Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Pale King: Paperback Has Four New Sections

UPDATE: Joe Winkler provides recaps (and little snips) from all four new sections at Vol. 1 Brooklyn. I guess some stores are selling copies ahead of the April 10 release date.


The paperback edition of David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, due April 10, will have four additional sections - three sections of three pages each, and one section that runs 14 pages. One of the shorter sections has been posted at The Millions.
Charles Lehrl grew up not in Peoria but in nearby Decatur, home of Archer Dentists Midland and Lehrl said a city of such relentless uninteresting squalor and poverty that Peorians point with genuine pride at their city’s failure to be as bad as Decatur, whose air stank either of hog processing or burnt corn depending on the wind, whose patrician class distinguished itself by chewing gum with their front teeth. Lehrl’s narrative was that he had grown up in a mobile home the color of rotten fruit across a drainage culvert from Self-Storage Parkway . . .
There will be at least five DFW-related books published in 2012:
April 1 - Conversations with David Foster Wallace, edited by Stephen Burn

April 10 - The Pale King (paperback)

May 31 - The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Sam Cohen and Lee Konstantinou

August 20 - Every Love Story is A Ghost Story: A life of David Foster Wallace (biography by D.T. Max)

November 27 - Both Flesh And Not (15 previously uncollected essays)

Date ? - A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies, edited by Stephen Burn and Marshall Boswell
Thanks to The Howling Fantods for the information.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stephen King: 'Salem's Lot (1975)

"There's little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil - or worse, a conscious one."

With 'Salem's Lot - his second published novel (October 1975) - Stephen King is suddenly at his peak, showing all the strengths that will quickly make him one of the most popular writers in the world: a superb gift for storytelling, a propulsive narrative drive, an unerring sense of detail and imagery, and deft management of a large cast of characters. He also displays a keen sense of the state of America during the mid-70s and reflects, and capitalizes on, those fears and desires in this novel.

King's production over the next four years will be staggering: he will publish five novels - The Shining, Rage, The Stand, The Long Walk, and The Dead Zone - and set down first drafts of four others: Firestarter, Cujo, Christine, and Pet Sematary. He will write the four novellas collected in Different Seasons, as well as Danse Macabre, a non-fiction look at horror in literature and popular culture. King will also publish a short story collection (Night Shift), and write the screenplay to Creepshow, and leave three other (unfinished) novels in his trunk.

King submitted two manuscripts to Doubleday editor Bill Thompson as a possible follow-up to Carrie, his debut novel: Second Coming - in which vampires invade the small Maine town of Jerusalem's Lot - and Roadwork - the story of a man who takes extreme measures to prevent a highway extension from being built through his property.

[Bill Thompson] said that Roadwork was a more honestly dealt novel — a novelist's novel, if you know what I mean — but that he wanted to do 'Salem's Lot, because he thought it would have greater commercial success. But, he said to me, You'll get typed. And I said, Typed as what? He said, Typed as a horror writer. I just laughed. I thought, What? Like M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley? I said, I don't care.
(In the afterword to Different Seasons, and in at least one interview, King says it was Blaze he offered, not Roadwork. Both Roadwork and Blaze were later published under King's Richard Bachman pseudonym.)

King's wife Tabitha thought Second Coming sounded like a tawdry sex book, so King changed it to Jerusalem's Lot. But then the publisher balked; too religious. So it was shortened to 'Salem's Lot. ... As a kid, I always thought the book was about witches and Salem, Mass. (King first wrote about the fictional town of Jerusalem's Lot in college and an epistolary short story from that time was published in his 1978 collection Night Shift.)

When I conceived of the vampire novel which became 'Salem's Lot, I decided I wanted to try to use the book partially as a form of literary homage. So my novel bears an intentional similarity to Bram Stoker's Dracula . . . At the same time, because the vampire story was so much a staple of the E.C. comics I grew up with, I decided that I would also try to bring in that aspect of the horror story. . . .

