It by Stephen King: first third (or so)

itI have inadvertently started a book club at the bar that I frequent. What can I say, it’s on the train line home from work, right at a station, and I love it.

I am trying to coordinate my reading of It with a certain bartender’s reading of It. We shall see how the pacing works out. But hey, it’s Stephen King! Who could resist? Happily, like my bartender/reading buddy Danielle, I have not seen the movie and had no cultural preconceptions about this book or story at all; I was vaguely aware that it was “the” scary story about the scary clown. And so we begin. I have paused at approximately 300 pages into approximately 1100 so that Danielle and I can talk about it.

My early impressions are that – naturally – this is a good, and scary, story. It opens with “Part 1: The Shadow Before.” In 1957, in the backwater town of Derry, Maine, a child is murdered during a flood, by a terrifying paranormal clown in a storm gutter. Then we flash forward to a hate crime in the same town at a festival in 1984, in which a gay man is killed. The clown finishes him off; but it was the local residents responsible in the first place. And in 1985, six individuals receive phone calls that frighten them badly and throw their established routines into upheaval: they are called back “home” to Derry.

Each of these vignettes is compelling. I was more disturbed by the hate crime than by the supernatural murder, probably because the hate crime is realistic, an example of something that really happens in our world. And I especially enjoyed meeting the six adults who take the six phone calls: each is a well developed, interesting character, living in a very real world, just briefly sketched. We see strong marriages – not without their troubles, but based upon real love; and we see damaged marriages and lives, whose problems also feel realistic. I think Stephen King has a gift for writing Real American Lives.

And then we begin “Part 2: June of 1958.” The child killed in the flood is still a recent memory; the town of Derry is concerned over the deaths of several more young people in that year, including one beaten to death by his step-father in a particularly gruesome scene involving a recoilless hammer (this tool was new to me, incidentally). We are working our way through the six adults who received the six phone calls, meeting them as Derry children, and friends. Also, we meet the man who makes the six phone calls, through a diary he keeps of the evils of Derry. He is, appropriately, a librarian and historian (King never fails to tip his hat to my fine profession. Thank you, sir). And it is here, almost through Part 2, that Danielle and I have stopped reading for now; so my synopsis will continue in a later post.

There have been memorable lines. I liked this one on the opening pages:

Water sprayed out from beneath his galoshes in muddy sheets. Their buckles made a jolly jingling as George Denbrough ran toward his strange death.

The juxtaposition of “jolly jingling” with the foreshadowing of a child’s “strange death” is very effective.

And Danielle pointed out the power of these lines, about a child making friends for the first time:

He liked the way his laughter sounded with theirs. It was a sound he had never heard before: not mingled laughter – he had heard that lots of times – but mingled laughter of which his own was a part.

Also very effective, a poignant way to indicate his profound loneliness.

There have been clever in-jokes for the Stephen King fan; he likes to reference his own work, and in one case, that of his son, novelist Joe Hill. I found references to the turtle (or the Turtle), which seems to be a King leitmotif, and the use of the phrase, being “on the beam” – both of which concepts figure in the Dark Tower series. And one kid is described as wearing a Judas Coyne t-shirt (see Heart-Shaped Box). I get a kick out of these self-referential grins.

There have been vocabulary lessons. I want to point out that although King has a reputation for being pulpy, a genre author, or less “serious,” he is well-written, even literary, and regularly sends me to the dictionary. For example, I had to look up “il mot juste,” “planchette,” “batrachian,” and “chitinous.”

And where are we headed with It? I remain in the dark about where the remaining 802 pages will take us; but it is clear that Derry, Maine is home to a great evil. Our librarian/historian friend has recorded that Bad Things were happening here from the beginning – about every 25-28 years all the way back in the town’s history, in fact, which suggests something generational going on, although I don’t have the answers yet. The clown is rather the embodiment of evil; Danielle points out that he is a shapeshifting clown, although I’m not sure yet that the Creature (big mean bird encountered by young Mike) is the same as the clown. I’m still very much in the dark so far, and that’s fine, because again, 802 pages to go!

This is a scary story, with evil lurking in unknown places and with unknown aims; but I’m not terrified of clowns just yet. Danielle and I also asked ourselves if this is the story that made clowns scary? But she thinks not: she thinks that King is tapping into a preexisting societal fear, although he can definitely be credited with confirming it! And I bet the movie was horrifying.

Stay tuned!

4 Responses

  1. Read this one myself. Good stuff.

  2. I’ve seen parts of the movie, but I haven’t read this one yet. The last Stephen King book I read was Doctor Sleep, and that was a month after having read The Shining for the first time πŸ™‚

  3. […] recall my much earlier review of the first third or so of this book. My It-reading friend got in touch to say that she’d been reading away while I […]

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