Welcome to Derry
When the opening chapter of a Stephen King book starts with a six-year-old talking to a clown who lives in a sewer, chances are things are going to take a turn for the worst.
Sadly, in Derry, Maine, if things could get worse, they absolutely do. Jumping between 1958 and 1985, King charts the lives of the ‘Losers Club’, a group of seven bullied twelve-year-olds who face down the clown Pennywise, a terrifying demon from an alternate dimension, who starts a murder spree throughout town. Delivering an ambitious and wide scope of storytelling, Stephen King’s ‘IT’ is rife with the complex and controversial.
In retrospect, I am grateful I avoided reading any reviews of ‘IT’ before taking the 1000+ paged book on (it’s quite a time investment). It turns out, according to reviews on sites like Goodreads, the feedback about ‘IT’ is polarized—either one decides to embrace the novel whole-heartedly or condemn the entire story as the bane of their existence.
Needless to say, going in as a reader without expectations was probably the right idea. As someone who is relatively familiar with King’s work, I have arrived at the realization that ‘IT’ displays both the strengths and weaknesses of his writing. He excels at crafting the unforgettable friendship between the seven children, all of whom are memorable and wonderful characters, with sharp attention paid to depicting the realities of childhood. The time of the Losers Club in 1958 was by far my favorite part of the book. It reminded me why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.
Not surprisingly, King also delivers on the fear scale—if clowns weren’t already frightening enough, Pennywise takes the cake for Worst Clown Ever, demonic or otherwise. The depiction of violence was particularly disturbing, especially considering a huge bulk of the novel had a homicidal Ronald McDonald terrorizing a bunch of 12 year olds. King grabs the crazy dial and turns it all the way up, taking readers on a roller coaster of a ride. But, like all roller coasters, with its ups, come its downs.
Where ‘IT’ thrives in the shadows of the creepy and disturbing, a major pitfall I found within the novel is keeping up with King’s narrative threads. The book deals with multiple timelines, varying character perspectives, and a concept that literally stretches the confines of time and space. Fair enough, there are bound to be some lines that are either left hanging or come to unsatisfying conclusions. This is a disappointing aspect to the book because, in previous King-related pursuits of mine, I find he is quite consistent about tying up loose ends. Here, not so—the mere expanse of the book, both in content and page number, makes King meander somewhat in his writing. I found myself skipping chunks just to get back to the main storyline which was unfortunate since King has so clearly crafted such a detailed universe, much of which I had to overlook simply out of necessity of keeping up with the original train of thought.
There is also a scene within the book that caused much outcry within the community of King readers. At the risk of running spoilers, I’ll only note that this particular scene was also disturbing to me and I found it completely unnecessary and under-serving the otherwise intriguing character of Beverley Marsh. One reviewer, from the website Nightmarish Conjurings that post reviews and articles on horror literature and media, actually felt that this one scene ruined the entire book for them.
As a note of general interest, there is a mini-series version that was filmed in the nineties, for those who are interested in a visual adaptation of the book. A Sept. 2017 release for a film adaptation is also on the approach with a trailer already available for viewing.
The core of ‘IT’ is almost unbearably dark and violent and disturbing—King is not afraid to take a good, hard look at what goes bump in the night. But with the horror, and the sometimes problematic plot points, King also delivers hope in the form of the Losers’ friendship. And this delicate balance is what makes books like ‘IT’ worth the long and terrifying read through. So while King may give us violent bullies and demonic clowns and a town full of unsolved murders, he also gives us the Losers Club: he shows us that even the parts of ourselves we would rather forget, when we saw ourselves as weird or out of place or alone in the world, are capable of fighting back, even against demons from alternate dimensions—that, at the end of the day, the Losers Club can win.
By Meagan Gove
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.