I wanted to have a section in the book called "exactra" the way there's a section in the beginning of Moby Dick called "exactra". Except the "exactra" at the beginning of Melville's book was all about whales, and I wanted to have a lot of background stuff about vampires, stuff from the bible, stuff from books and movies. . . .
King's initial idea for the novel has been recounted in slightly different ways, but the basic tale is this: During a dinner conversation with friends, the scenario of Dracula returning in the late 20th Century came up. King figured the FBI would quickly nab him, thanks to wiretaps and covert surveillance. One of King's friends, however, thought Dracula could go virtually unnoticed in a rural setting.

There are so many small towns in Maine, towns which remain so isolated that almost anything could happen there. People could drop out of sight, disappear, perhaps even come back as the living dead. I began to turn the idea over in my mind, and it began to coalesce into a possible novel. I thought it would make a good one, if I could create a fictional town with enough prosaic reality about it to offset the comic-book menace of a bunch of vampires.
Synopsis: Novelist Benjamin Mears returns to the small town of Jerusalem's Lot, Maine, where he grew up, hoping for closure with the haunting (and possibly haunted) Marsten House, and to research his latest book. Also new in town around the same time are Richard Straker and Kurt Barlow, who rent the long-abandoned Marsten House and open an antiques shop on the town's main street. After a series of mysterious disappearances and odd deaths, Mears realizes that Straker and Barlow are vampires intent on infesting the entire town. So he and a handful of others - including Susan Norton, Matt Burke, Mark Petrie, and Father Callahan - join forces to fight the ever-growing number of Undead. ... Through it all, King piles up dozens of allusions to numerous vampire novels and American Gothic authors.

King's vampires are not only literal, but they are, according to Douglas Winter (Stephen King: The Art Of Darkness), "important metaphors for the seductiveness of evil and the dehumanizing pall of modern society". Winter claims 'Salem's Lot deals a "jackhammer blow" to the myth of "the peaceful, rustic charm of rural communities" as contrasted with the "monolithic greed and guilt of the American city".

I wrote 'Salem's Lot during the period when the Ervin committee [wiki] was sitting. That was also the period when we first learned of the Ellsberg break-in, the White House tapes, the connection between Gordon Liddy and the CIA, the news of enemies' lists, and other fearful intelligence. During the spring, summer and fall of 1973, it seemed that the Federal Government had been involved in so much subterfuge and so many covert operations that, like the bodies of the faceless wetbacks that Juan Corona was convicted of slaughtering in California, the horror would never end Every novel is to some extent an inadvertent psychological portrait of the novelist, and I think that the unspeakable obscenity in 'Salem's Lot has to do with my own disillusionment and consequent fear for the future. The secret room is 'Salem's Lot is paranoia, the prevailing spirit of [those] years. It's a book about vampires; it's also a book about all those silent houses, all those drawn shades, all those people who are no longer what they seem. In a way, it is more closely related to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than it is to Dracula. The fear behind 'Salem's Lot seems to be that the Government has invaded everybody.
Christine Mazur, in her 1997 thesis, Gothic Fiction, Liminality, and Popular Culture: Stephen King's "Grotesque" Social Commentary in 'Salem's Lot, states that the "unquestioning adherence" of some characters to science and logic, their stubborn insistence that vampires cannot exist, despite growing evidence to the contrary, "resembles the unquestioning faith the American people once had in their institutions of government and the office of president".

Mazur quotes authors Leonard Dinnerstein and Kenneth T. Jackson (American Vistas: 1877 to the Present):
In the space of one year beginning on October 10, 1973, a vice-president resigned in disgrace, a former attorney general was indicted, and a Congressional committee ascertained that President Nixon himself had underpaid income taxes to the tune of almost half a million dollars. Americans learned of the "plumbers," of "dirty tricks," of a politicized FBI, and of an Internal Revenue Service ordered to audit the tax returns of political enemies. As each new episode became public it appeared that nothing more damaging could possibly turn up, and yet on every occasion something still more devastating emerged.
At one point in the novel, Ben Mears is suspected in the disappearance of a young child and the local police chief contacts the FBI to see if it has any info on him. The report on Mears comes back with numerous items, including his attendance at anti-war rallies and peace marches over a period of six years.

