The Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first three quarters of this book are jaw-dropping. The final quarter is a silly, bizarre rush job. King seemed to focus so much on crafting his characters and setup, conjuring gorgeously poetic writing that tore into the souls of his tortured characters, that he had nothing left in the tank to fashion an endgame.
Taken as a whole, the book is better than the movie in most ways, but falls short of the cinematic adaptation in the categories of narrative cohesion, terrifyingly haunting payoffs and iconic moments. The ball-bouncing twins and "Here's Johnny" Kool-Aid Man moment were all Kubrick.
King is always revered as a storyteller, but rarely praised for his poetic eloquence. The majority of this book is a collection of moving and exasperating short stories that build his characters and their quandaries in an inspired manner. He searches out themes of alcoholism, abuse and pre-middle age ennui that cut to the marrow.
The demons King builds up inside of Jack Torrance are meant to blow their tops as much as the heavy-handed metaphor of the boiler that festers in the bowels of the Overlook Hotel. The transformation from troubled recovering alcoholic and professional failure to sadistic madman, though, could have been more convincing -- or at least less jarring and forced.
The showdown with the possessed hedge animals is head-scratchingly absurd, and the final battle is like something out of a sloppy 1980s video game. When the Overlook takes its inevitable fall, it does so just as King has decimated the glorious story he set up. "The Shining" is a brush with greatness that self-sabotages when it might have soared.
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