Monday, June 12, 2017

Peps' Reading List: The Shining by Stephen King

When you dissect it, the reading goals that I set for myself can seem daunting. I know I wanted to re-read a lot of titles. I know that I wanted to discover contemporary fiction that escaped my reading list in the past years. And I know that I wanted to delve into some book series that I have yet to start or forgot to continue. So, you can imagine that my reading list is a bit crowded (definitely an understatement). There was a time when it might have been overwhelming, but I figured having choices is a good thing and instead found pleasure in choosing the next book to read. While I do have a list of books that I want to prioritize reading, their order moves around depending on what I feel.

And for some reason, after reading the short story collection Things We Lost in the Fire, I wanted to read another horror title (what is happening to me?). I didn't want to delve right into The Dark Tower series (of which I've only read the first volume) just yet, but I figured it was time to read a different classic from Stephen King. I avoided The Shining for the longest time. Mostly because I wasn't much of a horror reader before and also because I encountered its film adaptation first. If you follow my blog at all, however, you would know that I'd been increasing my tolerance to horror (sometimes even actively seeking it out). Also, I was very young when I actually watched the movie and couldn't quite recall many of its details. So, I figured I'd dive right in and read one of King's most well-known books (of which there are many).

Jack Torrance takes on a job as the winter caretaker for the historic Overlook Hotel, which is definitely not within his plans to become a successful writer. But past events involving his temper has cost him his job and he is desperate to support his family, which includes wife Wendy and five year old son Danny. He tries to be optimistic by thinking of the new job as a fresh start for his family. Danny, however, has a different feeling about the hotel they would be calling home for the entire winter. As the hotel's cook Dick Halloran explains, Danny has "the shining", giving him the abilities to read minds and see the supernatural. He also has premonitions, which unfortunately feature the hotel they will be stranded in when winter rears its head.

I think I should have read The Shining when the weather was colder. Reading it in the middle of summer and suffering through the heat while doing so didn't exactly set the right tone for me. Partner this with the rather lengthy buildup to the actual scares, it took a while to get into the groove of reading. Halfway through the book though and with my eventual decision to only read when its nighttime, I felt the dread grow and it became harder to put down the book the further I went along in my reading.

The buildup isn't my favorite part in the book because I did feel impatient and seriously thought about starting a different book. But its importance does make itself known eventually, especially when you take a step back and reflect how that buildup actually added onto the overall feel of horror at the book's latter parts. The Overlook Hotel took its time to corrupt Jack and affect his relationship with his family, and the corruption is all the more stark when you have read chapters of their more peaceful everyday life before winter set in and with Jack trying to fight off the hotel's influence.

The book takes you on quite an emotional journey as it alternates between the viewpoints of the different characters. You read about Jack and his views about working at the Outlook Hotel, wrestling with his pride about working in a role that should have been beneath him if he didn't destroy his career with his temper. You read about how he tries to find good things about their new situation and how he worries about keeping his family together. And you read as he tries to fight off the hotel's influences. Then, you also read about Wendy and her constant struggle to trust Jack, given their history. You read about how she fiercely protects Danny even as she fights off the jealousy at Danny's special bond with his father. You read about how she realizes that Danny isn't really a normal kid and her growing horror at the hotel that they have to call home for many months. You read about Dick Halloran and his explanations to Danny about his powers, which he also possesses to some degree. You read about his warnings to Danny about the hotel, even as you know those warnings would be for naught. And then you read about Danny, who possesses strange abilities that help him understand the nature of the hotel and what to avoid in it, but also draws the hotel's attention towards him.

Each narrative voice is distinct and each is essential to the overall story, giving readers a chance to understand from different viewpoints how the experiences at the Outlook Hotel varies. There's the definite unease and the slow terror, and the more direct confrontation with the Outlook's horror. The longer you read, the more you tense at what Stephen King has in store for the Torrances (and you as the reader) next.

The Shining is a classic for a reason. It's well-told, albeit it can feel overlong, and you are rewarded with plenty of scares. It stays with you after you read it and makes you wonder if things could have ended up differently for the Torrances. And when you realize that, based on Jack's experiences, that averting the events of that fateful night seem near impossible to achieve... then the horror feels all the more indelible.

Happy reading!!

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