Although King deemphasized the sexual aspect of the vampire theme, there is an interesting homosexual subtext to the novel. The two heroes of the book, Ben Mears and the teenaged Mark Petrie, are both described as having soft, even feminine, features; Mark is taunted by a bully as "queer". Ann Norton, whose daughter is dating Mears, disapproves of Mears because his latest novel includes a prison rape scene; also, she "distrusted the creative male with an instinctive small-town dislike". A fear and obsession with gay men appears frequently, and many townspeople equate homosexuality with deviance, "preeverts", and pedophilia. Barlow and Straker, as mysterious outsiders, are considered to be homosexuals ("Maybe they are queer for each other"). A minor character, a store owner, is identified by his "fruity" voice and "prissy" mannerisms.

King wrote the novel only a few years after Stonewall and the more public fight for gay rights in America. When he began the novel, homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). The thoughts of the townspeople of 'Salem's Lot mirrors the country's confusion, fear and hatred of gay people.

Douglas Winter describes King's "jackhammer blow" to the myth of "the peaceful, rustic charm of rural communities" as contrasted with the "monolithic greed and guilt of the American city". 'Salem's Lot exposes the terrifying rot at the heart of the American small town. Mears returns to the town in which he once lived, but he's treated as a foreigner, an outsider, with suspicion. The town he once knew is dead.

"[M]ost of the stores are false-fronted," King writes, "although no one could have said why. The people know there is nothing behind those false facades. . . . There is no life here but the slow death of days."

King lays bare the town's fears, desires, shame, neglect, and abuse, hidden behind drawn shades and curtains, in windowless rooms, all across the Lot (which reminds me of the British expression, "the lot", meaning everything). Barlow, the main vampire, believes the townspeople are "stuffed with the aggression and darkness so necessary to" become vampires. Police chief Parkins Gillespie tells Mears that 'Salem's Lot has been dead for 20 years or more ("Whole country's goin' the same way") and reflects that the townspeople "prob'ly like bein' vampires".

Mazur also see an anti-capitalist theme in the novel, with the vampires playing the part of the bourgeoisie.
What makes the vampiristic motif so adaptable to a critique of American culture in turn, is the extent to which a capitalist economy is very like a blood-sucking system. . . . The vampire's relation to his victims is comparable to the capitalist use of other as commodities. the vampire regards humans as his "cash-payment" suppliers with whom he enters into an exchange in which they give him blood and he gives them eternal life in return. Like the capitalist, the vampire has "resolved personal worth into exchange value" and Marx calls this treatment of the human being "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation". . . .

Always foreseeing the need for more blood, the vampire must search for other places in which to settle. . . . Marx could just as well be describing the vampire when he writes: "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere."
Mears is the first writer portrayed in King's novels, and he will certainly not be the last. But King does not spend much time exploring Mears's writing career or methods. Mears's first book was a hit, but his following two were poorly received. (King was no doubt worried about how his second novel would fare.) Mears is depicted as a fiercely dedicated writer, unwilling to have a second beer with dinner because he wants to put in some late-night hours on his manuscript.

King, from the novel, on fear, children, and adults:
The door shut softly and his father's slippered feet descended the stairs. Mark [Petrie] let himself go limp with relief and delayed reaction. An adult might have had hysterics at this point, and a slightly younger or older child might also have done. But Mark felt the terror slip from him in almost imperceptible degrees, and the sensation reminded him of letting the wind dry you after you had been swimming on a cool day. And as the terror left, drowsiness began to come in its place.

Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting - not for the first time - on the peculiarity of adults. They took laxatives, liquor, or sleeping pills to drive away their terrors so that sleep would come, and their terrors were so tame and domestic: the job, the money, what the teacher will think if I can't get Jennie nicer clothes, does my wife still love me, who are my friends. They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hope of perfect understanding but another child. There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.

. . .

