Elevation, Stephen King; narrated by the author (Simon & Schuster Audio 978-1-50826047-9, $19.99, CD, 3.75 hr., unabridged [also available as a digital download]) October 2018.
Apparently, not only are the people of Castle Rock ME used to experiencing all kinds of horrible supernatural events (as per several Stephen King novels, stories, and a Hulu series), they’re also more than a little homophobic. Well, except for Scott Carey, who’s oblivious to the way that most of his fellow townspeople are shunning his neighbors, Deirdre and Missy, and their vegetarian Mexican restaurant, treating the women’s marriage as a provocation, rather than a simple expression of love. All he wants is for their dogs to stop pooping on his lawn, but his negotiations with them are only taken as additional hostility from the town.
Scott also has a more serious issue he’s dealing with: Something strange is happening to him. Although he continues to mass the same, he weighs less and less. Realizing that gravity will eventually lose its hold on him entirely, he decides to seize what joy he can before he floats away, and determines to make sure that the two women will feel welcome in Castle Rock.
The audio production also includes a bonus story, “Laurie”, in which a grieving Florida widower reluctantly finds new purpose in living after his incredibly pushy (but often right) older sister foists a puppy on him. That’s pretty much the whole plot, other than a dangerous incident towards the end that brings the point home to him.
Stephen King is one of the few authors so iconic that many people are actually familiar with his appearance and voice. That’s why having him read his own work is inviting a recognizable celebrity to narrate. As I’ve noted before, I’m generally in favor of having authors read their own work, as they inhabit it in a way that an outsider usually can’t. King reads with confidence and expertise, making a decent stab at different voices, too. I also found it inexplicably endearing that rather than just saying the title, “Laurie”, he says, “This story is called ‘Laurie’,” as if he were performing a reading in front of an audience.
I’m only the most casual Stephen King fan, having read or listened to about ten or so of his books and scattered stories (which would be a significant proportion of many another author’s oeuvre), but one reason I’ve always found his work so effective is that he really, really makes you care about his characters. That’s why it strikes so hard when dreadful things happen to them, even if you’ve only known them a page or so. Knowing his dark predilections and the fact the book published the day before Halloween, I kept waiting for the penny(wise) to drop. It does not in the first story, and even the crisis in the second story is not remotely at the grotesque and epic level for which King is famous. Instead, these are two stories about moving past first impressions and prejudices to make friends, the need to grab opportunities and find happiness in a limited time, and to simply, as Peter Capaldi’s Doctor urged at the end of his tenure, “Be kind.” Perhaps the message is a bit heavy handed, but in a world that seems so angry lately (including some righteously furious contributions from King’s own Twitter feed), maybe that’s not such bad advice.
This is King at his most likeable (yes, this is a thing), albeit in a fairly slight vehicle.
This review and more like it in the January 2019 issue of Locus.
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