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It

It - Stephen King "It’s in The Lord of the Rings, I think, where one of the characters says that “way leads on to way”; that you could start at a path leading nowhere more fantastic than from your own front steps to the sidewalk, and from there you could go ... well, anywhere at all. It’s the same way with stories. One leads to the next, to the next, and to the next; maybe they go in the direction you wanted to go, but maybe they don’t. Maybe in the end it’s the voice that tells the stories more than the stories themselves that matters."

I read King to remember.

I don’t know about you guys, but Stephen King is the voice of summer for me. Well, him and good old Ray Bradbury. It almost doesn't seem to matter what kind of story he's telling as long as he's telling it. It's the voice that matters. King tends to capture the dog days of childhood summers so vividly and so poignantly that there are almost tangible waves of nostalgia that radiate from between the pages of his works. Ignore all the supernaturalism embedded in the tales and what you’re still left with timeless memories of youthful energy and imagination that I think people of all ages can relate to on an almost forgotten level (see The Body, better known to some as Stand By Me). It brings out something powerful in you that lets you slip away and become immersed in his writing. He understands human nature like almost no other writer I’m fond of, and he understands childhood as if he’s been perpetually stuck there himself - either that, or his memory of the typical American childhood is so vivid he can connect to it and describe it as if he’s still living it. I was Bill, riding an oversized bicycle down ridiculous hills at lunatic speed, I was Eddie when I was sick and I was Ben with a crush on a girl way out of my league. I spent summers building things with my friends for the heck of it; imagining overgrown yards were wild jungles and closets were portals to other worlds, and so when these kids are living their lives, I’m living it again too. And that, my friends, is when Mr. King has you - because when the freaky shit hits the fan there’s no way out. You’re stuck there with the pleasant memories that pulled you in and the horrible things that King imagines - that only a child can really imagine.

IT is another novel about the power of imagination. An amorphous horror lives beneath the town of Derry that preys on its children in the summer of every 27th year. In the summer of 1958, seven broken children band together to confront their fears and take on the evil that’s stalked the town since its beginnings. Twenty-seven years later in the summer of 1985, the seven are called back again to finish the job. King does an absolutely masterful job interweaving the events of 58 and the recollections of the seven kids while building to the climactic rematch in the present. Flashbacks are seamless and the narrative takes on a stream of consciousness quality that seems natural rather than superficial. He fills the spaces, answers questions you didn’t know you had and fleshes out the history, the story, of Derry while investing you in the lives and problems of memorable characters - memorable because of the attention to detail he pays in their construction and in the tones they strike with your own memories of childhood. You knew a Ben Hanscome and an Eddie. You knew a Beverly and a Richie. And of course, we all knew a Bill. Someone with raw childhood magnetism that just subconsciously became the leader of whatever band you happened to be hanging out with, just as well as we all knew a Henry. They’re archetypes of childhood that we put away when we move on in life - until of course you’re forced to remember.

Leaving out the inexplicable events of 85, the events of 58 can be critically read as the recollections and false memories - the imaginations - of a group of seriously screwed up kids whose traumatic lives led them to create a confrontation with a monster that explained away their fears and anger - the way we all imagine being heroes who do daring deeds when we’re little. The shape of the deeds always tends to match the most vexing circumstances in our lives, but it gives us a feeling of empowerment lacking in our ordinary experience. It’s the logical explanation of the events narrated as the memories come boiling up to the surface in roiling bubbles. A “confrontation” presents a coping mechanism by which The Losers can move on with their lives - and the secondary confrontation could have been called upon to break through whatever psychological hang-ups The Losers still had after becoming adults. Of course, this is the adult rationalization, isn’t it? And not very fun either. In the eyes of a child, the events are real, just beyond the veneer of reality and invisible to the “higher” world of adults. Therein, of course, lies the genius, because that lower level is home to the primal fears that haunt us into our more mature days. Only by then we slap on fancy scientific terminology to try and bring them into the light of understanding so we can convince ourselves that there’s nothing at all to be afraid of. The problem is well understood, well recognized and therefore dismissable from the conscious mind.

Anyway, whether you want to get fancy with the analysis or not, IT is one hell of an enjoyable story. Scary as they come, and I don’t scare easily and superbly well-written. I’ve said it many, many times before in King reviews, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it: the man knows human nature. He can capture the ugly - the racism, homophobia and child abuse - and the wonderfully normal and inspiring - a bullied kid finding his legs for the first time to defend someone even weaker than himself. He sees the potential for the sinister and primordially evil behind the every day weaknesses and bad behavior we tend to overlook and is able to convince you that what he’s saying is utterly real no matter how absurd.

Oh, and P.S. - kudos on the great ending! The one bone I like to pick with King is, especially in his longer stories, the end sometimes feels very unsatisfying (Under the Dome anyone?). This one is a winner. It’s perfect. Recommended to start off your summer reading. I read King to remember what it was like to be a kid. He takes you home, and there’s no place like it - unless, of course, you lived in Derry, in which case I’d pack bags and never look back.