I was a big Stephen King fan during my teenage years. Like countless readers in the 80s, I devoured novels such as Carrie, The Shining, Christine, Pet Sematary, The Stand, Cujo, and many more. I first read It circa 1989 and I remember loving it. And to this day I considered that book among the very best Stephen King titles out there, second only to The Stand. The new movie's release date was approaching and the reviews were surprisingly good. And I knew there was no way I could go see the new flick without rereading the novel beforehand.

Rereading old favorites always come with a certain sense of apprehension for me. Not every book age well and I was wondering if It had survived the test of time. After all, the children's part of the new movie is set in the 80s/90s and not in the late 50s as it is in the novel. Ye of litte faith and all that, I should have known that it wouldn't be a problem. It captured my imagination and grabbed a hold of me from the very beginning and I found myself going through this 1400+-page doorstopper in just a few days.

One thing's for sure. As a fifteen-year-old teenager, I was too young and immature to catch all of the nuances found throughout the narrative. Too young and inexperienced to appreciate the superb characterization and the bonds that link the protagonists. It was all about the scary bits and the evil clown, which is what the new movie focuses on. Which is why I elected not to go see the new adaptation once I finished rereading It. Any flick that didn't focus on the character development and the special bond between those kids could be nothing but a disappointment for me. I'll watch it at some point during a flight in the coming months, but It isn't about Pennywise. The younger me didn't get that. The older me was floored by the incredible characterization and the unbreakable bonds that united those kids that comprise the Losers' Club.

It occurs to me that I will also have to reread The Stand sooner rather than later. For as things stand, It has dethroned that novel and now ranks as the very best book Stephen King has written thus far. At least in this house.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen King’s terrifying, classic #1 New York Times bestseller, “a landmark in American literature” (Chicago Sun-Times)—about seven adults who return to their hometown to confront a nightmare they had first stumbled on as teenagers…an evil without a name: It.

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.

The bulk of the action takes place in the New England town of Derry. It's a fictional city set in the state of Maine and the author truly makes it come alive. Other than Carlos Ruiz Zafón's portrayal of Barcelona, King's depiction of Derry just might be one of the best ever. The town and its surroundings and its citizens come alive and make you feel as if you're right there with the characters.

The novel's structure is split into two different timelines. The first one, which transpires in 1957 and 1958, focuses on the events that would bring together the kids that will face the primordial evil menace they only know as It and their first showdown with Pennywise. The second one, happening in 1984 and 1985, focuses on the same bunch of protagonists and their return to Derry twenty-seven years later to battle It one final time. The novel opens up with the now classic scene of little George Denbrough chasing his paper boat down a gutter and his death at the hands of the clown Pennywise. The first part also includes a chapter on the events that led Mike Hanlon to realize that that the cycle of violence and murder that threatens Derry every 27 years or so has begun once again, as well as another chapter in which Mike calls each of the members of the Losers' Club to remind them of a promise they made as children. A promise to return to Derry to stand against It if it ever returned to terrorize the town. The second part concentrates on how the members of the Losers' Club met and gradually realized that they have been brought together for a special purpose. The third part shifts back to the future, where the protagonists are now adults with successful careers, as they must turn their backs on their lives and return to their former hometown. For most of them, it's been decades since they were last in Derry. The third part focuses of the kids' coming to terms with what they must do and their first showdown with the evil known as Pennywise. The fourth part concentrates on the adults' last confrontation with It. The novel also features a number of interludes which are comprised of Mike's thoughts and writings, and which bridge the gaps between the events of the two timelines. And though I much preferred the 1957-58 portions, overall the structure works quite well for the most part. It takes a while for readers to understand just how Mike Hanlon fits into the greater scheme of things, but there is a reason for that.

The characterization is by far the most amazing aspect of this novel. It features what could well be the very best character development of King's career. True, that of The Dark Tower is hard to beat. Then again, the author had seven installments to build those memorable characters. And though It weighs in at neary 1500 pages, it is nevertheless one single book. Not sure if a reread of The Stand will make me change my mind, but a more interesting bunch of characters I'd be hard-pressed to name, and none from a stand-alone novel. King has always had a knack for portraying children in a genuine fashion, one that rings true. And what he did with the members of the Losers' Club was a tour de force in that regard. William "Stuttering Bill" Denbrough, older brother of dead Georgie, overweight and good-hearted Benjamin "Ben" Hanscom, pretty Beverly "Bev" Marsh, Richard "Richie" Tozier, also known as Trashmouth, frail Edward "Eddie" Kaspbrak, racially harassed Michael "Mike" Hanlon, and clean and neat Stanley "Stan" Uris are all bullied and abused boys and girl. Stephen King makes them come alive in a way that is nothing short of astonishing. Somehow, fate will bring them all together to face Pennywise, once as young children and another time nearly three decades later.

True, the author spends a lot of time fleshing out each protagonist and that may hurt the pace in certain portions of the novel. And yet, that character development is of capital importance, for it shows just how the bonds that unite them first as kids and then as adults were forged. And this is, in my humble opinion, what the story is all about. Each of them face a lot of violence, both psychological and physical. And although these sequences are necessary, they are at times quite disturbing. As a fan of grimdark and epic fantasy, I'm no stranger to violence, blood, and gore. And yet, the graphic violence in certain scenes featuring Bev getting beat up by her father and years later by her husband was definitely perturbing. Interestingly enough, an evil clown murdering random people was nothing special. Just part and parcel of any horror novel. But reading about the violence and abuse suffered by all these kids was a lot harder to come to terms with. For all of that, it did bring them all together. Which I figure is the point. King truly captured the themes of childhood and friendship as perfectly as humanly possible, and he made it impossible not to root for those guys. I mean, you would think that Bill's stuttering, Ben's obesity, Richie's voices, Eddie's lameness, etc, would annoy you and get old in a hurry. Yet it's the complete opposite. You basically fall in love with each and everyone of them.

As is usually King's wont, It is filled with pop culture references from those two periods. The book is often a trip down memory lane. I know I wasn't around in the 50s, but I'm a child of the 80s and got most of those relating to that era.

It is an enormous work of fiction. There is no getting around that. Understandably, such a big novel will occasionally suffer from rhythm problems. And while it's true that at times the pace can be slow, It is never boring. As I mentioned above, I went though this book in a matter of a few short days, and for me the rhythm was never an issue. King has taken a lot of flak over the years regarding his less-than-stellar endings and one has to agree that often that criticism was justified. Having said that, I felt that It ends on just the right note.

If you're only going to read one Stephen King title in your life, make it this one. It showcases King writing at the top of his game and is an unforgettable read.

Impossible to put down. It deserves the highest possible recommendation.

The final verdict: 10/10

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2 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

"It" is Stephen King at his absolute best in my opinion. For me, nothing beats the first half, maybe two thirds of The Stand, but taken as a whole, that story suffers a bit at the end, although most of King's books have this problem.

Anonymous said...

I also read It as a teenager and then reread It now just before the film came out. As a teenager I was more concerned with, as you put it, evil clown killing people, scary scary nasty stuff. All fun and games really. As an adult though, the book was a hell of a lot creepier, scarier, and generally unsettling than I remember it being. That is what impresses me most. The fact that King creates this atmosphere of half stifled terror as the book goes on.