Once upon a first date the conversation was barreling along like a downhill skier when I brought up Hunter S. Thompson. All of a sudden the skier was Sonny Bono. Silence. Nothing. He didn't recognize the name. "I don't read," he said.
You'd think one who writes for a living would get into a snit over this, but I was impressed that someone was so pretension-free they would say "I don't read" without apology. Most other adults just act sheepish when the subject comes up, saying, "I just don't have time to read," like they were confessing they couldn't work a bar of soap.
That guilt goes back a long way. When we're kids it's drummed into us that if we read enough, we'll end up with a brain so big we'll need two necks to hold it up. Most adults, though, don't have time to read stop signs. I don't read as much as I should, but there's one thing I never have to feel guilty about not reading: Stephen King.
King excretes his horror novels faster than that conveyor belt pelted candy at Lucy and Ethel, and people gobble them up just as quickly. The newest King book I have no intention of reading is "Bag of Bones," which is getting extra attention because it's a love story. Reviewers are reacting to the genre switch with a "you got chocolate in my peanut butter/you got peanut butter on my chocolate" fascination. King and romance being thought of as things you would never dare mix.
I don't understand their surprise. All my love stories seem to turn out like Stephen King wrote them.
It's not that I've really had such a hard time with love, but it only takes one hearty case of salmonella to make you look at every other chicken with a narrower eye. Certainly there are documented cases of storybook loves, and we all hope for that. But even the great archetypal romances often end as if the "Creepshow" author dreamed them up. Antony and Cleopatra each killed themselves in despair. Romeo and Juliet (a) poisoned themselves in despair and (b) ripped their guts out in despair, respectively. Even the movie "Titanic" ends with Jack frozen to death and Rose left in such profound despair that she tosses a big diamond in the ocean. Human ice cubes and raving lunacy are definitely more Kingly than Cartlandesque.
Conversely, the plotlines for most King-inspired movies easily could be mistaken for romances gone, well, the way they often go. Check out the synopses below and see if they don't make you wonder if the guy who wrote the Book of Love doesn't also have chipmunk teeth and live in Maine:
"Christine": He was having a bad adolescence until he met "her." His friends and family said, "Loser," but he didn't listen; they said, "You're obsessed," but he told them to piss off and spent all his time with her. Once she got him, she showed her true sociopathic colors and ruined his life. This is why people live together first.
"Cujo": "Yes, he was bad, but it wasn't his fault. Something terrible happened to him that made him this way." It's a good defense for a rabid dog, but haven't you also heard it used as a defense for a foul boyfriend by a guest on Rikki Lake?
"It": "John Boy" Walton is pursued by a psychotic clown that came from the sewer. You know you have at least one ex you can describe that way.
"Stand By Me": Everyone turns out OK in this picture, even Corey Feldman. Know why? Everyone just stays friends for once.
"The Shining": Jack and Shelley Torrence finally get to the point in their relationship where they can road trip together and, wouldn't you know it, he starts acting all weird. Well, being with one person for a very long time can freak anyone out. Fear of commitment always manifests itself in moodiness, silence or chasing your partner with a pick axe.
"Dolores Claibourne": Dolores is married to a pedophile. Vera's husband cheats. The women kill their men, then move in together and are relatively happy. Dolores sticks with Vera even though Vera's a senile, incontinent old bitch. That's what love is.
"Carrie": Anyone else have a prom that didn't work out? A girl gets her period and is able to kill her disappointing date and everyone else who pisses her off with one sharp look. For men it's a horror story; for women it's a daydream, like winning the lottery.
"Misery": "I'm your biggest fan." "I'll take care of you." "I love you." See how those last three little words can inspire terror? Kathy Bates knows how to keep her man: with a sledgehammer and good aim.
"The Dark Half": Thad Beaumont idealizes George Stark, fantasizes about him, dreams of him until they finally get together. Then George kills everyone Thad knows, holds his family hostage and tries to take over his life. They never turn out to be as good as you think, do they?
"Sometimes They Come Back": But you're always better off when they don't. (See "Pet Semetery.")