Stephen King and “Literary” Aspirations

Salon’s John Marks recently talked with Stephen King on the occasion of The Stand‘s 30th anniversary, where King has revealed that he has written “a very long book” called Under the Dome that deals with themes similar to his 1978 opus.

The Q&A has led Splice Today‘s John Lingan to likewise reconsider King’s place. Lingan points out that King has a distinctly American “avoidance of bullshit at all costs” and that he writes “purely for the visceral thrill of storytelling.” But this assessment fails to take into account King’s undeniable literary aspirations, seen in Lisey’s Story and some of his New Yorker stories, which have detracted from his knack for writing can’t-put-down novels for the average Joe. (This tendency was, in part, why I recently stopped reading Just After Sunrise, a muddled collection of tedious short stories that had me pining for the visceral energy within Night Shift and Skeleton Crew.)

It is indeed King’s high concepts and straightforward storytelling quality — Richard Matheson’s unshakable influence — that has made him a compelling writer. But when he strays from his “country don’t mean dumb” philosophy, he’s nowhere near as enthralling. I suppose the last three volumes of The Dark Tower didn’t sit as well with me because these books were written more with the rabid fan base in mind. I’ve remained long convinced that King has a satirical novel in him — and argued this in my review of Blaze. And it’s worth noting that King’s aborted Web serial, The Plant, revealed the roots of this juicy promise. When King stops listening to what the fans want and stops striving for a “literary” territory that, by his own confession, he can’t hack, he’ll evolve naturally and organically as a novelist. Perhaps in ways that none can portend.

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