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review 2017-04-21 22:55
Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

There is an old Family Guy cutaway which depicts Stephen King meeting with his publisher to pitch his next novel. Obviously desperate for an idea, King quickly looks around the office and grabs the publisher's desk lamp. "So this family gets attacked by . . . a lamp monster! Ooooh!" he waves his hands, trying to convey the scariness and shock of his laughably bad offering. Of course the skit is satirizing King's prolificacy. The publisher sighs, defeated, and asks when he can have the manuscript.


Four Past Midnight feels a little like that. None of these stories quite plummet to the lows of an evil, murderous lamp come to life . . . but this is not King on his A-game. These stories were written in the late '80s, when SK was getting off alcohol and drugs; that can have a huge impact on a person's life — especially a person who has to live up to the expectations of millions. King once said of this time period that everything he wrote "fell apart like wet tissue paper," and that self-consciousness and unease is very evident here. The writing is clunky and oft-uninspired; few of the characters come alive. The excellent characterization is why I pay the price of admission. Even if the story gets bloated and the ending disappoints, King's characters are typically reliable. Not so here.


In essence, it feels like King studied what worked best earlier in his career and incorporated those elements into the novellas, with diminished results. We have the small band of survivors fighting for life against an apocalyptic setting a'la The Stand and The Mist (The Langoliers), a psychic child (again, The Langoliers), the tortured writer (Secret Window, Secret Garden), repressed childhood memories/using the innocence of childhood to fight a shape-shifting monster (The Library Policeman) and a boring-as-shit Castle Rock tale about a murderous dog (The Sun Dog). All of these stories feel like they're stuck in tired, been-there-done-that territory; I almost never accuse King of repeating himself, but this collection is nothing but reheated leftovers of plot points from earlier, better novels and novellas.


My ratings for each story are as follows:

The Langoliers: 3
Secret Window, Secret Garden: 4
The Library Policeman: 3
The Sun Dog: 1

That puts the average at 2.75, which rounds up to 3. This is a totally average book. <i>Secret Window, Secret Garden</i> is easily the best of the lot; I don't care to ever reread the others.


King Connections


The Langoliers features a shout-out to The Shop.

Secret Window, Secret Garden partially takes place in Derry; The Sun Dog takes place in Castle Rock. Both towns are, of course, very important to the King universe.


Favorite Quote


“'I'm not taking that,' Mort said, and part of him was marvelling at what a really accommodating beast a man was: when someone held something out to you, your first instinct was to take it. No matter if it was a check for a thousand dollars or a stick of dynamite with a lit and fizzing fuse, your first instinct was to take it.”

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review 2015-12-15 00:00
Four Past Midnight
Four Past Midnight - Stephen King Not my usual cup of tea. Of course I've heard of Stephen King, and I have vivid memories of the movie "Carrie", but I'm not a horror fan in general. This collection of four novellas, however, presented itself to me on the book exchange shelves at work, and looking at the length of the book, and considering the longueurs of my lunch-hours, I said "why not."

Of the four, I found the first one, "The Langoliers" the oddest, chiefly because you have to buy into a whole new cosmology, where not only is it possible to travel back in time, but said time is munched up by scary-things. This one also features an out-and-out insane character, whose childhood trauma around the subject of laziness is thematically linked to the laziness - the complete lack of energy - of the discarded past.

The second one looked fair to be my favourite, because it featured a writerly nightmare - being accused of plagiarism. Though it's not a first-person narration, the point of view is so close to the writer's (Mort's) that we almost feel we've been played with by an unreliable narrator when the personality disintegrates and Mort and we come to the same unhappy conclusion - that it's all a trick of an unstable mind. (Or is it? I view the 'zinger' ending, like that of Carrie, to be just an expected trope.)

The same "or is it" ending appears in The Sun Dog, the fourth of the novellas. I wonder how well this story goes over with young people who have never seen, nor marvelled over, the apparent magic of a Polaroid picture - nor experienced the anxiety during that lengthy-seeming minute when the picture is developing. Magic boxes that we don't understand, and that link to some other, perhaps threatening reality... King builds well on that old, old fear.

That leaves "The Library Policeman" - another story where I had a personal window through my love of grand old library buildings. I had the crux of this story figured out the minute the protagonist flashed back to bushes near the library where no bushes were to be found in the present. I have become too good at spotting those clues. I have no doubt that King's vivid depiction of the rape of a young boy was distressing to a fair percentage of his readers, especially those who prefer their horror a little more alien or aerified. Of the four, this story was the darkest for me.

I still don't think I'm going to make a habit of reading Stephen King. But it was good to see what all the fuss is about.
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review 2015-05-10 20:16
Four Past Midnight: The Sun Dog by Stephen King
Four Past Midnight: The Sun Dog - Tim Sample,Stephen King

The Sun Dog is of course one of the novellas contained in Four Past Midnight and I read just this one as a bit of a prelude to my next King read, Needful Things. And this I have to say was awesome, it is the physically the size of a great deal of horror fiction these days but in the realms of the man himself, it's a tiddler at a shade over 200 pages. And the second in the Castle Rock trilogy.


