The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time for True Confessions.

I occasionally enjoy reading Stephen King. (Sweet rollerblading Christ, I hope none of my English profs down in Williamsburg are reading this.) Come on now--did you really think I spent all of my leisure reading with a cup of tea, a cat in my lap and a copy of Mansfield Park? Oh, wait. You did think so because sometimes I do. Pffft.

I enjoy King for the same reason that I enjoy horror movies. Sometimes a good scare is just damned fun. And really, there are worse novelists out there. Honestly, horror novels do tend to the schlocky, but in a world where Danielle Steele and Erica Jong exist, I think that my guilty pleasure isn't too bad after all. King's characters are usually pretty believable, and have that sort of Everyman quality that a good scary story needs. After all, if it's going to frighten you, you need to be able to imagine yourself on the streets of your hometown when, all of a sudden, everyone's undead. (Actually, I feel that way on the streets of Baltimore rather often.)

With this in mind, I checked out a copy of Full Dark, No Stars a few days ago. While I'm not going to claim that the four novellas within are successors to Fitzgerald, I'll give them some props. This is exactly the kind of book you want when you've decided that it's Saturday, you haven't got anything to do, and it would be fun to stay in bed until after noon with a book.

One of the stories involves a woman who makes an extremely unpleasant discovery about the man to whom she's been happily married for years. That one is by far the most interesting, and probably the most unsettling. The other three are, essentially, revenge stories. I'm never quite sure how I feel about revenge stories, anyway. Probably, we all like them because...well, don't we all fantasize about avenging perceived injustices, sometimes?

Of the three, though: One was still a fun story, but it was pretty much already done, if a little more artlessly, by the cult movie "I Spit On Your Grave." If you know the movie, then you won't need any more information. Another features a man who's secretly hated his "best friend" for decades and, with some supernatural help, is able to get back at the friend by destroying his "perfect" life. (And don't a lot of us want to do that, too?) The remaining story has an unreliable narrator (see, still an English teacher at heart, ain't I?) who cools his wife because she's pretty much of a nasty bitch, and suffers hideous consequences.

In all four stories, the reader ends up siding with the protagonist, despite their less-than-pleasant actions. And I think that, after all these years of surreptitiously enjoying King's work, I'm starting to understanding why my snooty profs wouldn't appreciate him. It's not that his plots are poorly-constructed, or his characters bad. It's just that...I've kinda read this before. Often. Or, in the case of one story, I saw it at a drive-in twenty-five years ago.

Also, in the bitchy-wife-gets-horribly-offed story, King uses a fictional setting that he's used in several other tales over the years. I don't like recurring devices in an author's work, and I particularly dislike having to buy into a recurring mythos. I didn't like it when Lovecraft did it with Arkham, and I'm not wild about King's Hemingford Home, either. When he's set stories in Derry, Maine, it's just a setting--but in the wake of The Stand, Hemingford has become this sort of magical touchstone. While I understand the idea of continuity, I find this one a bit contrived.

Big props, though, for his naming a "walk-on" character Rhoda Penmark. And big props for you, readers, if you know who Rhoda Penmark is.


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