If you are a Facebook friend of mine then you would have seen that about a week or so ago I finally finished reading Stephen King's classic bible-length novel, IT. I'm warning you now that this is going to be a long review and it won't even touch on the million things that I got from this book because it was just so damn long.
Now usually a book, if I am reading sequentially, usually takes me anywhere from two days to a week to complete given that the average book is about 300-500 pages long. IT on the other hand was roughly 1200 pages long and so it took me around 4 weeks to finish. Believe me when I tell you that I didn't love it - the length it took me I mean. I tend to feel a little antsy when it takes me too long to finish a book because I usually like to read something quick, easy and relaxed since the majority of time I read to escape. I don't always love to escape into something too complicated or tough; I've given up on books in the past for that very reason. I love to learn new things and read plenty of tough books, but those kinds are more often than not more mentally draining than they are escapism.
Stephen King's iconic IT was exactly that - long, complex, disturbing and draining. If I had been his editor or publisher (and someday, after doing a publishing course I have my eye on, I could very well be that for someone else) the novel wouldn't have been anywhere near that long. You know, SK, sometimes less really is more.
That in mind I did really enjoy the book. It was one that I had wanted to read for years and had always been deterred by the fact that it was so long - such a massive commitment when the books I generally prefer to read are much shorter and of an easier to swallow subject matter.
This also wasn't the first Stephen King book that I have read if you'll recall my review of Pet Semetary and although I never wrote about The Shining I read it around the same time. So I had experienced Stephen King's brand of weirdness more than once before and I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised at how totally left of centre the entirety of IT seemed to go.
Let me start by saying that IT is not for the feint-hearted - trust me there were times that I had to disengage, force myself to stop reading, and I even lost some sleep over it. The biblically sized masterpiece details awful event after awful event, taboo subject matter and so much shock value it may as well be an omnibus of hell on earth. I have triggers just like everyone and this book managed to tick just about all of them, except for violent rape (but the threat of it seemed to be there).
If you haven't read IT, the story revolves around the town of Derry, Maine USA where below the surface an unfathomable, ancient evil stalks and murders children and controls adults. It takes place across two timelines: the summer of 1958 and 27 years later in 1985, with our main characters returning to town to confront the evil they thought they had defeated as children.
The Loser's Club, consisting of Bill Denborough, Mike Hanlon, Eddie Kaspbrak, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Stan Uris and only girl Bev Marsh, are almost predetermined by some outside force intent on aligning them like knights against a storybook dragon. The book itself switches back and forth between 1958 and 1985, increasing in frequency and speed as it goes on (which turns into a little whiplash later on), but the story of the Loser's Club really begins in 1957 with the brutal murder of Bill's younger brother, George.
Here's the general plot of IT in a nutshell: George's death acts as a catalyst for the evil's awakening after a big storm which lasts for months as numerous children disappear leading to the summer of 1958 when the seven members of the Loser's Club are drawn together almost supernaturally to push back against the demon. 27 years later the evil returns, and Mike, who has stayed behind in Derry, calls back all six other members of the Losers Club to both confront their traumatic upbringings and defeat IT once and for all. But who even is IT?
Now, even if you have never read the book itself you might be familiar with this guy:
This is Pennywise the Dancing Clown classically portrayed by Tim Curry in 1990 during the mini-series production, which was until recently the only rendition of the massive novel to have been produced (there is a movie in pre-production currently due to be released in late 2017). This version of Pennywise is supposedly responsible for a whole generation of Clown phobias and nightmares, but in all honesty I actually don't see it - I know! Even though he's effectively been present my whole life and yes clowns do creep me out, I always more figured he looked more icky or pervy than terrifying. Plus I can think of at least one other clown from a couple of years ago that significantly freaks me out more:
This is Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freakshow - a significantly terrifying clown who is ironically not as inherently evil as Pennywise. I won't tell you his story, but its a tear-jerker so I suggest you go check out the show if you haven't already.
Pennywise on the other hand is not a person; he is one embodiment of the supernatural serial killer, IT, that first arrived in Derry at the dawn of time and who's real form is most closely related to a giant spider. Now that actually is nightmarish to me so I am in no way going to post a photo - Aragog and Shelog were enough for me.
