HBO’s The Outsider – A Few Thoughts

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I have heard a lot of rave reviews about The Outsider, so once I caved in and subscribed to HBO Max, I made sure that it was among the first shows that I watched.

Honestly, I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot because it would be a shame to spoil even the slightest aspect of the series. It’s based on a Stephen King book, so that probably informs you quite a bit.

My wife and I watched this show together, and even though it is gruesome, unsettling, and even sometimes scary, we loved it for several reasons.

First of all, the pacing is superb. When each episode is nearly an hour long, ten episode seasons can get lost around the midway point and become a chore to watch. The Outsider did not. Every single episode added to the overall story, moved at a quick clip, and just kept building the suspense moment after moment after moment. It was incredible.

This leads to something else that I appreciated about the series–the writing. There are no wasted scenes in this show. Everything is important. They kept the big picture in mind at all times, which is very, very rare. The dialogue is crisp, the plot is tight–it just doesn’t get much better than The Outsider in terms of execution.

Furthermore, the locations are astounding. For the most part, nothing about the show’s environments are particularly special, which is what makes them incredible. The scenery in this show is real. The Outsider very much takes place in the world most of us see on a daily basis, and that does a great deal in grounding the show and, as a result, making it all the more creepy.

Finally, the acting is simply superb. You’ll recognize some of the talent in The Outsider, but some of the faces will likely be new to you. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is top-notch. From the main players to the small roles, everyone is stellar, which, again, makes The Outsider feel so rooted in reality. Every character in the show feels like a real person.

Be warned, The Outsider is violent, disturbing, and frightening, but it’s also extremely well made and wildly entertaining. I highly recommend it.

Elevation by Stephen King – A Book Review

I can honestly say that nothing written by Stephen King has ever brought me to tears … until now. Elevation is a mere 146 pages, but don’t let the brevity of the book fool you. King does everything so perfectly in this novella that even one more page would have been unnecessary.

Elevation is about a Castle Rock native named Scott Carey. Scott is 42 years old, divorced, paunchy, and losing weight. He doesn’t look like he’s losing weight, but he is, and at a fairly fast clip. Furthermore, anything he touches becomes weightless as well. Scott hasn’t any idea why this is happening, nor does he particularly care. He’s accepted it as his fate, and he decides to live and let live.

However, before he reaches zero, he’s decided to do a little good in his town. His neighbors are new to the area, two married women, and they have opened a restaurant. However, due to their lifestyle, the small town has agreed not to support them. Scott’s going to see if he can do something about that before his time is up.

Elevation is now one of my all-time favorite King books. He introduces a simple concept, but one that is also thought-provoking. He builds tension with the weight loss countdown. He creates very likable characters that happen to feel very real. Everything about this book is captivating.

King can write 1,000 page books, but he doesn’t need to. He can do everything that makes those lengthy reads wonderful in under 150 pages as  well, and Elevation proves it.

If you haven’t read King in a while, do yourself a favor and go check out Elevation. You’ll love it. But be ready: you’ll love it so much that the ending might just bring you to tears.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Back In Touch With An Old Friend …

A few days ago I struggled to make a dent in a book that will remain unnamed.  As it happens, a student in my class raved about an old Stephen King book he’d just finished — Pet Sematary.

Like you, I know about his classic novel, Pet Sematary.  I seen bits and pieces of the old movie on TV throughout the years.  However, I’ve never actually read the thing.  If you’ve visited this site for awhile, you know I’m a Stephen King fan.  His nonfiction is always sublime.  I could read his thoughts on all manner of subjects day and night.  He’s one of the few contemporary writers who strikes me as both present and wise.

His fiction, though, it a little hit or miss with me.  I’m not an admirer of his work past the year 2000 (with the exception of his Dark Tower books).  Much of it strikes me as inflated and meandering.

The classics, though?  You know it.  For the most part, those babies are tight, fast, and going places.  Unfortunately, I haven’t read as many of his classic titles as I would like.

