Remembering Guy N. Smith

Bats, snakes and alligators -- OH MY!
Bats, snakes and crabs — OH MY!

2 summers ago on eBay I stumbled upon — quite by happenstance — a trashy horror novel by the name of CANNIBALS. The cover art was so wildly compelling, graphic and politically incorrect that resistance proved futile. Luckily, I was the winning bidder and devoured Cannibals (no pun intended) as soon as it arrived. It was my first foray into the twisted and macabre mind of Guy N. Smith, who upon further research I discovered was a rather prolific writer of pulpy horror fiction. Mr. Smith thrived in the ’70s and ’80s when paperbacks from hell were at the peak of their powers, and Cannibals became the first in a long line of Guy N. Smith books that I soon started collecting. Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away at the age of 81 on December 24, 2020. Similar to Richard Laymon, Guy N. Smith was one of the biggest driving forces in my horror fiction fandom. It’s only fitting then to highlight some of his work and commemorate the man who had one hell of a career. Whether he wrote about killer animals or doomsday plague-infested nightmare scenarios, Guy N. Smith was a true master of the macabre.

CRABS R US

Guys first horror book was a real howl sorry)
Guy’s first horror book was a real howl (sorry)

Born on November 21, 1939, Guy Newman Smith has published approximately 4,000 articles and wrote over 120 books during his prolific career. His first horror novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, was published in 1974. However, it was Night of the Crabs, released in 1976, that gave Guy N. Smith his first big hit. Based off James Herbert’s The Rats (the cover admits as much), Night of the Crabs would go on to spawn no less than SEVEN sequels. The last of which was published on June 22, 2019 as The Charnel Caves. Talk about milking a series based on killer mutated crabs!

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Night of the Crabs was re-released in 2017 with a new introduction penned by the legend himself.

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John Steinbeck this aint. Just good ol campy fun!
John Steinbeck this ain’t. Just good ol’ campy fun!

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Guy’s hilarious dedication in Night of the Crabs. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!

You wont find ANYTHING like this any more...
You won’t find ANYTHING like this these days…
Here are just some of the Crabs books that I own
Here’s most of my Crabs collection
I love this variant cover of KILLER CRABS
An awesome variant cover of KILLER CRABS. Stylish!
You just dont see cool shit like this any more
Totally cheesy yet totally irresistible :P

MORE THAN JUST CRABS

Gruesome!
Gruesome!

Although perhaps best known for his Crabs series, Guy N. Smith wrote about more than just murderous crustaceans. Take, for example, his brutal take on cannibalism with the aptly (and creatively) named Cannibals. Do not read it before eating! Trust me on that one.

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If rain-soaked creepy carnivals and possessed evil wooden dolls float your boat, you might want to check out Guy’s Manitou Doll. Personally, I found it slightly disappointing but your mileage may vary. Undeniably striking and amazing artwork, though!

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According to the summary on Goodreads, Bloodshow is about “a ruined castle in the Highlands that serves as a blatant tourist trap. Its dungeons are stuffed with fake horrors. The Werewolf, the Cannibal, the Torturer, the Executioner, the Vampire… all are worked by electricity for cheap thrills. At first. But real evil has lurked for centuries beneath the vaults. Now the Laird of Benahee, Satan’s undead henchman, rises to take his revenge, using tricks to inflict ultimate horror in all its forms. And in this domain of the damned even death is not the end…” Sounds absolutely vicious and bonkers. In other words, sounds like Guy N. Smith.

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I just bought this book the other day! Can’t wait to read it. The Festering sounds like a classic B-Movie in the best way possible. One of those trashy VHS horror movie boxes you couldn’t help but gawk at while perusing the horror section at your local rental store back in the late ’80s. “For Mike and Holly Mannion, the tumbledown cottage in a quiet country village seemed the ideal retreat from the rat race. But when a team of contractors is hired to drill a water-well, a deadly plague is unleashed — a macabre, terrifying entity that had lurked in the bowels of the earth for centuries. The Festering Death had risen from its burial place.” Sounds like a fun lazy Sunday afternoon read!

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When it comes to “when animals attack” stories, Guy N. Smith was pretty damn reliable. From the ones I’ve read thus far, most of them hit the mark. Some of that stuff is legit nightmare fuel! I haven’t read Abomination yet, but I’ve heard this is one of his better works.

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Alligators is currently my second favorite Guy N. Smith book, trailing only Cannibals by a small margin. That book is relentless, sadistic and demented. That one scene with the family stuck in bed with the little leaping snapping baby alligator haunts me to this day. Snakes, on the other hand, was the first Guy N. Smith killer animal book that didn’t quite work for me. It’s not bad but it felt a little paint-by-numbers, especially when compared to Alligators. Still decent, but definitely more middle-of-the-road fare.

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The savagery continues in Throwback, where much of the population is somehow reverted to more primitive means, with a few “lucky” unaffected trying to survive the mayhem. Carnivore flips the script — the hunted now becomes the hunter. Wildlife gets its revenge on a cursed estate.

Another creepy and striking cover
Another creepy and striking cover

The Island is about a haunted island plagued with a sordid history. 200 years later, a lonely widower moves there and all manner of madness hits the fan when the past comes barging back.

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Thirst follows the exploits of chemist Ron Blythe, the man responsible for creating the world’s deadliest weed killer spray. While being transported in a huge lorry, it accidentally crashes into a local reservoir, poisoning the entire water supply of Birmingham. “Now with thousands of people suffering and dying, his conscience forces him to find an antidote. Unfortunately, he gets stranded inside Birmingham, now sealed off, and full of anarchists, escape criminals and weed killer-poisoned sufferers from the Thirst, all of which turn the city into a hell inside England.”

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I love the back covers for these old nasties! Thirst was originally published in 1980. You won’t find novels like this in book stores today.

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One of his earliest efforts and arguably his most (in)famous novel outside of the Crabs series, The Slime Beast is what sleazy pulpy horror fiction is all about. The summary is enough to evoke nostalgic memories of staying up late as a kid watching low budget monster horror movies. “Professor Lowson is searching the Wash for King John’s lost treasure. Instead he awakes a reptilian creature buried in the mud, which seems to have arrived on this planet in a meteorite. It starts wandering around, killing and eating anybody it comes across. Lowson wants to capture it alive but his companions want to kill it before it kills anyone else. Soon the locals are involved — there can only be a catastrophic finale.”

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The Sucking Pit sports a proud blurb in which Stephen King once deemed it “the all-time pulp horror classic title.” This is, admittedly, a bit of tricky advertising. Title can easily be interpreted as book, as in this is a classic book. But King literally meant title. The Sucking Pit. A great title, indeed. But a great book? Your mileage may vary.

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It’s as suitably ridiculous as the title would suggest. Good ol’ Guy. His seedy material would never fly in today’s politically correct world. These sadistic stories serve as mini time machines, transporting the reader back to a relic age when there were no restrictions and no holds barred. A fair warning though, and this goes for Richard Laymon as well: after reading any one of Guy’s works, I find I need a palate cleanser. Don’t read his stuff back to back because you may tumble down a rabbit hole and never resurface. His twisted tales can get pretty damn depraved. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…

DISNEY?!

