February 10, 2012

F5 #2: The Master of Suspense

Looking back through the various F5 posts I've done over the years, I'm amazed I haven't touched on this particular guilty pleasure yet, although I certainly have mentioned Stephen King by name many times—more, possibly, than anyone other than myself or Jesus. (That is a perfectly unscientific assessment, made with exactly no research or data collection whatsoever. So it's time to give my favourite author his due. And, for the first time, I will reveal my one weakness at the end of this post.

My first Stephen King novel was Christine. I read it in 1984, in grade 9. He was one of my first exposures to contemporary adult fiction, after Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming. It was about a car that killed people. That was the only motivation I needed. At the time it was his newest novel except for Pet Sematary, which meant I had about nine or ten other novels to work through before the next one was published.

There was just something about King—I still don't really know what—that hooked me like no author has ever done before or since. It wasn't his writing style: even as a teen of 14 or 15 I recognized his prose as a little threadbare, and thought he relied more on profanity and graphic descriptions of brutal violence, than genuine artistry with the English language. Charlotte Brontë or Kazuo Ishiguro, he ain't—though I think his writing has improved considerably starting in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, the man is addictive. What can I say? He can spin a hell of a yarn, of any length: his works range from 1000-page epics (e.g. It and Under the Dome) to dozens of short stories, of which I consider him the leading living writer. He is best known as a horror writer, and certainly his earliest work was dominated by supernatural horror: The Shining, Christine, and the aforementioned Pet Sematary, to name three—the last being the only work of fiction in any genre or medium to actually give me nightmares, the first time I read it. Since the 1990s, his literature has become oriented less toward horror and more toward fantasy: Insomnia and The Green Mile, for example.

My favourite King novel is The Stand, and has been since I first read it in high school. However, I regard It as the most representative of King's works: the novel that best embodies the spirit of Stephen Kinginess. I have a definite bias towards the first half of King's writing career. This is simply due to the fact that apart from Dreamcatcher and Under the Dome, I haven't read anything of his more recent than 1996's The Green Mile. Somewhere I got it in mind to reread King's works anew from the beginning, and got caught in the 1980s. I'm sure this calls my credentials as a fan into question; I will say in my defense that I am also a big fan of William Shakespeare despite having read proportionally less of his work.

My one weakness: Smoked sausage

Szegedi, Gyulai, Langolt, Andouille, even plain old pepperoni: one of my all-time favourite snack foods is dried, smoked sausage, especially European varieties. The spicier the better: that's just an excuse to wash them down with more beer. My favourite varieties came from the European Deli on Merivale here in Ottawa, but unfortunately I don't live on that side of town anymore. So, more often, I'll settle for the Szegedi at the Budapest Deli in the Market, which is quite fine as well.