So anyway, as I listened to a student rave about Pet Sematary, I thought to myself, “Yeah, let’s do this!  It’s October; a trailer for the new film adaptation recently released; I’m not enjoying the book I’m currently reading — this is perfect timing!”

I literally put the book down that I was not digging and picked up Pet Sematary.

Ah, as soon as I started reading, it felt like I’d just reunited with an old friend.

I know the Pet Sematary years were a rough patch for King.  He’s very much on record with his addiction struggles.  I’ll be darned, though, if he wasn’t at his peak during those tumultuous days.  I’m in no way suggesting he should go back under the influence — absolutely not.  His style and voice during that time, though, were just so easy to get lost in, and remains so to this very day.  (That voice is still present in his nonfiction, by the way.)

Pet Sematary, like his other works from that era, connect with me in a way his current work does not.  I’m having an absolute ball reading it.  King’s appeal is obvious — there’s a reason he’s been a best selling author for almost fifty years!

It’s wonderful to pick up a book, start reading, and feel instant comfort.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King – A Book Review

This is a 178-page piece of pulp fiction written by arguably one of the greatest writers in American history.  Say what you will about Stephen King, you must admit he is a master at his craft.  That being said, when I finished this book and read his afterward (always a highlight of his books, in my opinion), he said that most people would either love this book or hate this book, with virtually no one taking the middle ground.

I’m one of those middle grounders.

This book was written for the Hard Case Crime imprint, a publisher dedicated to writing little paperback mystery/crime books that hearken back to the old days.  There was a crime, yes; there were a great many clues to the crime, yes.  However, this book focused more on three characters who happen to be interested in the crime than in the actual crime itself. 

Now, ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me in a King book at all.  After all, King is a genius when it comes to characterization.  I will always maintain that his Roland of Gilead is one of the most interesting characters created . . . ever.  But, for an imprint called Hard Case Crime, I was expecting more noir and less conversation about the crime.  And those characters he spotlights, while very charismatic, still seemed to be missing something to make them completely dynamic.  The dialogue felt a bit too easy, and the characters a bit too obvious.  I still loved them, nonetheless, but not as much as other King characters.

As always, his setting is expertly rendered, giving you just enough to see the water, smell the air, feel the chilly breeze, taste the fish and chips, and hear the voices.  Less is more, and King has a firm grasp of this notion.

All in all, this was an entertaining read.  Most of you folks could probably finish it in a day or two, and you’ll keep turning page after page.  But, I think King is right, by the end of the book, you will either love it or hate it.  Unless you’re like me, and see little things you both love and hate, appreciating the good and the bad.  After all, few of us could ever entertain the notion of doing better than Stephen King at writing.

Cell by Stephen King – A Book Review

Oh, Stephen, you make this so hard on me.  I’m a big fan, a HUGE fan, but we have to face facts-you’re not the fiction writer you once were.  Cell is just another recent Stephen King book.  I compare it to kettle corn-taste great, really look forward to it and enjoy it immensely, but there isn’t a whole lot substance. 

I’ll give you this: Cell started with a COMPLETELY original premise.  This was it!  This was a King book!  Whoo-hoo!  Sadly, however, it quickly dissipated into what I would call “zombie” standard fare.  Even your characters, once rich and deep as an undiscovered chasm in the ocean depths, now simply skim the surface of who they are and what they stand for.  In fact, that’s how I’d further describe your latest novel-skimming the surface.

Steve, I feel like such a jerk saying this to you.  I mean, you are THE most successful American author of our time!  Who am I to criticize you?  I’m nobody; I know that.  But, I’m just being honest.  I know you appreciate honestly, so I’m trying to hold up my end of the bargain.

Here’s my advice, Stephen:  You’ve finished the Dark Tower Series-some of your best work, might I add-how about you hold off on fiction for a time?  I read you’re memoir On Writing, it was excellent!  You’ve had such a full life, a near death experience, you’ve got loads the public would love to hear!  To get to the point, I’m suggesting you move into primarily non-fiction.  I think your accessible style and life stories would really invigorate both you and your readers.  I’m concerned if you keep writing lackluster fiction like Cell and The Colorado Kid, you’re going to tarnish your impeccable reputation.  Non-fiction is the key. 