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In 2019, while rummaging at a local Goodwill, I came across a Guy N. Smith book. But it wasn’t a horror book… oh no… it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

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Yes, believe it or not, in addition to his horror novels, he also wrote various Disney adaptations. What a funny guy, that Guy!

How do you go from that to that? I have no words...
How do you go from that to THAT?!?  I have no words…

A PROPHET??

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On March 27, 2020, Guy N. Smith wrote an interesting post on his website. It related to the Corona Virus and his old 1978 book, Bats Out of Hell. Take a look…

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Wow. Please, may none of Guy’s other horror novels ever come to fruition. If I ever see a giant crab clicking its way to shore, I’m booking it. Screw that shit!

Love the font and colors used here
Love the font and colors used here

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This is the comment I left him on that same post. Sadly, a day before Christmas 2020 Guy N. Smith left the world due to a UTI and complications related to COVID-19. Mr. Smith was 81 years old. So sad at the irony that COVID-19 would take him out.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Guy N. Smith’s legacy lives on. He was huge on crafting books about apocalyptic plagues and killer nasties. For better or worse, no one churned them out at the rate quite like he did in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a unique time in horror history, one in which we’ll probably never experience again. Thankfully, we can still experience them by going through the incredible backlog of books that he has afforded us horror hounds. I currently own 17 Guy N. Smith books, and have not read most of them yet. It will be a (guilty) pleasure to go through each of them in the years to come. His books do pop up on eBay frequently, so check some out if you’re into pulpy horror fiction. He isn’t the greatest horror writer who ever lived and probably not even close, but he sure was damn entertaining. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, really.

Farewell Guy. Thank you for all your crazy books
Farewell, Guy. Thank you for all your crazy books!

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)

John Steinbeck | September 1993 | 107 pages
John Steinbeck | September 1993 | 107 pages

Often considered one of the greatest American writers of classic literature, John Steinbeck is an author I made a point to finally read in 2021. He’s most well known for writing The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. I might have read the latter in high school, but I can’t remember if I truly did or not. Weighing in at a scant 107 pages, it’s more of a novella (a short novel or a long short story) and was the perfect candidate following my reading of Stephen King’s 1,000+ page tome, 11/22/63. Not to mention Of Mice and Men was referenced in 11/22/63. Combined with my desire to start going through Steinbeck’s catalog, the decision was easy. The cover you see above was published in the fall of 1993, but Steinbeck wrote it in 1937. It’s a classic for a reason, and because of how brief and to the point it is, it’s one of those timeless books I can see myself rereading every couple years or so.

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Taking place in California’s dusty vegetable fields during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men follows the journey of George Milton and Lennie Small as they travel from place to place looking for work. Steinbeck does a fantastic job exploring the themes of loneliness, isolation and pie-in-the-sky dreams that may or may not ever come to fruition. It’s a harrowing look at how fast things can snowball and how the line between hope and delusion can quickly blur before you know it.

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The story sets the mood right off the bat by painting a picture in the reader’s mind of rolling hillsides, green pastures, sparkling brooks and woodland creatures milling lazily about. The land is beautiful, holding much potential to cultivate and harvest, but you also get this niggling sense that the land is so vast that man can easily become lost in its grandeur.

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We quickly learn that George runs the show while Lennie is a dim-witted giant who doesn’t know his own strength. George knows he’d be better off without Lennie dragging him down — Lennie’s constant lapses in judgment has gotten the two of them in plenty of hot water before. At the same time, George cares for the big lug and Lennie’s reliable companionship perhaps overrides whatever better lifestyle George could muster if he were on his own. George accepts this burden, for better or worse. He sure as hell isn’t shy to let Lennie have it, as seen above!

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Lennie is well aware of the fact that he is a burden on George, even threatening multiple times to leave George once and for all so that George can be free and live the kind of life he deserves. But deep down, no matter how much trash talking and tongue lashing George does, he has a soft spot for the big guy and doesn’t want to go on without him.

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Their chemistry and back and forth bickering leaps off the pages. They’re like an old married couple! The dialogue somehow feels real and relevant, even 80+ years later. A truly remarkable feat that speaks to Steinbeck’s talent. And I love the little description at the end there. Really paints a beautiful picture of the landscape in the cool of the evening. You can almost feel that little night breeze on the back of your neck.

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George is constantly sticking up for Lennie and fighting his battles. He’s every bit Lennie’s guardian as he is his companion — if not more. When the boss wants to hear Lennie speak for himself, rather than George being his mouthpiece at every turn, George lies and tells the boss they’re cousins. Later in that same chapter, Lennie says to George, “You said I was your cousin.” To which George hilariously replies, “Well, that was a lie. An’ I’m damn glad it was. If I was a relative of yours I’d shoot myself.”

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Curley’s wife is soon introduced, a floozy willing to put out for anyone with two legs. Lennie is a bit smitten by her, George quickly recognizes this and some entertaining dialogue ensues.

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The theme of loneliness and isolation is well explored here, as George admits he ain’t got no one. How he sees so many guys up and down the road, just traveling by themselves, that they get so lonely and mean and want to throw fists all the time. He also admits that while Lennie is a nuisance more times than not, he wouldn’t know what to do without him. “But you get used to goin’ around with a guy an’ you can’t get rid of him.” With the underlying implication that he wouldn’t want to get rid of Lennie, even if he could. Some deep, powerful stuff there.

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Slim asks George what happened in Weed, and George lets his guard down to tell. Yep, Lennie is no stranger to fucking up.

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This is one of my favorite scenes from the book. The part where Crooks starts talking. It’s incredibly introspective and self-aware. And once again, the theme of isolation and loneliness pops up.

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Crooks and Lennie share a poignant moment while George and the rest of the boys go to town. Lennie shares his dream of living off the fat of the land with George, and Crooks gives him a piece of his mind. Saying that he’s seen far too many guys walk this well beaten path before. Big delusional dreams that always amount to nothing. Melancholy is an understatement! Damn, Crooks, don’t hold back none now…

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Eventually Curley’s wife pops by. Of course, she’s nothing but trouble with a capital T. Lennie tells her that George promises to let him tend the rabbits. The Jezebel has the audacity to say, “Well, if that’s all you want, I might get a couple rabbits myself.” OH! Zinger! I jumped in my seat and cried out, “GEORGIE BOY, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE NEED YA!?” Now that’s a sign a book has got you hook, line and sinker.

