Sunday, October 1, 2017

IT by Stephen King

I loved you guys, you know.
I loved you so much (1126).

They say you can't go back home.

The first time I read this book, I was fourteen. Just a few years older than the kids in IT. I remember it was summer, and as I read about the Losers' Summer of '58 in the Summer of '04, I remember feeling utterly absorbed. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in an entire weekend. I was terrified of using the bathroom at night, half-convinced that a gloved clown hand would come out the back of the tank when I sat down and drag me into the pits of sewer-hell. I gave the shower drain a wide berth. I had a new, respectful fear of balloons and floating.

It was a book that stayed with me over the years.

I tried rereading the book a couple times. but usually ended up giving up around the 900-page mark. This time, with the movie coming out, I told myself I was going to finish. It felt like the perfect time, in a way - I had been a young teenager (almost a preteen) when I started the book. Now, I'm an adult, just a few years younger than the "grown-ups" in this story. And, like the Losers, I returned to face IT a second time, wondering if it would be the way it was when I was a kid.

(Incidentally, the first IT movie was released in 1990, and the 2017 of the reboot is 27 years later. Let that sink in.)

IT is a really great horror story - for the most part, which I'll get to later. The atmosphere, the build-up, the gloomy Gothic vibe of Derry and its apathetic townsfolk: all of these combine to create a pretty menacing environment. And then, of course, there's IT. A killer clown that can also be a leper, a werewolf, or an abuser - whatever you fear the most, except when its Pennywise, leaving balloons like the Joker and his calling cards, and reminding you constantly that down here, everything floats.

The horror aspect is good, but what stuck with me is the coming of age aspect, and the bittersweet nostalgia of childhood when viewed through the lenses of an adult. Most of the story is focused on the relationship between the kids in this book: Mike, Stan, Richie, Eddie, Bill, Beverly, and Ben. Their interactions with each other make this story, and after spending over a thousand pages with these kids, I loved them almost as much as they loved each other - although, more on that, later. It's hard to capture that intensity of the friendship of youth, how quickly it springs, and how eternal it feels... until, one day, it stops, and you find that you can't even remember the last name of the person you would have pledged your undying loyalty to. I had a friend like that, growing up. We were inseparable, and then one day, not. Now I can't remember her last name or even her eye color.

As an adult, what struck me most powerfully this time around was the feeling of nostalgia. I'll be coming up on my ten-year reunion in a few months, and honestly, it freaks me out a little thinking about people who I knew when we were kids being all grown up, some of them with kids of their own now, looking the same but also looking completely different. When the Losers visit Derry as adults and go wandering through some of their old haunts, their wistfulness hit me hard. (And then, of course, sh*t started going down, and nostalgia ceded to "sweet Jesus in a jam jar, get me out of this place").

One thing I love about Stephen King novels is that he really has an ear for how people talk and think. And perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of Stephen King novels is that, quite often, the real monsters in the book aren't the monsters themselves - but monsters hiding inside human skins. IT features some real doozies in the form of Tom Rogan, Henry Bowers, Mrs. Kaspbrak, and Mr. Marsh. What this means, unfortunately, is that there are some pretty terrible scenes in here involving bigoted slurs, racial violence, physical and sexual abuse, and domestic violence. There are two particularly grim scenes, one homophobic, one anti-black, and both are peppered with slurs and violence. This was upsetting to read, but it does serve to illustrate a point about Derry and the people living in it, and it was always clear to me that the people saying these things were Not Good People. (As for Richie's racist Voice impressions and the constant Jew jokes made at Stan's expense... weeeeeeell...)

So, by this point, you're probably asking yourself why I'm giving it 4-stars instead of 5, since I not only reread the book (which I rarely do), but also enjoyed it in a profound and interesting way. Well, I can give you not one, not two, but three reasons why this book doesn't get 5-stars.

1. Turtles
2. Spiders
3. Gang-bangs

I won't say any more on the matter, because spoilers, but if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about. I wasn't thrilled about the deadlights or Chud, either, but those were the main ones.

Here's a picture of my first edition. It was so heavy I damn near gave myself carpal tunnel holding the thing up while trying to read it.

Incidentally, I saw an article claiming that the IT movie and book are making it more difficult for professional clowns to get additional business. Stephen King, being Stephen King, had an excellent rejoinder.

Also, according to this other article I read, people think Pennywise is "hot"? I looked to see if Stephen King had an excellent rejoinder for that one, too, but didn't see one.  Perhaps he didn't wish to dignify it with a response. I'm sure there's fanfiction of it, though. That's actually more frightening to me than this book - and considering that I stayed up until 3AM last night, too wound up to sleep after reading some of this terrifying clown nonsense, that says something.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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