Andre Aciman, Stephen King at The Quarterly Conversation

Some fine new content for you at The Quarterly Conversation.

First, I interview novelist Andre Aciman about his new novel, Eight White Nights. Therein, talk of Proust, Eric Rohmer, why Thomas Bernhard sucks, and the book, which Aciman describes thus:

I wanted to take this period of courtship not so much to dissect it as to distend it and dilate it—the way Beethoven takes a particular moment of grace in his music and wishes to make it last—basically—forever.

If you’re in the Bay Area, Aciman is coming here on tour. Check it out (I might try hitting the one at Book Passage):

April 26 at Keplers at 7:30 PM
April 27 at Book Passage at 7:00 PM (Corte Madera Store)
April 28 at San Francisco Jewish Community Center at 8:00 PM

The other item we have just published is John Lingan’s deconstruction of Stephen King via his latest book (soon to be in paperback).

Turns out John like King’s writing, but not that much:

He used to be an underrated genre practitioner, but King now suffers from a surplus of critical and cultural reverence. Neither reputation suits his work, which is dependably entertaining and, with few exceptions, literarily unremarkable. I came to appreciate his novels as I wrote my undergraduate English thesis; in search of something to burn off my late-night caffeine highs, I pulled a beat-to-shit Signet paperback copy of The Stand off the shelf at the used bookstore where I worked twice a week. I was only looking for something anathema to literary theory, but ended up enjoying the book’s grisly, post-apocalyptic hellscape more than I anticipated—so much so, in fact, that I kept on reading him after graduation, still half-convinced that I was consciously slumming it, resting my reader’s batteries before picking up something worthwhile. And yet there I was, a month later, reading The Shining at the beach, bringing It on the train as I traveled toward my first job, buying a copy of Pet Sematary while visiting my sister in Ohio. And after 3,500 pages of killer clowns and zombie cats I finally grew tired of the addictively unsubtle style, but that rapid-fire introduction to King’s soulful hackwork had its effect; that time spent with his muscular, awkward prose scrubbed the last remaining bits of English-major from under my fingernails, and made me seek out science fiction, classic noir, history, even travel and nature writing. I had had enough King for one summer, but I had also grown, as a reader, to appreciate stylistic immediacy for its own sake.



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I’d argue that from Carrie (1974) to Insomnia (1994), King was the greatest writer of popular fiction America has produced. Post 1994, his work grew increasingly tedious and bland. That said, nearly every book since ’94 has had some individual sequences worthy of merit — and Lisey’s Story was a noble if heavy-handed experiment — but for the most part King is far past his prime.

I agree with Lingan’s assessment of Under the Dome — it’s another shaggy failure. I take issue, however, with some of Lingan’s arguments. Just because one character in the novel excoriates another for supporting Wal-Mart doesn’t indicate Mr. King’s own feelings about the matter, nor does it dictate where he should or shouldn’t promote his work. And ultimately, who cares if King appears at Wal-Mart? That event exists outside the world of the novel and is just begging for acts of intentional fallacy.

I continue to read every new King novel, partly from nostalgia and partly in hopes that he will turn out another populist gem.

When King writes well, which funnily enough seems to mostly have been back when he wasn’t trying to write well, he is one of the best writers of childhood and community that I’ve read.

I agree with Tom that the period from Carrie until the early 90s was the best. I read those books when I was young, but revisited them a few years ago and was suprised at how well many of them hold up. Especially the Dead Zone and ‘Salem’s Lot. They are actually pretty great, and not with any qualifying comments. Just great books. There is a point in the early 90s where he starts to run out of steam I think, and then he moves into a later period of trying to be a well respected writer, but also having this weird distates for the idea (sort of like the way a young person will want to be liked by the popular kids, but also hate the popular kids for not liking him).

I did enjoy Under the Dome, but it wasn’t as great as it could have been, but it has been a while since King has written a novel about community, which, again, I think is his strong suit. Surveying a place and the people in it, what makes them great and terrible, appealing and repulsive. He also writes across the social classes, which is great.

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