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Crooks does his best to step in, but Curley’s wife quickly puts him in his place. Still, you can’t help but admire his effort. You also can’t help but feel bad for Crooks when he sits down, closes up and a deep resignation sinks in. There’s nothing more that he or anyone else can do to help Lennie. They all become prisoners of the moment, and the one in charge is a five year old toting a fully loaded gun. What happens next? If you haven’t read this book yet, I’ll leave it to you to find out on your own :)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I read Of Mice and Men in one sitting , completely entertained and enthralled from beginning to end. The relationship dynamic between George and Lennie had me hooked from the beginning. The dialogue is a blast to read. Although a very simple and straightforward story, it is also quite deep and profound in many ways. Steinbeck wrote this masterpiece over 80 years ago yet it still resonates with countless readers to this very day, in spite of the changes that have occurred over the past 8+ decades. Some things, like loneliness and isolation, still affect (and plague) us in 2021 as much now as it did back then. It’s no wonder Of Mice and Men has this timeless feel to it. What is the fine line between hope and delusion? Does hope keep us going, even if it’s false hope? What happens when we chase something we know deep down will likely never come to fruition? Are we all just hamsters spinning endlessly in a wheel? The book is open for interpretation and discussion. I’ll leave it to you to form your own. I can’t wait to read Steinbeck’s other works, but I have a sneaky suspicion Of Mice and Men will be difficult to top. An all-time classic that begs to be read, and somehow remains relevant almost 85 years after it was written.

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11/22/63 (Stephen King)

Stephen King | February 2016 | 1,089 pages
Stephen King | February 2016 | 1,089 pages

During the quarantine last year, when much of the world was forced to shut down, I managed to cross off two firsts simultaneously. Number one, I read my first Stephen King book. And number two, It was the first 1,000+ page book I’ve read. It was an arduous journey — 1,153 pages to be precise. Something I never thought I would do, but I did it. It took me exactly 3 weeks; each day I read roughly 55 pages. It was a satisfying experience. In my daily midnight to 3 AM excursions, Stephen King transported me to the dreary town of Derry where several kids (and later adults) were haunted by a sinister entity. I knew it was only the beginning of my Stephen King reading experience. Earlier this month, I finished my second Stephen King 1,000+ page tome, 11/22/63. Prior to reading it, I’d read a bunch of horror paperbacks so I was feeling the need to switch things up. In addition, I had heard many great things about 11/22/63. It’s about a guy who travels back in time in an attempt to stop the John F. Kennedy assassination. But that’s just scratching the surface. There’s so much more to the book than just preventing one of history’s most infamous moments. King filled every nook and cranny with lots of heart and drama. It’s NOT a horror book, by the way, so don’t expect any creepy clowns… although… well, I’ll get to that later…

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A BLAST FROM THE PAST

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Right away we find out that Jake Epping, our main character, is divorced in large part because he was unable to fill his partner’s emotional quotient.

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The story quickly kicks in gear when Al Templeton, the owner and operator of Al’s Diner (home of the Famous Fatburger), buzzes Jake. Lung cancer is now on the menu, and he requests Jake’s presence that very night at the diner. Not one to turn down a dying man’s last wish, Jake heads over…

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Al’s Diner is home to more than just the Famous Fatburger, for deep in the pantry one might stumble across a magical wormhole. Each time you step through, it always takes you back to 11:58 AM on the 9th of September 1958. Al requests Jake to try it himself, as if traveling through time is as nonchalant as trying on a new pair of shoes. I love how King portrays Al’s desperation. “I need you to do this.” Obviously, there are more stakes at play here than just “Hey bro, check out my magical pantry! Travel back to 1958 for shits and giggles!”

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After Jake returns to present day 2011, he has so many questions swirling through his mind. He cracks the code on Al’s Famous Fatburger, and how Al has been able to sell it for so cheap for so long…

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Al starts going through the benefits of traveling back to 1958. He proposes that one would have to wait 43 years to prevent 9/11, and that Jake would be pushing 80 by the time 2001 rolls around. But 1963… 1963 would be less than 5 years away… manageable enough for one, hypothetically speaking, to prevent a certain assassination…

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Due to Al’s lung cancer, his time is up. Jake’s time, however, is now (or then, as it were). The reason for this “social visit” becomes readily clear; Al wants Jake to go back in time to save John F. Kennedy. King pierces Jake’s soul, as well as ours, with these four haunting words: “John Kennedy can live.” Instant goosebumps!

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A hell of a sales pitch indeed! Al pours it on, highlighting the ramifications beyond just saving JFK. A domino effect can also include saving Martin Luther King Jr., stopping the race riots and maybe even stopping Vietnam. After reluctantly accepting the challenge, Al gives Jake the keys to the kingdom as well as his notebook documenting key notes during his various travels to the past. This sets up the rest of the story and Jake’s journey into the great unknown.

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Love King’s Easter eggs in this book!

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Jake quickly learns that 2011 lingo doesn’t quite jive in 1958. It could even possibly land him in some hot water if used in the wrong circle, so Jake has to adapt to his new (old) setting and be extra careful. Similar to Marty McFly, no one can know that he’s a visitor from the future…

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Another fun callback is when Jake Epping visits good ol’ Derry, the principal town in Stephen King’s It. Fans of that book will definitely recall the uptight owner, Norbert Keene.

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Jake encounters several of Derry’s denizens. Part of It takes place in 1958, so how convenient for Mr. King to merge these two worlds momentarily. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to a sequel in book form.

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One of the best parts of 11/22/63 is the brief interaction Jake has with Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh. Oh Mr. King, you sly devil you. What a clever way to bring back two of your most popular characters ever created.

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Richie and Bevvie weren’t the only ones to jump when Jake said “Clowns joke around a lot, too.” There are moments in any form of entertainment, whether it’s sports, movies or books, where you’ll gasp or jump in your seat out of excitement or satisfaction. This was definitely one of those moments. The Stephen King multiverse is in full effect here! Beverly follows up with a question regarding a turtle (readers of It will understand). Jake doesn’t get it, and there’s an amusing reference of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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The second paragraph in the picture above shows what kind of writer Stephen King is capable of being when he is in the zone. Just beautifully stated.

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Before trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from gunning down JFK, Jake goes on a side mission to stop someone else. I liked how he laid out the options and then broke down the pros and cons of each one.

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Another callback to Shawshank :)

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As I said, 11/22/63 is not a horror novel but it does get a bit creepy whenever Derry is front and center.

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King really sells the seediness and wretchedness of Derry well.

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Those descriptions of Derry…

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One of the most haunting scenes from It is referenced here. If Mike Hanlon were around to read this, he would suffer a massive episode of PTSD!

Kudos to Annoric for this amazing art!
Kudos to Annoric for this amazing art!

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I minored in theatre arts in college (holy crap it’ll be 20 years this August since my first day of college). Jake teaches in 1958 at a high school to kill time, and he also directs the school’s play, Of Mice and Men. These passages of what it’s like to be involved in a school play is, to my experience, super accurate. It makes me wonder if Stephen King was a bit of a thespian in his own day. It certainly wouldn’t shock me as these parts are written by someone who seems to have first hand acting experience. It is pretty loose early on during the earlier rehearsals. Then opening night comes and wow, everyone is running around backstage like a chicken with its head cut off. Fun times. Reading about all this certainly brought back a wave of fond acting memories. How ironic that King took me back to my own past for a bit there…

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Jake Epping is flawed, yet you can’t help but root for him as he plays “Mr. Good Samaritan From the Future.” A book is only as good as how much you care about what happens to the main characters, and the ones in 11/22/63 definitely held my interest.

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Love this part! What a perfect and fitting way to close the chapter on Derry in this book.

