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Monday, November 7, 2022

Reading List: "Fairy Tale" by Stephen King

 I am a long-time fan of Stephen King's work.  I am one of those people who joke that I would enjoy a grocery list if it was written by King, and I think I've read just about everything King's ever published (the one exception being "Faithless", because even Stephen King can't make me care about baseball).

Given my history with King's work, I think you'll understand that it's especially disappointing when I have to say that there's something he's written that I just don't care for.  It's happened before...I am know for my dislike of the novel "Pet Sematary", and I found myself utterly indifferent to some of his more recent books such as "The Institute." I am aware that no writer can hit them all out of the park, but King has written so many great books that I find it hard to believe he could ever write something that doesn't hit home with me.

Unfortunately, that was the case with "Fairy Tale", a rare occasion where I actually had to force myself to finish the book, under some kind of sunk cost fallacy.  Even the chapter illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez and Nico DeLort weren't enough to get me invested in this story.

I mean...it's not a BAD book, objectively speaking.  Even the worst Stephen King story is better than most modern fantasy and/or horror literature.  It's just that it's not up to the standard King has set for himself with his own body of work.  

King is, of course, best known as a horror writer, and while this story contains horrific elements, it is chiefly a fantasy novel, as the title would suggest.  Similar to previous King works it contains a youthful protagonist whose adventures take place across multiple realities.  Unlike previous King works, the story is largely flat and lifeless without many of the signature narrative tricks and techniques that make his work so appealing.  There's nearly none of the dramatic foreshadowing that make his stories so suspenseful, and none of the Dickensian character exploration that bring his figures to memorable life.  Like far too many fantasy novels, it's just a straightforward dungeon-crawl of a novel where "this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened" and so on until the end.

There were some good moments to be found in the book, of course.  It IS Stephen King, after all.  I enjoyed the nods to Lovecraft (how could I not?) and I like the fact that, like most of his work, this story could be tied in to his Dark Tower mythology.  There were a couple of moments in the book that were genuinely touching.  Overall, though, it was a lackluster effort that explored narrative territory that I thought was better handled in books like "Eyes of the Dragon", "Talisman" and the Dark Tower stories.

I supposed it's possible that this was a deliberate experiment on King's part to see if he could tell a story without falling back on his typical writerly tricks.  If that's the case then, at least for this reader, it didn't work.  

There are some readers, perhaps those who steep themselves in high fantasy more than I do, that will enjoy this book, and fans of that genre will probably find lots in here to appreciate.  For my money, it is just a plain story that lacks any resonance beyond the initial reading, nor even functions as the agent of moral instruction that characterized the traditional fairy tale.  Oh well...they can't all be winners.

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