UR and Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author I’ve never been particularly fond of. While I’ve enjoyed a number of movies he’s been involved in – either directly or as the source material – most of the actual written work I’ve read seemed really hit or miss to me. Some good short stories, some really unmemorable ones. Dreamcatcher. The Gunslinger. Overall, my impression of Stephen King has been that he’s a bit of a self-absorbed author that enjoys writing himself into his work a little too much. Any author’s life is going to affect how and what they write about, and I think him being such a high-profile person actually works against him. I know why this story is set where it is, and I know why that character was hit by a van and almost died. Instead of picturing the main characters, I find myself picturing King there instead and my knee jerk reaction is, “Dude, get over yourself.”

So after The Gunslinger, Dead Zone, and Kingdom Hospital sequentially unimpressed me, I avoided the name Stephen King.

A few weeks ago, however, I was looking for something quick to read and stumbled across a novella he wrote exclusively for Kindle. Having nothing better to suit my mood, I decided to give it a whirl.

And I didn’t move from my seat for a good three hours, until the novella was done.

In UR, a college professor orders a Kindle out of spite after his girlfriend pokes fun at his old-fashioned reading habits. He receives an ugly, hot pink thing, and reluctantly explores what he can do with it. Eventually, he finds that – not only does it download books from Amazon – it can purchase books from something called “The UR.” And not just one Ur, but thousands of them. Millions. In exploring the various Urs, the professor finds that he has access to libraries from endless alternate realities. Realities where classic writers such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Poe may have lived just a little longer and released more work (six novels, in the case of Poe). Or realities where they released a different sort of work entirely, such as Hemingway’s murder-mysteries.

The story escalates when he realizes that the UR also has access to newspapers from these realities as well as his own, and eventually ties into The Dark Tower. The actual relevance of this went over my head, but regardless, I found UR a fascinating read and had my imagination running wild.

Of course, there was some obvious product placement, which I found unnecessary since it’s a Kindle exclusive anyway. “The Amazon Kindle automatically remembers where I left off, and lets me purchase books within seconds anywhere I go!” Yeah, I know. I have one.

That aside, the audience targeting for this story really works: anyone enthusiastic enough about books to purchase a Kindle is likely just as excited about the device as the main character, and the very premise of the novel is like a wet dream for literary fans of that sort.

Amazed that something was able to hook me enough to get me reading more than I did all last year, I went on the hunt for my next read from Stephen King, hungry for more. I selected:

Gerald's Game, by Stephen King

Gerald’s Game begins with a couple getting away to their vacation home near a lake during an off-season. Wasting no time, they immediately tear off their clothes and embark on Gerald’s little sex game. He cuffs her to the bed and, just as he begins to get started, Gerald has a heart attack and falls off the bed. Dead on the floor, with her still cuffed to the bed in their cabin in the middle of nowhere.

After a few failed attempts to escape, Jessie finds herself with nothing left to do but to think. It’s not long before she begins to die of thirst and, in the middle of the night, she wakes to find that she’s not alone.

Fuck that shit.

I did enjoy this book, a lot more than I did my previous efforts at King. It’s an excellent character study, and has some really chilling moments (“I don’t think you’re anyone! You’re only made of moonlight!”). Throughout the whole thing, I kept thinking about how much it reminded me of Dolores Claiborne – not realizing that Dolores Claiborne was based on a Stephen King novel. I later found out that the two stories are indeed connected, and were originally intended to be part of a single volume.

Which brings me to my primary complaint about the novel: it’s fascinating yes. But there’s only so much you can do with your main character chained to a bed the whole novel. I think this story would have worked much better with either a hundred less pages or as a novella preceding Dolores Claiborne. There are points where King gets needlessly wordy, rambles off into the past and the story drags. But then it picks back up again, and I forget that I was ever bored.

My second and only complaint is more about the Kindle edition rather than the novel itself (I think): this book is littered with embarrassing typos, line breaks from out of nowhere, and suffers from a general lack of editing. I don’t have the physical version of the book with me to compare, but I’m assuming this is an issue with the digitalization process. Just a word of warning.

All in all, I would recommend Gerald’s Game to more patient readers looking for something character driven. If you’re not into a lot of internal dialogue and flashbacks, you’re not going to enjoy this at all. This would make a great movie for that sort of reader. If only it didn’t involve a woman splayed out naked the whole time…

Does this mean that I’m suddenly a fan of Stephen King? I’m not sure. What I can say is that for the last few years, it’s taken me months to finish anything and I blew through these in a couple days. That’s a pretty nice change of pace for me, and if Stephen King is the man to make it happen then I may be in for quite the marathon…

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