Opinion: Later by SK
I have a favorite long-sleeved T-shirt depicting two of my passions — Stephen King and “Peanuts’” Charlie Brown.
The screen print cartoon on the shirt front depicts a familiar pose featuring Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown, sitting under a large tree. Peppermint Patty asks Charlie Brown what love is? He replies a weekend alone and a new Stephen King book. This, my dear ones, can be such a weekend.
New in stores now, the paperback book franchise Hard Case Crimes presents “Later,” by Stephen King. It debuted Tuesday. I was able to download it on to my phone’s Kindle app. This 252-page book is presented in the early to mid-20th century style of the pulp mystery novels.
The nostalgia begins with the colorful orange cover, featuring an attractive young couple. The boy strikes a casual pose and is obviously brooding, while the girl is buxom and sassy. Both are leaning against the passenger’s side of a generic 1960s muscle car.
The story is told in a first-person narrative by the protagonist, one Jamie Conklin, age 22. At an early age, little Jamie discovers he sees dead people.
He references “that Bruce Willis movie,” (The Sixth Sense) saying his ability is not like that. He takes you through his first encounter at about age four, with a white-haired man, age 70-ish, killed in New York City’s Central Park. The experience is still frightening to the narrator, as almost 20 years later, he still describes the sight as “gooshey.” The entire tale takes place in the NYC area.
His mother, Tia Conklin, is a literary agent at an agency with more debts than clients. He describes their life as a Dickens novel, only with swearing. He encounters and talks with dead people which no one else can see throughout the story.
The story develops an odd sort of rhythm with words and phrases repeated often in the rule of three. The rule in English essay writing states that things are more interesting to read in triads, according to www.edutopia.com.
Once again, King pulls the reader in by telling a story in his classic “what-if style?”
According to his non-fiction memoir, “On Writing,” he takes a situation and twists it in his mind asking, “What if?”
Recognizable examples, a family adopts an adorable St. Bernard puppy who grows to an enormous dog, as the breed is wont to do. His family runs a shade-tree auto repair business on their isolated farm in rural Maine. What if the dog gets bit by a rabid bat and contracts the disease? What if along comes a woman and her small son in a car that dies in the driveway? What if they discover the family is not on the premises? What if the giant dog, that then terrorizes them, has been driven into a rage by rabies?
Many recognize this brief outline of one of King’s classic early horror tales “Cujo.”
The story is so ingrained in pop-culture that to show an animal or even a person in a blind rage one might say “Don’t go all Cujo on me!”
Many of his books have become part of the vernacular, such as the present day COVID-19 pandemic. It is being compared to the Captain Trips super-flu infestation from his novel “The Stand.” Going to the extreme, that pandemic, written about in 1978, contaminates and kills about 99 percent of the world’s population. He “what if-ed,” that prophetic scenario decades before our present troubles.
Additional examples find how young and old alike might describe a bad formal occasion, especially a high school prom, with the title “Carrie,” perhaps used as a verb. A bad nurse may be referred to as Annie Wilkes from “Misery,” or a demon car as “Christine.”
Fans will immediately get the references. If not, dear readers, I envy your journey reading these books for the first time. You have an incredible voyage at your fingertips, should you seek it out.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic,” said King in “On Writing.” He says it again in this latest novel, “Later,” in the voice of Jamie Conklin. Somewhat modestly, he doesn’t attribute the quote to himself by name, in spite of listing other authors in the horror and mystery stories he admires. It’s presented like a wink of an inside joke to the fans and readers. If not recognized, it in no way derails the story for a novice King reader.
These older novels have all been turned into movies or television shows along with countless others. One may know these references from the cinema and can be found streaming or on DVDs. I have a great many of them on VHS format as well.
While it’s not really a practical way for me to read a King novel, I can’t help but wonder if the characters I have grown to care about in his latest yarn will end up living happily ever after. One must always read the books to know for sure, but even that may not do the trick for you or me.
Long days and pleasant nights, have a great SK weekend.
• • •
Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.