She [Susan Norton] had always consciously or unconsciously formed fear into a simple equation: fears = unknown. And to solve the equation, one simply reduced the problem to simple algebraic terms, thus: unknown = creaky board (or whatever), creaky board = nothing to be afraid of. In the modern world all terrors could be gutted by simple use of the transitive axiom of equality. Some fears were justified, of course (you don't drive when you're too plowed to see, don't extend the hand of friendship to snarling dogs, don't go parking with boys you don't know - how did the old joke go? Screw or walk?), but until now she had not believed that some fears were larger than comprehension, apocalyptic and nearly paralyzing. This equation was insoluble. The act of moving forward at all became heroism.

. . .

The essential and defining characteristic of childhood is not the effortless merging of dream and reality, but only alienation. There are no words for childhood's dark turns and exhalations. A wise child recognizes it and submits to the necessary consequences. A child who counts the cost is a child no longer.
Next: The Shining.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Stephen King: Carrie (1974)

He speaks in your voice, American ...
Don DeLillo, Underworld

After reading On Writing (Stephen King's memoir of the craft) and enjoying The Stand, I wanted to tackle more King. So I started at the beginning.

"Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. On the surface, all the girls in the shower room were shocked, thrilled, ashamed, or simply glad that the White bitch had taken it in the mouth again. Some of them might also have claimed surprise, but of course their claim was untrue. Carrie had been going to school with some of them since the first grade, and this had been building since that time, building slowly and immutably, in accordance with all the laws that govern human nature, building with all the steadiness of a chain reaction approaching critical mass.

"What none of them knew, of course, was that Carrie White was telekinetic."


The story behind the writing of Carrie is far more interesting than the book itself. The novel's genesis may not be widely known enough to be considered legendary, but I suspect any writers who have read a fair amount of King know it well.

I thought it would make a Cavalier [a men's magazine in which King had published several short stories] story: a straight point-to-point tale of an ugly-ducking girl with the "wild talent" of telekinesis, who finally uses her talent to get even with the bitches in her phys ed class who had been tormenting her.

The story had so many strikes against it from the very beginning that it never should have been written at all. The first problem had occurred about an hour after I sat down and began writing. I decided I couldn't write it at all. I was in a totally foreign environment - a girls' shower room - and writing about teenage girls. I felt completely at sea. ... I (1) had never been a girl, (2) had never had a menstrual cramp or a menstrual period, (3) had absolutely no idea how I'd react to one. ...

I crumpled up my two pages and threw them in the kitchen wastebasket. About an hour later Tabby saw them there, fished them out, read them, and pressed me to go on.
So he did. And he quickly realized that the story would be longer than anything Cavalier would publish. But it probably would not be long enough for a novel. It would end up as the "confused, anarchy-riddled, literary banana republic" known as a novella, not a short story, not a novel, but something in between - "a story with absolutely no market".
I persisted, not out of any noble motivation, not out of any glimmerings into the future, not even because my wife had asked me to, but because I was dry and had no better ideas. If I had had one, I would have dropped Carrie in a flash. I pushed my way through scene after difficult, sticky scene, taking little if any pleasure in any of it, only doing the most competent job I could ... I think it would be fair to say that I detested it. It was neither fish nor fowl; not a straight story, not strictly a fantasy, not strictly science fiction. The length was wrong and the ending was terribly downbeat. My considered opinion was that I had written the world's all-time loser.
In early 1973, he sent it off to an editor at Doubleday with whom he had had previous dealings, and after a meeting and some re-writing of the last 50 pages, Carrie was published in April 1974. King was 26 years old.

One wonders about the arc (or even the existence) of King's writing career if those pages had stayed in the trash. Considering how prodigious King's work flow was at that time, some type of success might have come anyway, or he might have been at a low point where it was finally time to admit that writing would be nothing more than a sideline.

King, writing in Danse Macabre:
The story deals with a girl named Carrie White, the browbeaten daughter of a religious fanatic. Because of her strange clothes and shy mannerisms, Carrie is the butt of every class joke; the social outsider in every situation. She also has a mild telekinetic ability which intensifies after her first menstrual period ...

[T]he book tries to deal with the loneliness of one girl, her desperate effort to become part of the peer society in which she must exist, and how her effort fails. If it had any thesis to offer, this deliberate updating of High School Confidential, it was that high school is a place of almost bottomless conservatism and bigotry ...

