the Overlook chooses Jack as its instrument. He's an asshole. Jack Torrance is a self-righteous, self-assured, over-educated, pompous, entitled prick, who holds to the belief that everything has been done to him, rather than accepting that he is in any way responsible for his own failures and misfortunes. He is a self-destructive alcoholic with a bad temper who nevertheless refuses to entirely shoulder the blame for the situation his family now faces. And when the hotel begins to prey on his alcoholism and irrational anger, and his behavior becomes erratic and even dangerous, he refuses to leave, or to at least send Wendy and Danny away, because ultimately he cares more about his goddamn self-image than about his wife and son.
In the end, Jack Torrance is the architect of his own destruction. And that is one of the best things about this book. From a literary standpoint, anyway. It's exactly what I mean when I say that Stephen King used to have something to say. Because in the real world, there are no haunted hotels--or evil hotels, whatever--despite what the History Channel might try to sell you when they're not busy covering Bigfoot or this fucking guy .There are no malevolent supernatural forces hell-bent on bringing you to ruin for whatever mysterious reason. In the real world, the only evil forces that exist are all too human, and we don't need to encounter any possessed real estate for our inner-demons to get the better of us. And that is exactly what King shows us with this book. By making Jack ultimately responsible for his own downfall, even in the face of an evil supernatural force, King is highlighting an essential human truth: there is darkness and evil all around us all the time, and inside of us all the time, but we are the only ones who can allow it to destroy us, and we are the only ones who can save ourselves from it.
Kobra Kid, signing off.
[You can't stop the signal.]
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