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A Novel
Stephen King
read on March 1, 2013

Probably six months ago, around Halloween, I saw this book on a listiscle of "scariest books you'll ever read". I lost the link, but the jist of it was that this book was not only frightening, but a very well put together peice of literature. At the time I think I was slogging through Zinn's People's History - so I was very much in the mood for some engrossing long form fiction, and I was intrigued by the idea of being scared from reading. I saw this movie when I was probably 8 or 10 years old, and I remember it absolutely terrified me for years. I didn't remember any of the plot, but I was scared of clowns through high school. 'It' to me, had defined my paradigm of fear. Add to all that that almost 1,000 5 star reviews on Amazon and I was sold. I was even excited about the preposterous length: 1,400 pages! I imagined reading this book to be some mini vacation I could go on every night. I looked forward to it for months, and then spent a couple months actually reading the book. And the result?

It is the worst work of fiction I have ever read. It is horrible in ways that are non-random. That is to say, I feel as though it were actually designed to disappoint me to the maximum effect. Here's why:

  • Because it's mainly pretty good. This seems like an odd thing to hold against this book, but it's true. If the book were trash from beginning to end, well, that would be a bummer, but that's all. (Plus, I probably would have just bailed on it after a few hundred bad pages). But for many of the first thousand or so pages, King writes a very compelling narrative, with relatable characters, and a cogent style. I typically don't like books where each chapter takes place in a different time, but King really pulled it off here. I was always curious to read more, and having two stories that take place 28 years apart was handled very well. The characters are diverse enough that everyone can find one to sympathize with, and many of the themes were very well done. Obviously It was fear, but King did well at personifying fear a bit differently for each child, and digging below the surface into where fear comes from, what motivates it, etc. King's exploration of childhood in general was well done, I liked the way he illustrated their world and their problems, almost as an invisible world "below" the adults. It was very well put together.
  • This book is not scary. Like I said at the top, I haven't been scared by books before, so I can't offer much analysis here except to say that I felt like I was sold a certain bill of goods, and it didn't deliver in this regard. I read this book over several months, exclusively at night, in bed, in the pitch dark, and I had exactly one dream about a clown murdering me. Not impressed.
  • The book consists of eight main characters: seven boys and one girl, Beverly. Each of the boys has a unique character; strengths, weaknesses, a colorful history, motivations, aspirations, etc. Beverly has nothing. Her "character" is that she's a girl. She's like Wendy Koopa, or Smurfette. Every single interaction of hers, or mention that she gets, or conversation she has, is to drive one of the boy's stories forward. She pretty much exists only so that the boys have someone to have a crush on. Apparently this isn't a rare thing, but for me to notice it means it must have been especially bad. Honestly, I thought it was jarringly conspicuous, and I found it very difficult to believe that the rest of the book could be well written when this one character was treated so one dimensionally.
  • The ending is horrible. Epically bad. The last 200 pages of this book are insultingly awful. It's like King just gave up and turned the writing duties over to a small child. No, worse. It's the kind of bad that can only be done on purpose, not happenstance, not even ineptitude. This was malice. IT goes from being the physical manifestation of insecurity and fear, represented by an entire town ... to being a space alien. I'm not kidding. Pennywise is a space alien trying who's pretty much just trying to impress (or destroy?) a galaxy sized turtle. Yes, turtle. A space turtle. A turtle from outer space. I just, I don't know what to say. The book morphs from this great metaphor about fear into a literal battle between a space clown and a galaxy turtle.
  • No really, the ending is horrible. Even if you can get over the space turtle and the ridiculously abstract metaphysical finale, it's Beverly that nails the coffin shut. Remember how her entire character was defined by her gender? Well, in the final battle with IT, each of the children contribute to defeating IT in their own way. (For instance, the kid with asthma sprays IT with his inhaler, etc). Well, Beverly doesn't do anything, she stays in the shadows and lets the boys do all the work. Her non-action is terribly conspicuous, but not surprising given how King treated her the rest of the book. Here's the mind blowing part: After they defeat IT, they're trying to get out of his labyrinthian lair and get lost, and Beverly finally springs into action. Her contribution is: To have sex with all seven of them, consecutively, in front of all of them, in order to bring them together as a group and give them the focus to escape. She's eleven. I'm not kidding. And even if you can get past how ridiculously uncomfortable it is to read about this eleven year old girl describing how the 5th boy was larger than the rest and stretching out her uterus but oh-my-god in a way that felt so good (!!! - not making this up) - the mind blowing part is just how unnecessary it is. This scene comes out of nowhere. Nowhere. It isn't important in any way to any other scene. It doesn't tie out to anything else. If someone tore those couple pages out entirely, no one would ever notice. I really, I still don't know what to say.

Unequivocally the worst ending to anything I've read.

Author Bio:

Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. He graduated from the University of Maine and later worked as a teacher while establishing himself as a writer. Having also published work under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, King's first horror novel, Carrie, was a huge success.