Atypical King

Stephen King has written more than 40 novels now — books that are classified in the “horror/thriller/fantasy genre.” King is especially adept at molding plots that incorporate one or more trendy topics (serial killers, the paranormal, pyromania, schizophrenia, child abuse, etc.)

A ghost in the city of angels

Ask the Dust by John Fante. Black Sparrow Press. $13 (paperback) — 165 pages.

Back in Charles Bukowski’s youth (the 1940s), he spent most of his time wandering aimlessly about the skid-row sections of Los Angles in an inebriated funk. Like many of his homeless and drunken friends, he observed the time-honored practice of avoiding rain and snow by taking up residence in the local library. However, as his cohorts snoozed in the reading room, Charles Bukowski read.

Front-row Kid dreams of riding once again

“Riding the range once more

Toting my old 44

Where you sleep out every night

Where the only law is right

I’m back in the saddle again.”

— Gene Autry (and others)

Smith thrills in his new dark suspense

“The Ruins does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches.”

— Stephen King

The Ruins by Scott Smith. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 319 pages.

Ashes to ashes

Before Cormac McCarthy’s nameless father and son have ventured more than a few yards down The Road, we realize that something is terribly wrong with their world. The only sound, other than the shuffling gait of these two creatures and the father’s wracking cough, is the sound of labored breathing – an act made more difficult by the layers of cloth that obscure their faces.

The way things could have been

Back some 30 years ago when I still had some tenuous claim to academic respectability (I taught literature), my teaching sometimes included the study of “picaresque novels.”

Truer and grittier

If you remember Charles Portis’ wonderful 1968 novel, True Grit (and the subsequent Kim Darby/John Wayne film), you are likely to have a nostalgic regard for plucky Arkansas teenagers who just get up and go on when life smacks them down. Stubborn little Mattie Ross’ pursuit of her father’s killer inspired me some forty years ago, and I still get a little moral lift when I remember her. Aided only by a drunken sheriff who was frequently more of a hindrance than help, willful little Mattie persisted.

Memories of Johnson Catolster and the Cherokee little people

I woke up this morning with the echo of Johnson Catolster’ gentle laughter in my head. I had been dreaming that I was riding through the Great Smoky Mountains Park with Johnson, and as we came down U.S. 441 past the Smokemont Campground exit, he had suddenly stopped his old truck and pointed. “There!” he said, “See that clump of little cedars near the road? Well, he was standing right there, looking left and right like you do before you cross the road, and I stopped right here.”

Death call Everyman

When I registered as a sophomore at Western Carolina University (then, Western Carolina Teachers’ College) in 1954, I heard a number of my classmates talking about Dr. George Herring. “Get a class under him, Gary,” they said. “Hurry! His literature classes fill up first.” Eventually, I managed to get English Literature 201 — a class that prompted me to become an English major.

Betrayed, rejection and self-destruction

15 years ago, Donna Tautt’s The Secret History managed to acquire an amazing following among university students in the United States and England. Within a year of its publication (1992), campus clubs and Internet web sites were formed solely for the purpose of discussing the novel’s characters, plots and motifs. Many of these groups attempted to mimic The Secret History’s major setting: a faculty office in which six students and a charismatic classics professor of Greek Studies converse in an atmosphere that manages to be arcane, philosophical and ... secretive.

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