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#37 made me grin. The answer is E, because Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The House of 7 Gables, not tables. You’ve got to be shitting me, indeed.

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Ah, The Catcher in the Rye. I loved it when I read it back in high school some 20+ years ago. It’s definitely on my to read again list, along with other classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Old Man and the Sea, Across Five Aprils, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Lord of the Flies.

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Although our protagonist soon falls in love with living in the past, King doesn’t romanticize the “good old days” of the late ’50s and early ’60s. You see a lot of the ugliness that plagued the people of that time, such as segregation and racial tension. It’s not done overtly, but it’s definitely there, and I appreciated that King did that.

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One of my favorite parts!

Silent Mike, Holy Mike...
Silent Mike, Holy Mike…
Silent Mike was a real character in Kings life
Silent Mike was a real character in King’s life. Neat
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Speaking of The Simpsons, I’ve noticed recently that the writers of that show clearly had a thing for JFK. Is that Homer there, or Jake Epping? In fact, ya know, I’ve never seen Homer and Jake at the same time. Hmmm… :P

Justice for JFK!
Justice for JFK!
These JFK scenes happened in different episodes
These JFK scenes happened in different episodes

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Jake’s brutal honesty with himself is inspiring. Captivating. He admits he’s disgusted by this woman but quickly acknowledges that she is a prisoner of her time (as well as her choices). It’s a simple insight but a powerful one. As I said earlier, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in the distant past. King wasn’t shy to remind the reader about that.

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King is absolutely a fan of Ray Bradbury. Often considered as one of the greatest American writers to have ever lived, Ray’s classic short story, A Sound of Thunder, is often credited as the origin of the term “butterfly effect.” That’s a chaos theory in which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world could create a hurricane on the opposite side of the globe.

This story appears in The Golden Apples of the Sun
Featured in The Golden Apples of the Sun
Cant wait to read this!
Can’t wait to read this!

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See, King’s no doubt a Bradbury fanboy :)

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King’s afterword also reveals his affinity for Jack Finney.

I bought this right after reading the afterword
What a gorgeous contrasting cover :)

So King endorses Time & Again as the greatest time travel novel of all time, eh? [You’re fired -Ed.]. We’ll see about that, good sir! Naturally, I bought a copy immediately after reading King’s afterword. Naturally.

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Speaking of time travel, after finishing the Pocket edition of 11/22/63, my copy was a bit beat up. I traded it in to a used book store, knowing that I wanted to get a good copy of the original bigger edition. The cool thing about the original big edition is the cover. Flip the front cover and you’ll see…

Badass! The Pocket edition doesnt have tjos
Badass! The Pocket edition doesn’t have this

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One day I was at a somewhat local Friends (of the Library) Book Store. If you consider a one hour drive “somewhat local,” that is! [More like somewhat very loco! -Ed./the wifey]. Most towns have a Friends of the Library store; they’re awesome because you can get books for really cheap, or relatively cheap anyhow. They had the big edition of 11/22/63 in mint condition, but it was $10 and at the time I hadn’t yet made up my mind to get the bigger edition. Fast forward a month, I finished reading my Pocket edition and had decided to trade it in. So I drove back to the Friends store in hopes to pick up the mint copy I had seen a month prior.

Its also able to show more of the newspaper text
The big edition is also able to display the newspaper text

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I made a beeline for the Sci-Fi section where I last saw it a month ago. Its hulk of a spine was missing from the shelf, and I was overcome with regret that I didn’t pick it up earlier. I asked the clerk if they had another copy in the back or if it was moved to another section (I was really grasping at straws at this point). He said no and that someone purchased it just an hour ago. He rubbed salt in the wound by saying, “Yeah, that one was in great condition too. You really gotta snatch it up when you see stuff like that. They don’t come around too often.” If only I was able to come the day before, or even a few hours earlier! Talk about wanting to travel back in time to right a wrong! OK, so my situation isn’t nearly as dire as the one Jake Epping faced in 11/22/63, but that’s some fascinating synchronicity there, no? Then, a few weeks later I checked their online inventory and saw that another copy of the big edition came in. I was so excited to go pick it up. This time there will be no hesitation to pull the trigger. My wife and I made the long one hour drive and as it turns out, it was nowhere near the “very good” condition the website claimed it to be. I refused to settle and bite the bullet. Thankfully I didn’t buy it, because a short week later I was at a Goodwill and found a much better copy for just $2! How’s that for some “good will” (sorry) from the universe?!

FUCK YEAH
FUCK YEAH

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Simply put, 11/22/63 is an amazing piece of literature and probably one of Stephen King’s best. Although this is only his third book that I have read to date, I very much doubt there will be many others I will end up liking more than this one. It’s more than just a story about a guy from the future going back in time to save John F. Kennedy. There are so many themes interlaced and at play here that it works like gangbusters. Even though it’s a mammoth book clocking anywhere from around 850-1,090 pages (depending on the edition you pick up), the story moves fast and there were few lulls. I love the parts about Derry, and revisiting with Richie and Bevvie from It for a few pages was so freaking cool and awesome. Jake’s journey is captivating and you’ll root for him every page of the way. Will he save JFK after all? You’ll just have to read it to find out on your own!

4HalfStars

Remembering Richard Laymon

Cheers to ya, Uncle Dick
Cheers to ya, Uncle Dick

Today marks 20 years since the unfortunate and untimely passing of one of horror’s most prolific writers, Richard Laymon. On February 14, 2001, Mr. Laymon sadly left this world far too soon, dying at the tender age of 54. To honor his amazing legacy and life, I can’t think of a better time than now to share some memories and highlights. So whether you’re brand new to Laymon’s lunacy or a long time fan, sit back and grab a cold one. This one’s for you, Uncle Dicky!

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

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Ever since the ripe age of 6 — when I first experienced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween — I have been a huge fan of horror. Naturally, that love carried into the mid ’90s with R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps books.

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Following Goosebumps, the next logical evolution was Fear Street. R.L. Stine wrote this series for a teenage audience. I had a blast reading these books, especially The Babysitter and its sequels. Fond memories of reading Hit and Run in one sitting late one summer night in 1995.

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Given my history with horror, one might assume the next step to be venturing out with adult horror books, such as Stephen King’s It. Except I didn’t. By the time I hit high school in the fall of 1997, I stopped reading for leisure and only read to fulfill class assignments and essays. Reading — something I once loved dearly — became strictly perfunctory.

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Fast forward over 20 years to April of 2019. Randomly visiting a Goodwill by my girlfriend’s place 2 hours out of town, I hit the mother lode. Displayed enticingly before me on the shelf were over 50 R.L. Stine horror books. And just like that, I was back in.

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2 short months later, in the summer of 2019, I did a random search for horror books on eBay. Came across CANNIBALS by Guy N. Smith. Up to this point in my life, I had yet to read an adult horror novel. I knew right away that Cannibals had to be the one to pop my cherry. It was, and it was glorious.

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Suddenly, the floodgates opened. The summer of 2019 began my obsession with buying and reading as many vintage horror paperbacks as I could. Books like SPIDERS by Richard Lewis spooked the shit out of me, and I couldn’t get enough.

