Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 1,120
I almost gave It four stars instead of five, because I didn’t think it was as good as The Stand, but to do that would be to do the book a disservice. The truth is, books like this just don’t come around very often – they’re almost impossible to write and, at 440,000+ words, it takes a writer a long, long time even to have a stab at it.
King had a stab at it, all right, and it’s a pretty good stab to boot. In fact, what’s interesting here is how he’s able to make a relatively short and simple plot last for so long, and he does that through vivid descriptions and plenty of side stories that don’t progress the story but which do help to evoke a certain sense of place and time. In this case, the time flicks between the 1950s and the 1980s, which was when the book was written. Yeah – this book is older than I am, but it doesn’t show.
I also found that this book didn’t suffer from the same problem that we often see in King’s work – he has a habit of writing long books that feel rushed at the end, and I’ve always found it interesting how it’s easy to communicate the concepts behind the books but hard to say what actually happens. In fact, very little does happen – certainly much, much less than you’d expect in a book of this length. But that almost doesn’t matter, and the ending was well-executed and so sad that it left me feeling kind of weird, like I’d just lost a friend.
Let’s take a quick look at the story line, although like I said – surprisingly little actually happens, with much of the book effectively acting as exposition to outline the history of the Maine town of Derry, where the action takes place. There’s something strange happening, as though the entire town is haunted, and the spooky figure of Pennywise the Clown seems to crop up again and again throughout the town’s history, marking recurring cycles every 23 years or so when the evil returns and bad things happen.
In this supernatural battleground, a group of friends face a battle through the ages. It starts when they’re kids in the 1950s, but the evil calls them back to the place to finish what they started. The only problem is that they can’t actually remember it – which leads to a sense of dramatic irony, when often the reader knows more about what happened than the characters do. At its core, then, the book is about the relationships between friends and how they need to come together if they want a shot at destroying… It.
Now, obviously, this isn’t the kind of book that you ought to read if you have a short attention span. In fact, if you have poor eyesight, I’d also recommend against it. The print is very small and is literally squeezed into the pages, and it often feels like it’s never going to end. Admittedly, I read it in less than a week, but I’m not normal. I’d say that the average person could easily spend a month on this without getting to the end, and when you combine this with the way that it often feels as though the plot isn’t progressing, I can see how it could be off-putting and how it could even lead to people failing to finish it.
But there’s also no denying that It is a masterpiece, the kind of book that any author would swap an arm for. It cements King’s reputation as a literary giant – not just a simple teller of tales, but as an utter genius who takes storytelling to the next level. And it’s a genuine pleasure to read it, even though it is the literary equivalent of running a marathon. You’ll need plenty of stamina to get to the end, but it’s highly rewarding when you get there.
In fact, what makes this book so exceptional isn’t simply the device of the haunted town with its blood-stained history – it’s the way that the different characters relate to each other. In fact, it’s more like a coming-of-age story or an epic tale of friendship across multiple generations, rather than a simple horror story. It’s particularly impressive that King is able to casually bring in minor characters and then, six hundred pages later, to wheel in one of their children or their grandchildren.
It also made me start to think more about my own work. I’ve always worried that if I write a racist character, or a homophobic character, or basically any character that has a worldview that I disagree with, it’ll reflect upon me as an author. King has none of those issues, and some of his characters – like bully Henry Bowers – are downright vile human beings. But when King writes, you become so invested in the story line that you forget that there’s a storyteller at all. Even on the rare occasions when it switches to first person, you read it in the voice of one of the characters – Mike Hanlon, who’s basically a badass.
Overall, then, it’s no small undertaking to try to read this book, but it’s one of those rare tomes that’s worth sticking to despite its length. While it often feels as though you’re only making miniscule amounts of progress, progress is progress and by the end of it you’ll be rifling through the pages in an attempt to find out what happens. There are even a few twists towards the end, although the story line itself is relatively straightforward throughout. And there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction that you experience when you get to the end of it.
On top of that, It is currently undergoing a resurgence, with a movie adaptation due out later on in 2017. Considering that it was written thirty years earlier, that’s a statement in itself – few stories age as well as this one did, and I truly believe that it marks a turning point in contemporary literature. Of course, it’s probably not the best book to start with if you’re new to King’s work, but if you’re a seasoned fan – a constant reader – and you’ve worked your way through a couple of his other works, I’d say that you’re ready to take it on.
But there’s one final word of warning from me, and that’s that as good as It is, it’s just not as good as The Stand. The Stand is one of the best books I’ve ever read, while It is simply very, very good. So read The Stand first.