Monday, October 23, 2006

Don't worry, Stephen King is still not a real writer

It appears Stephen King has written a "Joycean" novel, according to Janet Maslin in today's NYT. She hastens, twice in the first two paragraphs, to assure us that this does not mean King is a real writer:

This is no occasion to make great literary claims for Mr. King, or even to exalt his linguistic experimentation. His use of language in “Lisey’s Story” is so larded with baby talk that it borders on the pathological. Here is a writer who has a thousand ways of naming a toilet, and whose work can thus be an acquired taste. But “Lisey’s Story” transcends the toidy-talk to plumb thoughts of love, mortality and madness — and to deliver them with gale-force emotion. When Mr. King writes in a coda to this blunt but stunning book that “much here is heartfelt, very little is clever,” he is telling the truth.

I have not yet read the novel in question, but is this a case of one's reputation preceding one? Has Joyce not written his own encomiums to workings related to the toilet? How about other "real" novelists (Pynchon, DeLillo)? Is it even possible to judge King's latest work in light of everything he's done before? And could we have asked this question about some of his previous offerings?

What is the big risk of suggesting that King has "crossed the line" into literature? There must be one, for Maslin, anyway.

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