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Sure, there were some disappointments along the way, such as Guy N. Smith’s MANITOU DOLL. But I loved the fantastic art of these (cheesy) vintage horror paperbacks from hell, and I loved hunting for the next great creepy read.

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Enter Richard Laymon. In July of 2019, I was browsing the horror aisle at a mom and pop book shop and came across THE CELLAR. I had been reading online and the name “Richard Laymon” had crossed my desk more times than once. I picked it up, recalling that the word on the street was that Richard Laymon isn’t for the faint of heart. And boy, were they not kidding.

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A week or so later, I won a lot of Richard Laymon books off eBay. One of the books was The Woods Are Dark. It was the first Laymon book I read. It was graphic, insane and read like a trashy 1980s slasher movie. Admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it certainly left an impression.

This is the infamous edited version
This is the infamous edited version
Night Show was in the lot as well. AMAZING cover!
In the same lot I bought. AMAZING cover!

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In September of 2019, I struck gold when I won a massive lot of 39 Richard Laymon novels. As the auction title suggested, it was an “instant collection.” I remember making an $87 offer, so with shipping it would be just under $100. The seller was nice enough to accept, and I won the whole shebang for $99.63 (this was right before eBay started taxing winning bidders). $2.55 a pop? Sign me up!

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I remember the day the package came. My heart raced a bit faster when I got home from work and saw that big brown box sitting gloriously on the porch. Opening it felt like Christmas morning! There were so many books that the seller organized them in two layers. Here’s the top…

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And here’s the bottom. The rest of that year I started devouring Richard Laymon novels like crazy. One a month, sometimes two. Although many of his books are over 400 pages, because of the plentiful dialogue and the crazy plot points that move briskly, those pages (often times) fly by rather fast!

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From that picture I’ve read One Rainy Night, To Wake the Dead, and The Beast House (sequel to The Cellar — the first Laymon book I bought). Of those 3, I enjoyed To Wake the Dead the most — it’s a creepy story about an ancient mummy that comes back to life and wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting community! Throw in a ludicrous sub-plot about the (really) dark side of human beings and you have a truly horrific and harrowing read!

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From this pile I’ve read Out Are the Lights, The Woods Are Dark (the version in the picture above is the unedited edition), Endless Night and The Traveling Vampire Show. My wife and I are currently reading Darkness, Tell Us. That one involves a Ouija board and some college kids. As you can expect, much mayhem ensues. The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age novel that’s often lauded by many horror fans. I was actually somewhat disappointed in TVS. I thought it would be a lot more epic but it ended up being a bit uneven.

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I’ve read In the Dark, Night Show, and After Midnight. In the Dark is easily my favorite of this pile. It’s about a quiet librarian who one evening discovers a note offering her some cash in exchange for completing a simple task. As one might guess, the tasks get increasingly more complex and dangerous as the cash offerings go up. Not to mention… is the “Game Master” even human at all… or is it some kind of monstrous demon? It is a very unsettling read at times. Laymon, at his best, paints these horrific and vivid images in your brain that you’ll NEVER forget.

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The last pile I’ve read Island, Funland, Bite, Come Out Tonight, The Cellar and Night in the Lonesome October. NitLO is hands down my favorite Richard Laymon horror book of all time. I don’t think anything will ever top that, or even come close. You can read my review for more. One of the most atmospheric and addicting books I’ve ever read. Funland takes place in a beach town and involves a corrupt amusement park. “The Trolls” are running roughshod and people are disappearing after dark. A local gang of teenagers decide to take matters into their own hands and do some investigating. But has this group of vigilantes bitten off more than they can chew? The climax is all sorts of trippy and insane. A lot of people love Funland but it had some pacing issues for me. Still, definitely a fun Laymon entry. Also notable for being the first 500+ page book I ever read!

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But my favorite book in that pile, and my second overall favorite Laymon novel thus far, is COME OUT TONIGHT. This book is just a notch below Night in the Lonesome October for me. It captured the seedy streets of Los Angeles perfectly. Check out this bat shit crazy plot: it’s one of LA’s most scorching summer nights. Duane and Sherry are about to get it on, but there’s no condom. So Duane goes down to the local 7-11 and never returns. Sherry, sensing that something terrible has happened, ventures out into the muggy and sweltering LA night… what she finds will change her life forever. Very underrated and reads just like a movie. You can almost see every single scene unfolding in your head and it’s just magic when a writer can do that!

Sherry was such a bad ass chick! Loved it
Sherry is such a bad ass chick! Loved it

BTW, Island is my wife’s favorite. I enjoyed that one, too. It’s brutal, and if it wasn’t made clear to you yet, just know that Laymon isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of potential trigger warnings. Rape and a heavy focus on women’s breasts are pretty much in all his novels. Every book of his has the word “rump” in it many times over. He had a very distinct writer’s voice, and you can tell a Laymon book almost right away. No one wrote like how he did.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Rest In Power, Uncle Dick
Rest In Power, Uncle Dick

Although the horror world lost Richard Laymon all too awfully soon, his legacy lives on with his 40+ published books. So far I’ve read about 20 of them, with my top 3 favorites being Night in the Lonesome October, Come Out Tonight and In the Dark. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of 2 star duds. Bite was a sack of shit and Out Are the Lights was a bad day at the office for ol’ Uncle Dicky. But for the most part, his books are entertaining and wild. If you have any interest in horror at all, I recommend reading a few of his works before all is said and done. I especially recommend Night in the Lonesome October. That one MUST be read exclusively at night. I often wish I could go back and read that one for the first time again.

Preach, brother!
Preach, brother!

It’s been 20 years now since Richard Laymon’s passing. And yet the horror community still raves about his work and he is often recommended in horror book recommendation topics. It’s not hard to see why. I’m sad knowing I’ve already gone through half his catalog. I will certainly savor the last 20 or so Laymon books I have yet to read over the next 10-15 years. I hope this article inspires you to pick up a Laymon book in the near future. Happy reading!

 

Dennis, your sister knows whats up!
Yo Dennis — your sister knows what’s up!

The Voice of the Night (Dean Koontz)

Dean Koontz | July 1991 | 339 pages
Dean Koontz | July 1991 | 339 pages

Browse any horror section in any book store and chances are, you’ll find a bunch of Stephen King and Dean Koontz books. Mr. Koontz is a name I’ve heard a lot about, and in early 2020 I picked up a bunch of his books for cheap. My goal in 2020 was to read my first Stephen King book, as well as my first Dean Koontz book. I accomplished that when I finished IT, and in November I read The Voice of the Night. This book is said to be Koontz’s best work. Koontz has a mixed reputation. Some people enjoy his work, while others claim he’s pretty trash. I’ll have to read more before I come to my own conclusion, but after reading Voice of the Night I can say he ain’t half bad.