The Sun Dog is a story about cameras and photographs, chilling in its entirety of impending doom, that's supernatural Polaroid cameras for you.


Kevin Delevan, for his fifteenth birthday receives a Sun 660, a Polaroid camera and his first picture is one of the family. Catastrophe follows as the picture doesn't show its intended target and the camera gets knocked off the table to be smothered by a rather large cake. Not a good start, both for his birthday and for the camera. The camera it seems has a mind of its own, no matter where you point the bloody thing it takes a picture of a dog and a white picket fence. The funny thing, time lapses in the picture, almost like a flick book the dog moves slowly along the fence until it notices the person with the camera.


Kevin takes the camera to one Reginald ‘Pop’ Merrill who runs the Emporium Galorium, the Uncle of Ace Merril from The Body and a character definitely worth reading about. Pop takes advantage of those in desperate need, high interest loans and always on the lookout to make a buck. Pop is intrigued by the camera, he wants it, sees a profit in it and he's going to get it.


'Pop’s lips skinned back from his teeth – crooked, eroded, pipe-yellow, but his own, by the bald-headed Christ – and if Kevin had seen him in that moment he would have done more than wonder if maybe Pop Merrill was something other than the Castle Rock version of the Kindly Old Sage of the Crackerbarrel: he would have known.'


I did enjoy The Sun Dog, the effect the camera has on both Kevin and Pop is enthralling, nightmares, infatuation and finally control. Pop is deployed almost like a drone and the people he runs into, in his strange robotic trance all have a little story of their own. The mind can play tricks and what he thinks he's doing and what he's actually doing are miles apart, cleverly done.


And finally the dog from hell, as it's demeanour changes, it looks ferocious and about to pounce, terrifying.


'That roar, full of frustration and purpose and frantic hunger, ripped through his brain again and again, threatening to split it and let in madness.'


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text 2015-05-03 22:34
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Four Past Midnight: The Sun Dog - Tim Sample,Stephen King

Really enjoyed that.


'That roar, full of frustration and purpose and frantic hunger, ripped through his brain again and again, threatening to split it and let in madness.'

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review 2015-03-07 02:27
Four Past Midnight Review
Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

The overall theme of this collection, whether Stephen King realizes it or not, is that lazy little sin we call sloth. If you're a no-account layabout, the Langoliers will come and eat you up. If you're too lazy to write your own material, John Shooter might come calling. Can't be bother to take back that library book? Here comes the Library Policeman to suck you dry. And if you wanna make a fortune not by working but by profiting off other people's misfortune, the Sun dog might make you a Scooby snack.


I do have a personal favorite here, along with a personal story for each of these short novels, but I must ask your pardon, because both shall remain a mystery. Two of these books bring back memories of people whom I'd rather not name. I will be obtuse when mentioning them, perhaps not telling you even as much as their sex. Let the rumor mill run. 


The Langoliers - Five stars. Craig Toomy is one of King's classically flawed characters . All too often King writes about over-the-top baddies of both the supernatural and real-world variety. Where Toomy deviates from King's normal build is that you actually feel bad for him. He was a little boy raised by a tyrannical father. Then his over-protective mother stepped in. If there's a recipe to build a sociopath, I don't know a better one. The tale itself is fantastic and fantastical, with a clear theme. Seize the day, or something is liable to run away with it.


Secret Window, Secret Garden - I have a very special memory attached to the movie version of this one. That memory involves activities in a movie theater. I still haven't seen the end of the film adaptation, and I don't plan to. I'd much rather remember what happened in that theater. The book itself is a kind of fraternal twin of The Dark Half. To tell you why would be to spoil the book, and I will not. Suffice it to say that Secret Window, Secret Garden will always be an important story to me and one of King's twistier tales. Five balls of gas for this one, too.


The Library Policeman - This is probably my favorite horror novella from King. It's his creepiest by far, and I believe that the creature herein shares several traits with Derry's infamous dancing clown. The mystery element is handled well, and the denouement is one of King's best. Five easy stars.


The Sun Dog - I was fine until I got to this story. I cannot read or speak about it without crying. The story itself is not a tear jerker (far from it), it's the emotional baggage I carry, events in my life that just happened to go down while I was reading this book for the first time. The Sun Dog is an extended prologue to Needful Things, and if you want to travel down a long and windy road, I suggest starting with The Dark Half, moving to The Sun Dog, and then finally coming to a stop at the end of Needful Things. One helluva journey, if you ask me. (I miss you, my friend. I miss you so fucking much. When these moments pass, I'm good for a while. But when that wound is reopened, I bleed. And, goddamn it, does it hurts.) All the stars. 


In summation: To the average reader, this collection might not seem as good as Different Seasons, but to me, it means so much more than the words on the page. And, while I sit here remembering and swiping at my eyes, I'm returned to a time best forgotten. I will always fondly remember the back row of a cinema in Montgomery, Alabama, but I will also forever wish I could have a certain friend back. So there's some pleasure with the pain, and not one without the other. 


Final Judgment: Who stole the Kleenex?



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