So, Stephen, I hope these words from a thirty-year-old high school English teacher and struggling author haven’t left too acrid of a taste in your mouth.  Your worst work continues to outshine my best, so please bear in mind I’m holding you against your own standards, not the average writer’s.  Thanks for listening.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

I decided to check out Close Range: Wyoming Stories on the recommendation from Stephen King in his memoir, On Writing.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that it included the (very) short story “Brokeback Mountain!”  You know, the source material for the 2006 Academy Award Best Picture nominee.  But, I’ll get more into that later.

 I’d heard good things about the author, Annie Proulx, and wanted to read her work in order to better myself as a writer.  I was totally unfamiliar with any of her writings, so I must say I was more than pleasantly surprised when I found myself absolutely riveted by her short stories.

I didn’t think I was a fan of stories about Wyoming and ranchers, but Proulx didn’t seem to care.  Each and every story in this collection drew me in and fascinated me.  As clichéd as it sounds, her characters are truly masterful.  Like in the land of the living, they are all flawed; they made terrible mistakes, and then they had to learn to live (and die) with the repercussions.  Her characters defy stereotyping, though they all had one thing in common-they were tough.  Each and every one of them was a product of the land they lived on, and so they had to be tough if they were to survive.  Some were tougher than others, and some survived better than others. 

Close Range worked for me because it disturbed me.  I don’t mean that in a negative way at all.  I mean that these stories stayed with me long after I read them.  They almost haunted me.  They reminded me just how glorious and monstrous it is to be human, especially when you have to work yourself to the bone in order to endure.

Though Proulx has an unorthodox writing style that can sometimes be a little difficult to read, I find her completely in touch with what it is to be a human being and her realistic depiction of such, especially of those living on the ranches of Wyoming, is the work of a person who truly has an adroit grasp on her craft.

So it’s hard to write this review without acknowledging the short story found in this collection, “Brokeback Mountain.”  I think it’s important to establish the fact that I am not an advocate of homosexuality; however, I also don’t believe homosexuality warrants discrimination and certainly not hate crimes.  That being said, the short story, “Brokeback Mountain,” like all the other stories in Close Range, is truly a heartbreaking account about two human beings told in such a manner that it will resonate with you no matter what your personal beliefs.  I’ll leave it up to you to determine if these men were in love with one another, but it is certainly a story of longing, confusion, denial, and terrible loss.  In other words, it captures aspects of the emotional essence of the human condition, albeit in a controversial and unsettling fashion.  That is the power of Proulx.

I look forward to reading more of her works.

Night Shift by Stephen King – A Book Review

This collection of short stories by Stephen King encompasses all that is great about one of our most prolific and talented writers.  I’ve given most of King’s latest work a hard time over the last few years, but only because I know how truly talented he can be.  These stories, most of which are from the middle or late 70s, are absolutely entertaining.  Creepy, engaging, perfectly paced, and utterly shocking, this is vintage King.

If you’re a King fan, this collection will remind you why you love him so much, despite his recent lackluster offerings.  If you’re looking to get acquainted with King, maybe for the first time ever, Night Shift is as King as it gets.  You will not be disappointed.

When King Is Being King, He Is Flawless

Note: Originally Published 9-9-06

So I’ve been reading a lot of “high brow” books lately and while I learned a great deal from them, I was ready to get back to a book that I wanted to read purely for the pleasure of it.  Since Chabon doesn’t have anything out at the moment, I decided to go to my Stephen King pile that I haven’t yet gotten to.  I’ve read about 18 Stephen King books and have absolutely loved about 10 of them.  While I’ve enjoyed them all, I wouldn’t say that most of his work from the 90s on have really compared to his earlier work., excluding his masterpiece Dark Tower series.  Sure, there a few exceptions, but for the most part, he hasn’t been the same Stephen King who gave us Carrie, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot.  Granted, even at 75%, he’s still better than most, myself included, but I yearn for the old style that bequeathed us such great stories.