Here are some cool variant covers
Here are some cool variant covers
Back cover of the Star edition (1985)
Back cover of the Star edition (1985)
Another Star variant
Another Star variant

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I HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD…

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Dean Koontz pulls no punches. The book opens immediately with our two main characters — Colin and Roy. Roy is your typical asshole whose mantra in life is to kill or be killed. As you might guess, Colin is the complete opposite, and that’s where the dynamic lies. Colin wants Roy to like him. Roy’s intentions, however, are a little more sinister…

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Like… REALLY sinister. Colin does his best to give Roy the benefit of the doubt. He can’t tell with absolute certainty whether or not Roy is just pulling his leg. For instance, in the passage above we see Roy fantasize about people dying in a terrible train wreck (hence the cover of the American edition). That’s just something normal people don’t daydream about…

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Like most sociopaths, Roy is charming and manipulative like a used car salesman. He leans into Colin’s desire for belonging and friendship. You may be able to fool naive Colin, Roy, but ya sure can’t fool us!

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“Death isn’t the end. It’s the center… it’s the most exciting thing in life.” Oooh-kay. Poor Colin still can’t see the 5 alarm fire and red flags that are pouring out of Roy. This book is very dialogue heavy. Which means it makes for a rather quick read that constantly moves at a brisk pace. It’s an interesting character study, for sure.

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I like how Koontz continually ups the ante. Things start out “small” but gradually escalates like a well crafted thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

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Apparently, Mr. Koontz was not a big fan of the 1963 cult classic!

Can't wait for the 2021 rematch!
Can’t wait for the 2021 rematch!

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“Even in the fast-dwindling, purple-amber light of late evening, the sudden sprinkle of sweat on his forehead and upper lip was visible; darkly glistening jewels.” Loved that description! And although Roy is a psychopath, I love the diatribe he spews here. Not that I believe in it, but I love how Koontz continues to build Roy’s aggressiveness and mad world views.

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And this is where we get the Star 1985 cover from.

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We get to see how Roy’s negative influence starts to creep up on Colin. The passage above says it all. Disturbing stuff…

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Colin’s broken relationship with his father explains a lot. He’s constantly belittled and demeaned. Perhaps that is why he is seeking belonging with a guy like Roy. From one asshole father to an asshole “friend.”

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My favorite passage from the book. The way he describes the darkening sky puts you right there as we rapidly approach the climax of the book.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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A lot of people hate on Dean Koontz, but many have praised The Voice of the Night. I’m glad this was my first Koontz book. I definitely enjoyed it, and I am curious what other works of his I might enjoy. I plan to read more in the years to come. I’m sure some I won’t like (at all). But for this book, I loved the back and forth dynamic between Roy and Colin. It’s all fairly predictable, but it’s an intriguing character study. While it doesn’t crack my favorite reads of 2020 list, it definitely ranks somewhere in the upper half echelon. Speaking of 2020, kiss my ass! Goodbye 2020 and hello 2021! Happy New Year y’all!

3HalfStars

Night in the Lonesome October (Richard Laymon)

Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages
Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages

Richard Laymon is considered one of the most prolific horror writers of his day. Sadly he passed away on February 14, 2001, leaving this world far too early. It’s crazy that it’s almost been 20 years since his passing. He had a writing style that was unique and unforgettable. His horror was of the “splatterpunk” variety — extreme gore, sex scenes aplenty and all manner of depravity that is akin to surfing the Dark Web. It’s an unsettling place to visit, but one in which you’ll always remember — for better or for worse. My favorite book of his is by far Night in the Lonesome October. It is a masterful piece of horror fiction. I can’t think of another book like it. It’s one of those books that has to be read late at night only. Richard Laymon created a dreamy and dangerous world here like no one else could. I’m sad he’s gone, but I am thankful we’ll always have books like this to remember him by!

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I know the front cover is generic as all hell, but don’t let that discourage you from picking up a copy. There are other editions with better covers, but it’s the inside that counts.

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Cemetery Dance’s synopsis of Night in the Lonesome October is the best:

Creepy hardcover version
Creepy hardcover version

Shortly after returning to college for the start of the Fall semester, Ed Logan learns that the girl he loves has found herself a new boyfriend and won’t be coming back to school. Heartbroken and restless, Ed strikes out late one night for a walk through town. He doesn’t much care where he’s going, but soon finds himself fascinated by what he discovers between midnight and dawn — frightened by the town’s lurking terrors, lured by its mysteries… and enthralled by a strange, beautiful girl who roams the lonely streets.

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It is told in first person form, from the eyes of our 20 year old protagonist, Ed Logan. His girlfriend Holly breaks up with him, and he enters a spiraling stage of depression. To alleviate his pain, he wanders the dark streets of his small town, Willmington, in an attempt to “get his mind off things.” It is there on those seedy streets after midnight that he runs into all sorts of — shall we say — “interesting” characters. But chief amongst them is a mysterious and alluringly beautiful girl that immediately captures Ed Logan’s fancy. He begins to follow her night after night and fancies himself as sort of her guardian. Why is she roaming the streets late at night? Where is she going? Ed endeavors to find out, and what he finds, may be more than he can handle. I won’t spoil this wonderful book but I have to share a few highlights…

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By the way, this book is not to be confused with Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, which I have also heard great things about. Both Laymon and Zelazny used Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration — it was Poe that first coined the unique phrase.

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Chapter one begins with a banger of an opening sentence. I was twenty years old and heartbroken the night it started. Well damn, now I’m curious to know more. We find out Holly Johnson crushed his heart. Damn you, Holly. But hey, if you didn’t dump Ed’s ole ass, then I guess we wouldn’t have this fantastic tale, would we? So thank you, Holly.

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Early on, we are introduced to one of my favorite characters Richard Laymon has ever crafted. The bike hag, as Ed calls her, never fails to send a chill or two down my spine. I can always hear the BRING-BRINGGG! of her bell as she zips by Ed Logan. She appears throughout the novel and is delightfully demented in a very subtle, unsettling manner.

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Afraid the old crone may turn him into a toad or something, Ed Logan is eager to duck and hide from the bike hag. And upon doing so, he spots the new girl of his dreams. I love how Laymon tells it straight — he is not one to use fancy prose. He simply wrote, “But then from the east a girl came walking.” Right away, you know it’s a major beat change and that this mysterious female of the night is going to be one of the key players in this story. Ed is captivated immediately, and many crazy adventures are yet to come…

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As stated earlier, the bike hag is a fun recurring character. Ed is seriously paranoid of her. Is she even human? What mystical and deadly powers might this bike hag possess? Each night that Ed roams the streets, he risks running into the bike hag. I love how the page above shares all the various fears that Ed holds for the bike hag. You can’t help YOURSELF from the growing paranoia…

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Laymon builds up the anticipation — at first Ed is unsuccessful in locating his new dream girl. I love the analogy to Ahab and the White Whale from the classic story Moby Dick. You can’t help but root for Ed Logan. You know he’ll eventually meet her, but Laymon doesn’t give it to you right away. He builds just enough to make that magical moment mean something.

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While Ed is on the hunt for his dream girl, he encounters seemingly every single lunatic that lives in Willmington. In particular, this eerie porch scene gave me the heebie-jeebies!

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I could picture this scene in my head so vividly… as I read it at 2 in the morning. Creepy!

