Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: UR

UR UR by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have something of a Stephen King problem: I admire the man. For all his success, he’s made it a point to give back, not just in terms of his money, but also in the way he supports small-time writers, agreeing, for instance, to guest edit Best American Short Stories a few years ago.

At the same time, I don’t think he’s all that good a writer. Most of his sentences have a flat ordinariness. It isn’t just that they’re unadorned; it’s that they’re inefficient too. I feel as if we get too much information about inconsequential elements. And he seems to depend too much on cliché. There is, for instance, an almost embarrassing transcript here of the main character’s mother’s answering machine message. It isn’t a character talking; it’s someone out of a lazy stand-up routing.

I grew up hearing from friends how wonderful he is, and I made myself read Pet Sematary many years ago. I gave this a chance because it was on sale, it was short, and it had been a long time.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed. The premise here is intriguing – the main character’s new Kindle permits him to read the unwritten novels of the great writers – but King doesn’t fully explore it. Instead he uses it simply as a gimmick in a story that feels, by the end, clichéd in its plot.

There is a brief moment that suggests otherwise: King writes the first sentence of what the novella presents as an unwritten Hemingway novel: “A man’s life was five dogs. The first to teach him. The second for him to teach. The third and fourth for him to work. And the fifth for his old age.” (That’s from memory, so I don’t have it quite exactly.) There’s a spark there, a poetry to the sentence – and even to the rhythm of the story that it suggests will follow – that’s simply superior to anything else in this novella. It’s frustrating to think that, if King could write something this good, even for a couple sentences, that he could do much more than what he does with the rest of this.

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