Picks and Pans Review: It

by Stephen King

Here is a monster book, in every sense of the word. How big is It? It’s sooooo big that…the main characters don’t even meet until page 695, and there are not one, not two, but five quotations serving as epigraphs. It’s so big that if you don’t like it, you can always use it as a doorstop or as a blunt weapon to demolish any real-life monsters that might come your way. For those with the stamina to plow through 1,138 pages (there are clearly many, since It shot to No. 1 on the best-seller list in its first week), there are plenty of rewards. The setting is Maine, where an unspeakably evil being shows up every 27 years or so to terrorize the town of Derry. In the fiction of Stephen King, evil takes many forms: It can lodge in a teenage girl (Carrie), a rabid dog (Cujo) or a 1958 Plymouth Fury (Christine). But why limit yourself, King must have thought. For in It, he has created a monster that can assume any shape it wants to. The beast changes from a werewolf to a gigantic bird of prey to a Creature from the Black Lagoon at will. This monster even has a sense of humor. “I have come to rob all the women…” It says at one point, “…rape all the men…and learn to do the Peppermint Twist.” Truth be told, having King do the monster mishmash is less entertaining than tracing the development of the seven gutsy kids who go up against It. The author paints an evocative picture of what it was like to be an 11-year-old circa 1958. It is a world of dam building, rock fights, marathon Monopoly games and puppy love. There is something endearing about a ragtag bunch of youngsters who spend all day jousting with a horrible beast and still worry about what their moms will say when they’re late for dinner. When It comes out of hibernation in 1985, the kids—now in their late 30s—reunite. Call it The Big Chiller. As always, King’s prose is full of references to popular culture. If you want to know what Americans are eating for breakfast, watching on TV or taking out of their medicine cabinets, King has an unerring eye. This is the horror master’s best novel since 1980’s Fire-starter, though it has its drawbacks. A disappointing denouement is one of them. The book’s biggest flaw, however, is its sheer, self-indulgent length. Perhaps this suggests what kind of demon King himself should face up to—an editor. (Viking, $22.95)

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