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I love the first person narrative. We really get in Ed Logan’s head. Laymon does a great job selling the fact that the night time is when the demented roam and rule. You can almost feel the seediness and peril of the night dripping off the pages. Well done, Uncle Dick. Well done, indeed.

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More creepy 3 AM shenanigans abound! Laymon lays it on thick and you truly come to believe that this town is Loonyville. You can’t go anywhere after dark without being accosted by some creep or another.

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The book picks up the pace even further once Ed Logan and Casey, the mysterious midnight girl, meet. These two night owls then begin wandering the streets of Willmington past the witching hour, playing risky games such as “Ride or Hide” and meeting all sorts of vagabonds and sycophants along the way. There’s a lot more to this book than just midnight excursions, including a main bad guy (not the bike hag) that plays a major role. I won’t delve any further; you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out!

RECEPTION AND REVERENCE

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A while back, I was browsing Reddit and came across a Richard Laymon appreciation post. The poster shared how his mom cleaned her house and found his old well read collection of Richard Laymon tomes. This led to a bunch of replies praising Richard Laymon. One person said reading Laymon is like remembering every detail about a nightmare you’ve had. Perfectly stated!

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This reply resonated with me so much that now whenever my wife and I go somewhere that seems a bit sketch, I’ll look at her and say, “Hey babe, this place is kinda Richard Laymon, huh?” She would always chuckle a bit and say “Yup…” She’s read one of his novels (Island) and enjoyed that one very much. You read one Richard Laymon novel and you know exactly what kind of writer he is…

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But my absolute favorite reply in that thread came from the esteemed user with the moniker, socially_bereaved. Mr. Bereaved sums it up wonderfully: “That book is the “hey u up?” text at 2 AM of books.” I laughed my ass off when I read that, because Night in the Lonesome October is exactly that. Now if that doesn’t stir your interest, then goodness I don’t know what will.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020
My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020

I have read over 15 Richard Laymon novels since I first discovered him in mid 2019, and this one remains by far my favorite of his up to this point. His other novels range in quality. Most are good, a few are clunkers, but Night in the Lonesome October is absolutely fantastic. You have to read this book late at night. Richard Laymon crafted such a dreamy, otherworldly universe that you’ll feel as though you’re roaming the seedy streets with Ed Logan himself. Even to this day, I still look back fondly on my reading experience with this one. I read it over the course of 3 nights, and loved the hell out of it. It’s probably my favorite horror book that I’ve read thus far.

Don't let the bike hag touch you...
Don’t let the bike hag touch you…

In tough and uncertain times like this, sometimes you just need to escape from it all for a couple hours. I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly enough. The ending, which don’t worry I won’t spoil, is the cherry on top of this wicked cake. It ends like how a raunchy young adult coming-of-age movie might, where it ends with a one line banger. I read the last line, pumped my fist and yelled, “FUCK YEAH!” Immediately after which, I could envision the end credits scrolling with some high energy song accompanying it as I sat there with a stupid, satisfied smile on my face. From beginning to end, Richard Laymon hits a grand slam. This book is often cited as one of his finest works. Read it to find out why. If you don’t, perhaps the bike hag herself will give you “the works…”

5Stars

It (Stephen King)

Stephen King | September 15, 1986 | 1,153 pages
Stephen King | January 5, 2016 | 1,153 pages

34 years ago yesterday, Stephen King’s It was first published. September 15, 1986. I had no idea that was the case until moments ago when I googled the original publication date for this review. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was just yesterday 34 years ago! What a random fun coincidence. Earlier this year I set a goal to read all 1,000+ pages of It, and I’m proud to say I did that. It was also the first Stephen King book I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last. This is often considered Stephen King’s most popular book. It has been critically acclaimed, has been translated into a mini series back in 1990, and also received two full length feature film adaptations. It is as synonymous with the words “horror novel” as any other horror book one could name. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…

This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
High praise indeed
High praise indeed

IT MEMORIES

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I can vividly remember getting my dad to buy me the VHS of the 1990 movie at a Suncoast at the local mall. At the time I had no idea it was based off a book. I just knew there was a creepy clown on the cover and I was sold. I remember watching the movie with my best friend Nelson, and not liking it as much as I hoped. I was a kid at the time so I definitely didn’t understand all the complexities and subtleties. The best part for me of course was whenever Pennywise the clown appeared onscreen (played by Tim Curry). The other “boring” parts Nelson and I didn’t care much for, but like I said, we were just little kids at the time who wanted their horror films to be over the top.

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It was only years later that I found out It originated as a book. A really thick ass book. I was probably in junior high by then, and had no interest in reading a book well over 1,000 pages… especially when Goosebumps scratched my itch for the macabre at just around 120 pages per entry.

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Then It was released in theaters on September 8, 2017. A girl I had just started dating wanted to watch It, and so I took her. I wanted to see it as well, but kept my expectations low because of how disappointing I found the 1990 version to be. We ended up really liking the 2017 version and then earlier this year my wife and I watched It Chapter Two. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tackle the book.

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At its core it’s a story about relationships: friendship and love. Loyalty. Courage. Overcoming fears. Regrets. Redemption. It was never meant to be focused on the clown, Pennywise, even though he does play a significant role. It is truly “The Losers,” as they’re affectionately called in the book, that make It work on so many different levels. It was that shift in mentality that allowed me to enjoy the movies and the book as much as I did. Of course, it helps to view things from an adult lens as opposed to the one we had when we were 9 or 10 years old. It follows these friends and their adventures in the small town of Derry both past and present, as they are haunted and stalked by a vengeful clown spirit that won’t let them go. Or, is it the kids then turned adults who won’t let It go? Hmm. It could be both…

Sorry Pennywise, It aint all about you
Sorry Pennywise, It ain’t all about you

There are large portions of this very large book that don’t implicitly involve Pennywise the clown. So if you go into It expecting a ton of scary clown thrills, you will likely be disappointed. To be sure, there are a fair share of chills, and the spirit of Pennywise permeates the subtext of the story, but as I said it is more about relationships and righting old wrongs. The more you care about the human characters, the more you will get out of this book. And for the most part, I was quite invested in the human characters, even if Stephen King does seem to go on and on and on at times. He is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that, but It easily could have been trimmed to around 700-800 pages without losing its soul. Hell, it would have been even better had it been!

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The first page sets up the infamous sewer scene, one of the most iconic moments in horror literature. Poor little Georgie just had to be on that rainy street on that rainy day, didn’t he? But in the famous words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And what a struggle Georgie had with Pennywise! A struggle that would cost Georgie his arm and ultimately, his incredibly young life. And with that struggle, we get the progression that we need to drive the story forward. Georgie’s older brother, Bill Denbrough, and his “Loser” friends, are then moved to action and sworn to vengeance. Even if it does take them 27 long years…

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As I said, Pennywise doesn’t always show up, but man, when he does, he steals the scene. As you can see, Stephen King has a way with words. It’s nothing overly complex. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward and simple. But he has a way of painting these pictures in your head. At least here he does, anyhow. My favorite line from this page is a very simple but creepy one: “There was a clown in the stormdrain.” Like, what?! It conjures such an unsettling image in the mind that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy, especially if you were George himself. Six year old George, no less! So It definitely opens up with a bang. I won’t spoil the rest!

Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!
Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best cover of It ever released
The best cover of It ever released (October 1, 1987)

The 2016 Scribner edition I read in particular is 1,153 pages long. Not every page is as thrilling as the first couple pages you see here, so some readers have expressed disappointment or even “bait-and-switch” in the most extreme cases. I don’t think it’s bait-and-switch. For example, look at almost any Godzilla movie. Godzilla rarely appears for a very long running time in his movies, yet they are not bait-and-switch. The same with It and Pennywise. You just have to be ready to dive into Derry and its world, its cast of flawed and imperfect human characters. If you want unabashed wanton clown terror mayhem, then go watch Art the Clown in the Terrifier movies. Don’t read Stephen King’s It because you would only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

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For those patient enough however to stick it through, I think you will find It to be a more rewarding read than not. I really enjoyed it, and would easily give it 4+ stars had it been trimmed down a good 250-300 pages or so. Also, toward the end, there is a certain scene with Beverly Marsh that thankfully did not appear in the movie that completely took me out of it and made me go “WHAT?!?!” I had to read that particular part 3-4 times to believe my eyes. WTF Stephen King?! You’ll know it when you read it. I found it gross and completely unnecessary to the story. Some have defended that part by saying Mr. King did his job — it is the job of the author in a horror book to shock and offend, but “that moment” came so out of left field for me that I cannot comprehend or defend it in any way. But It certainly has earned its place in horror literature lore, and I do recommend diehard horror fans to read It at least once before all is said and done.

3HalfStars

Boy’s Life (Robert R. McCammon)

Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 536 pages
Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 578 pages

Over the past year, since getting back into reading, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Boy’s Life. McCammon was well known for his horror novels, but it really wasn’t until Boy’s Life that he reached new heights of reverence. Boy’s Life has elements of horror, to be sure, but it’s much more than just that. There’s a big mystery behind the core of this story, and although that mystery isn’t always the main focus, McCammon takes you on this wild ride of an 11 year old boy who comes of age in the south in the mid 1960s. It is also a powerful tale of a father and son who bear personal witness to a heinous crime and have to navigate life with all of that trauma weighing them down.

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I absolutely love that back cover. The praises, the summary… it all meshes and makes a strong declaration to the reader: READ ME!

What a gorgeous stepback art cover!
What a gorgeous stepback art cover!

MCCAMMON CANON

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After finishing Boy’s Life on April 2, 2020, I went on a “bit” of a McCammon kick. A month later, I was lucky enough to come across a lot of 11 Robert R. McCammon books for just $39.99. I’ve read one since and can’t wait to eventually read the rest. McCammon is a writer’s writer; he writes in a way that is lyrical and puts you right there at the scene of the crime. I’m a huge fan of his writing!

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This is my collection of 15 Robert R. McCammon books. Most of them fall under the horror genre. I’ve heard some amazing things about Swan Song, a tome that spans nearly 1,000 pages long. It is said to be a super epic tale about the end of the world, similar to Stephen King’s The Stand (which I am currently reading — what with COVID-19 and all), but I hear Swan Song is that much more superior.

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Look at all that amazing art work. The titles, the font, the colors… everything is just so gorgeous and striking. They sure as hell don’t make covers like this anymore! His earlier works are said to be weaker than his later entries, as McCammon grew as a writer with each passing book. But I digress. Back to Boy’s Life

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Boy’s Life opts for the first person narrative, and when done right, I really prefer this form of storytelling. Nothing puts you in the shoes and the heart of the main character quite like seeing and hearing things from their perspective. I like how Cory reflects on his younger life, as he rapidly approaches his 40th birthday. It is very reminiscent of Fred Savage’s character, Kevin Arnold, looking back on his formative years from the seminal ’80s TV show The Wonder Years. Being a huge Wonder Years fan, right away McCammon had me sold. Kevin Arnold living in a supernatural world? I’m *SO* there. Take my money, McCammon!

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McCammon’s prose is full of these rich, beautiful word pictures. He makes the reader see beyond the text and into the amazing world he has crafted. Often times, I stop after a certain passage and just have to read it twice. The writing has a timeless quality to it that pulls you in.

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At 578 pages long, Boy’s Life did admittedly drag slightly for me in a few places, but for the most part I was enthralled by the characters and curious about the mystery that wraps itself around the story. When McCammon nails a passage, man, does he ever stick the landing! For example, the excerpt you see above is perhaps my favorite from the book. It is just so haunting… so nostalgic… so full of kinetic energy that you can almost feel it pulsating off the page like fierce firecrackers spouting off in a barrel. “We pedaled on, four buddies with the wind at our backs and all roads leading to the future.” Powerful shit! Good shit!

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I don’t want to spoil this beautiful story for those who haven’t read it, but I will reiterate that it really isn’t a horror novel. Sure, it has got some spooky and supernatural elements to it, but it’s really more about a boy coming of age in the mid 1960s, and his looking back on those formative years that shaped him into the man he would become. There is a definite nostalgic quality to the writing and storytelling. It may be dauntingly overlong to some, but I encourage you to give it a shot if anything in this review resonated with you in the least. It is truly a defining piece of work and often cited as McCammon’s very finest.

BOY’S LOVE

The praise for this book is seemingly endless
The praise for this book is seemingly endless
I'm so glad I read it in 2020!
The effusive shower of adoration continues

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This is the one I remember most, though. I remember when Boy’s Life popped on my radar. As per usual, the first thing I did was visit Goodreads to see the overall consensus. Now I don’t always base my feelings on what strangers think, but I think it’s a fun bar that can be factored in when deciding whether I want to buy a book or not. And I just remember seeing the insane amount of 5 star reviews for Boy’s Life. And how there were barely any 1 or 2 star reviews. No book is ever perfect, and most books will have its fair share of supporters as well as detractors (some far more than others), but Boy’s Life averaged a whopping 4.36 rating as rated by more than 25,000 readers. That blew my mind, and I knew right away it was a book I had to read in 2020. It was also Char’s highlighted review that inspired me to buy a copy that very day.

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Perfectly stated, Char. Indeed.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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McCammon does an excellent job of plopping you into the shoes of 11 year old Cory Mackenson smack dab in the middle of Zephyr circa 1964. The small sleepy town of Zephyr feels like a real breathing place. Themes of racism, bullying, injustice, social inequity and standing up for what you believe in rings loud and proud throughout the pages of Boy’s Life. It’s not perfect but there are many moments where I finished a reading session with one word ringing loud in my mind: “wow.” The story gets really heartbreaking at times and I love the ending where it fast forwards to the year 1991 and we get to see present day Cory Mackenson returning to his childhood town. That part filled me with so much nostalgia in spite of the fact that I am not Cory or never been to his hometown of Zephyr. It’s simply a testament to McCammon’s immense skill of making you feel like you know Cory and his town like the back of your own real life childhood hometown. Also love the father-son relationship in this story. Highly recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories, with a hint of the supernatural.

4Stars