What I suppose is so terrifying about IT, that people seem to forget, is that Pennywise is just one face that the monster wears. IT is a shapeshifting entity also appearing as a werewolf, a sexually predatory tramp, the creature from the black lagoon, and an Egyptian mummy. IT feeds on fear and thus appears to differently to people dependent on what they fear the most - think Boggart from Harry Potter and its the same concept albeit with an extra dose of murderous attitude. In fact, IT is so violent that the first murder we experience in the book, that of George Denborough, occurs famously when Georgie sails his paper boat into the drain to be confronted by Pennywise ('everything floats down here') only to have his arm torn right off in the process (link to clip here).
Child murders are always horrible, even if they are in an illogical supernatural context, because children are often so much more trusting, innocent and non-discriminatory that they will often be taken advantage of by those that wish them ill. What makes this scene and others like it so much worse is exactly how avoidable they all seem to be: George is alone, confronted by a stranger (let alone its a clown in a storm drain, which is such a common sight already) and despite the myriad of warning signs that ping around this whole scene he trusts that Pennywise won't hurt him. Wrong.
I mentioned earlier in passing that IT is controlling and this is very true, what drives a lot of the drama that comes out of Derry is that IT is influential as a negative force; both adults and children are unknowingly (or in some cases knowingly) affected to do bad things that they might not otherwise do as part of the ripple effect that IT causes. The entire town is arguably affected by IT lying beneath, although what makes many of the actual stories within the novel so controversial is that you never really know to what degree the evil is just driven by IT and what is symbolic of the dirty laundry of surburban townships. Was all of this violence and murder just because of IT? Or did IT only feed from it?
One particular example is Patrick Hockstetter, a closet homosexual amongst resident child bully, Henry Bowers', posse. Patrick's murder is a turning point for the Loser's Club in their decision during the summer of 1958 to defeat IT. However what Patrick's character really portrays is the inherent evil that lurks within the town because what tends to go disturbingly unnoticed is that Patrick is a budding serial killer similar to Norman Bates or Jeffrey Dahmer. He has a freezer that he keeps stocked with animals that were not deceased when they were put there. Criminal psychology would suggest that a violent child that starts by killing animals in inventive ways for purposes other than for food has a strong chance of continuing to do so with humans later in life. Just like how children who are products of domestic violence or disturbed upbringings, have a high chance of growing up to be similarly disturbed adults.
Henry Bowers - Derry's resident little terrorist - is perhaps the most obvious example of this same theme of troubled youths from troubled families. Although I won't go into too much detail about Henry as he is perhaps in my opinion almost as evil as IT itself, I will say that despite being general bully to other kids he even goes as far as to calculatingly earn the trust of Mike Hanlon's dog so that he can feed it poisoned meat, killing it, purely because Mike is African American, Henry is a racist, and Henry's father hates Mike's father. I wish his eventual ending was more satisfying - I truly do.
But the negative family structure doesn't only revolve around the book's most notable villains and does also extend to half of the Loser's Club members themselves. Eddie has psychosomatic asthma lead on my a codependent mother on the verge of Munchausen by Proxy, Bev's father beats her spurned by an underlying incestuous desire for her, and Ben's mother overfeeds him as overcompensation for his father's death. Stephen King's genius characterisation and story-telling is really the carrier of the novel, not necessarily his social commentary on its own or even the novel's stance within the horror genre. He builds each character with such an invested realism that the entire town becomes alive as you read it, and especially because I was so invested for so long it was truly like i became a part of the story.
IT was far from sunshine and rainbows, though in a lot of ways the story had a happy ending as good does triumph over evil. One of these happy endings however I have to deduct major points for and that is the traumatising Loser's Club sex scene - yes, you read that correctly. I'm not usually one to shy away from sex scenes since I probably read my first one at 14, and unless they feature rape of course or from Stardust, but I definitely draw the line at this one. This scene is virtually group sex, all six boys each sleep with Bev, but what disturbs me the most about this is that the scene takes place during the summer of 1958...when the Club members are all about 11 or 12. Yes, really.
IT has so many more themes, like domestic violence which King features in a number of his other books like The Shining, but if I get too far into those then I will never get to sleep. You could write a novel to deconstruct IT that would almost be as long as the book itself but I digress that I personally will not be the one to write it.
Overall despite the nightmares, disturbing moments and scenes I can never unread I did enjoy IT. I'm lining up the next Stephen King book I am going to take on, probably Carrie, but I might read some light-hearted comedies between now and then.