But there's a little more subtext to the book than that, I think - at least, I hope so. ... Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, and what men fear about women and women's sexuality ... The book is, in its more adult implications, an uneasy masculine shrinking from a future of female equality. For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she's also Woman, feeling her powers for the first time in her life and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.

Heavy, turgid stuff - but in the novel, it's only there if you want to take it. If you don't, that's okay with me.
Is that heavy, turgid subtext really there? Perhaps a little. The book does chart Carrie's awakening and assertion of herself, and she is clearly terrified of an empty future in the shadow of her abusive mother, who is described as a religious fundamentalist, but is, in my opinion, nearly insane. Carrie notes that life under her mother's dominance would be a kind of living death:
High school would be over in a month. Then what? A creeping, subterranean existence in this house, supported by Momma, watching game shows and soap operas all day on television ... walking down to the Center to get a malted after supper at the Kelly Fruit when it was deserted, getting fatter, losing hope, losing even the power to think?
More King thoughts:
Carrie was written after Rosemary's Baby, but before The Exorcist, which really opened up the field. I didn't expect much of Carrie. I thought who'd want to read a book about a poor little girl with menstrual problems? I couldn't believe I was writing it. ... I'm not saying that Carrie is shit and I'm not repudiating it. She made me a star, but it was a young book by a young writer. In retrospect it reminds me of a cookie baked by a first grader - tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom.
Carrie is a good debut novel(la), though not as interesting to me as either The Long Walk or Rage, two other novels which I believe were completed and in King's drawer by this time. (Both of them were published a few years later under the name Richard Bachman.)

The novel feels like an expanded short story, and the inclusion of documented sources about the Carrie White "incident" - news bulletins, excerpts from scholarly books, interviews from various investigations - felt at times like a poor substitute for developing the story and characters in a more traditional way. What is interesting about Carrie is that it is a horror story that makes little effort to hide what's coming. The fine details are unknown, but King drops not-so-subtle hints of what is coming almost from the start of the book:
"her violent rampage of revenge" (back cover)
Carrie is telekinetic, and has a "potential of immense magnitude" (pp. 4, 6)
Her mother is now dead (67)
Something happened at the school's Spring Ball, an incident known simply as Prom Night (82)
"the destruction that came to Chamberlain, Maine" (91)
"He and George and Frieda had less than two hours to live." (141)
A careful reader may also notice that none of the sources quote Carrie herself, so there is a question of whether she remains alive.

Carrie is in many ways a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, with even their four-syllable names (Carietta) being similar. One of the most obvious allusions is when Carrie loses her "prom slippers" while running across the school lawn at what is clearly the end of the Spring Ball.

King establishes several themes that he will return to again and again in his fiction: a child protagonist with cruel or distant parents, or a main character, often an outsider, with a secret or a secret ability. He will continue interrupting sentences to include whatever may be running quickly through a character's mind, set off either in parenthesis or in italics. There is a theme of identity and conformity in high school that King will also discuss (in far greater depth) in the Bachman book, Rage. King calls the ending of Carrie "a dream revolution of the socially downtrodden".

Three inside jokes: King quotes from a poem Carrie had written in a Grade 7 English class led by Mr. Edwin King. Edwin is King's middle name, and he taught high school English back in the '70s. ... The book mentions something known as "King's Evil", a skin disease (scrofula) which could allegedly be cured during the Middle Ages in England and France by the mere touch from royalty. ... A roadhouse bar is named the Cavalier.

Carrie is also one of the most-frequently banned books in United States high schools, one of several of King's books to be banned in schools. King's observation: "If a book is banned, go find that book and read it because that is what you should be reading."

From Carrie:
"True sorrow is as rare as true love."

"Whenever anything important happens in America, they have to gold-plate it, like baby shoes. That way you can forget it." (sounding a tad DeLillo-esque, actually)
King, Book-of-the-Month Club News, 1987:
I'm not any big-deal fancy writer. If I have any virtue it's that I know that. I don't have the ability to write the dazzling prose line. All I can do is entertain people. I think of myself as an American writer.
Next: 'Salem's Lot.