Sunday, November 04, 2007

THE MIST by Stephen King

I came to Stephen King a little later than most—I read a few of his novels in my early teens, and then pretty much forgot about him until seven years ago when I read The Stand. Since then I have been an avid reader of his work. I usually read two or three Stephen King novels a year, and at this pace I still have years and years of enjoyment to look forward to.

One of the books I read as a kid was King’s collection Skeleton Crew. It was filled with a more than twenty stories, a few of them novella size. The stories have faded with the passing years, but I remember I enjoyed them immensely—I can remember reading Skeleton Crew more than what I actually read. Silly, but that sort of things happens to me a lot. I see a book title I read years ago and it’s like a postcard from the past. I can see myself sitting in the school library, the park, my childhood bedroom, or anywhere else I read the novel, and what’s more I can feel the emotional vibrations of the time. If I was happy, sad, angry, scared—whatever was happening in my life at that moment is caught in what I read.

I’m getting side tracked here, because what I really want to talk about is Stephen King’s novella The Mist. The Mist was one of the stories published in Skeleton Crew, and it has been republished—in anticipation of the release of a new film version—as a standalone. I read it last week, and I enjoyed it more than I remembered. Heck I didn’t remember the story much at all.

David Drayton is a commercial artist who lives with his wife and young son on Long Lake in Maine. The story is written in first person with David as the narrator, and it opens with a brutal thunderstorm ravaging the community. The storm knocks down trees, and pummels its way across the area leaving a wake of destruction. When the storm clears the small town begins the slow process of cleaning up, and an odd fog bank slowly makes its way across Long Lake and quickly overcomes the town itself.

David and his son Billy are in town at the local grocery market when the fog reaches them, and it is unsettling because it is unlike any fog David has ever seen. It’s unreal—thicker than normal yet devoid of moisture. That’s when things start to happen. The people in the grocery begin to see strange things: large octopus-like tentacles snatch a bag boy out the back loading door, and large spiders and bugs are seen outside the front windows. The people begin to panic, and David has to do anything he can to protect his son.

The Mist is vintage Stephen King. It is a post-apocalyptic story that has as much philosophical tension as it does forward energy. Drayton is the son a famous painter, and he has trouble measuring up to his father’s legacy. A comparison can be made between Drayton and King—the townspeople constantly wonder when Drayton will create a serious work of art, which is the same notion that haunted King’s early career. Yeah, he writes a good scary tale, but when will the guy write something worthwhile?

The Mist is also a terrific read. It is part horror story, part philosophical melodrama, and very much in the tradition of truly great pulp literature. It speaks on multiple levels, and overall it is a nice reintroduction to Stephen King’s early work. It is different from what he writes today, which is to be expected because great writers are not static. Their work change as they progress and evolve as people. The funny thing is I’m not sure if I like King’s current output, or his early stuff better. It’s just different.

I do know I enjoyed The Mist very much.

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