Okay, I got way off track there.  My point is, I have about four Stephen King short story collections that I received several years ago and have never gotten around to reading them.  Because I wanted to just relax when reading and enjoy myself, I picked up one of those short story collections called Night Shift.

I’m only about 25% through it, and this is vintage King-literally.  I believe this collection was published somewhere between ’76 and ’78, and it is utterly compelling.  Eerily engaging, wildly imaginative, this is the King I know and love.

Theh Wrath Of a Righteous Writer: Redux

Note: Originally Published 10-24-06

Today I was in Barnes and Noble doing my responsible duty as a citizen of the World of Pop Culture and buying Stephen King’s latest novel (released today).  Of course, I had to get a coffee from the little mom and pop coffee store called Starbucks and so I found myself wandering aimlessly about as I sipped on my coffee and clutched my King novel as though it were a happily discovered treasure (ironically, I would describe King’s latest novels as anything but a treasure). 

Some of you may remember a self-righteous rant I rambled out almost a year ago when I discovered Nicole Richie (and I don’t even care if I misspelled her name) had been signed to write a book.  It really frustrates me when people like Nicole Richie get book deals off of their name alone, because let’s face it, in a lot of cases, your name sells your book (um, but that’s not the case with King . . . <ahem!>). 

I eventually got over my anger until today, when sipping on my Café Mocha I happened across a book by none other than . . . wait for it . . . here it comes . . . the suspense is unbearable . . . SNOOP DOGG!  This is a hardcover edition with Snoop Dogg getting the credit as author (with a smaller name below it, probably the REAL writer).  I tell you what, if I had ever been doused with gamma radiation, that would have been an instance in which I would have turned big and green, no doubt. 

I’m sure Dogg’s book will shortly be on the best seller list, while I continue to linger in obscurity. 

I know I’m being negative and it’s unbecoming, but c’mon, let me rant!  I need to get it out of my system.

Okay.  I’m better now.  Thanks for listening (er, I mean reading).

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King – A Book Review

Stephen King once again offers us a story with a famous author, Scott Landon, as the protagonist, only this time he’s dead.  His wife, Lisey, still struggles to deal with his passing even as she fights to help her troubled sister immersed in a crisis.  To top it all off, a deranged fan stalks Lisey in order to take any unfinished works her husband may have left floating around, and the fan does this as a favor to a misguided scholar hoping to cash in on Landon’s popularity.  Though dead, Scott, sensing trouble for his wife’s future, left behind a series of articles that will help Lisey to save her sister and defeat the fan.  These objects, of course, lead to a supernatural land full of beauties and evils.

I’ve read many, many Stephen King books, and I am a huge fan of much of his work.  However, Lisey’s Story is probably the most self-indulgent and poorly executed novel I’ve ever read by the man.  What I found charming about him in the past, the silly words and the quirky asides, now simply annoy me.  He has often used writers as his main characters, but never has he so blatantly modeled the writer after himself, and never has he so unapologetically set the author up as a saintly demigod.

King once said, and I’m paraphrasing at best, that to include anything in a novel that is not necessary is a grave travesty.  I’m afraid that the first 200 pages of this novel were a travesty indeed.  I truly struggled with every fiber of my being against putting this book down.  The good news is that once we got past the 200 mark, things started picking up and the story really began rolling, but that first half was like walking through mud as it comprised of nothing more than flashback after flashback that served little to no purpose.  King easily could have streamlined this 509 behemoth down to 250.  Easily.

I know there are a great deal of rabid King fans out there, and, hey, like I said, I’m a big fan myself.  But we have to face facts, people-King’s last two novels have been duds.  The man’s written over forty of them!  I think it’s time for him to go out on top rather than continuing to spew out works of mediocrity.