Monday Review: Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges #2)
Stephen King understands people.
This is why he is so good at scaring the shit out of us.
Sometimes, the act is blatant (clowns,evil topiary, haunted houses, epidemics).
Sometimes it is very, very subtle.
I took a look at Good Reads and Amazon reviews of both Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers just prior to reading this second installment in the Bill Hodges series. A lot of people like them. Some are ambivalent.
Much to my surprise, because I have enjoyed both books so much, there is also a lot of outright dislike, some of which might even be termed hatred. The majority of the dislike was expressed in the form of complaints that neither book is “horror.” Which means it isn’t “Stephen King.”
A) Stephen King has written roughly a kajillion books. If he wrote in one genre only, within a single conceptual framework, he would probably be bored out of his ever-loving, highly creative mind. Loosen your genre sphincter, friends, good writing is good writing regardless of genre.
B) Only Mr. King has the right to say what is and isn’t him. Just like only I have the right to say what is me and my cat has the right to say what sort of cat he wants to be. My son likes to wear Star Wars shirts and cowboy boots and my daughter princess dresses and Andrew McCutcheon knee high socks. One’s essence is based on what anyone else thinks it should be, regardless of how high profile or public that person might be. I’m pretty sure SK made his point about that in Misery. Writers, even writers you love, won’t always fit your mold. It may be disappointing. It may even suck. And I’m not suggesting you must like the product. It is, however, an extremely lazy book critique.
C) Those who claim Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers aren’t horror are straight up wrong. Loosen your genre sphincters, folks. Horror isn’t always beasties and blood. Sometimes, horror is showing us just how find the boundary is between what we style ourselves and what we could be, man versus beast, good versus evil.
In the Bill Hodges books, King delves into a very personal sort of horror, that of the already disturbed, easily shattered psyche. Shows us the effects of trauma and abuse, of obsession. Explores the gift of “neuroplasticity,” the ability to restructure, to assess reality and out places in it, about the tragic results of its lack.
King reminds us no one, no exceptions, is safe from that a minute, chance, inescapable thing that can flip the lustful killer switch. The obsession switch. The hatred switch.
The evil switch.
I don’t know about you but I find the idea that, given a tiny tweak here, a little neurotransmitter imbalance there, a word uttered at the wrong moment, anyone might lose herself to any, or all, of the aforementioned. Far more terrifying than ghosts or devils or even evil topiary. And I am really, really afraid of the evil topiary. And the creepy twins. Especially the creepy twins. Also covered bridges and pinwheels, though those last two aren’t King’s fault, their his son Joe’s doing.
Because the evil switch is a thing that can actually be flipped. In real life. If not now, perhaps in a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year…
The human capacity to choose good or evil in the absence of a tragedy that robs us of rationality (dementia, schizophrenia, psychosis, traumatic brain injury) is an insecure thing. There is a reason getting what we want makes us feel good: the urge to recapture that feeling makes us ambitious, shoves us toward progress, encourages us to strive. It also gives us objects and concepts over which to fight, over which to make war. Over which to kill. There are a thousand, a million, moments each day when the balance might tip. Every time we make a decision: call in sick to work, cook for the family, hug a friend, ignore someone asking for a dollar for the bus, stealing or paying, lies or truth there is a chance we’ll teeter.
A chance we’ll fall.
King understands this. He understands it intimately and he isn’t afraid to fan his cards out or slap us with a gauntlet.
By showing us the tipping point, showing us the multiple possibilities, showing us all the possible outcomes in the forms of extreme, but at the same time very real, character choices, King shows us how easy it is for man to fail. How easy it is to allow one’s self to be consumed by selfishness, by the ease of cruelty and evil.
How good it might feel.
That, my friends, is true horror. That is why the Bill Hodges series is truly terrifying in a very, very delicious way.
Four out of five fingers on the hands of glory.