Thursday, April 02, 2015

Review: The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger
The Gunslinger by Stephen King

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had this vague memory of reading this back when I was a teenager, and enjoying the atmosphere, so I thought I'd try it again now that King has finished the series. All I can say is that I've either confused it with another book, or I was using a different brain back then; this is awful.

The style is overblown and over-sylised. The language is angsty and melodramatic. The villain wears a black hooded robe and capers madly while cackling and setting elaborate traps for no reason; I don't think he has actually twirled a moustache or tied anyone to railroad tracks yet, but it's early days still. Our hero is an arse-hat teen male empowerment fantasy. He's dark and mysterious and never shows emotion. He goes by a title - "gunslinger" - instead of a name. He carries guns when no one else has them, so he's powerful. He wanders into a town so poor they eat dirt, flashing gold coins and not asking for change, so he's rich. And yet he doesn't need his money because the womenfolk of this amazingly poor town want nothing from him but sex in exchange for the information and supplies he needs; despite being silent and cold, he is also irresistible.

All of which might not bother me that much, but he's also boring and evil, so I'm not inclined to cut King any slack. Boring because, as much as the language of the book tries to sell him as hard and enigmatic, his actual words and actions come across as wooden and two-dimensional. He doesn't care about anyone in this town; only his quarry, the man in black. He barely notices the woman he's sleeping with, except as a source of information about the man in black. He doesn't even care about the pregnant madwoman (who is also a priest, in case that pushes some additional outrage button for you) that he rapes with the barrel of his gun. He doesn't do it because he particularly wants to - or in spite of particularly _not_ wanting to, because after all he has no emotions, ever - he just does it because it's the most convenient way of torturing her into giving him information about... the man in black. The end of _that_ scene is where I put down the book, with no desire to go back. It's like King actually said to himself "well, I need to get my readers emotionally involved in this book, and I don't want to have to write any plot or characters with any depth, so how can I offend as many people as possible?" And he doesn't even do that particularly skillfully; not that I wanted any more details, but it's more a laundry list of offensive factoids about his victim than an actual description of an offensive scene. Possibly because we weren't supposed to notice that our "hero" was raping a woman with his gun? Yeah, sorry Stephen; that little detail did creep through the cloying prose somehow. If someone shot the Gunslinger in the head at this point in the story, I would stand on my chair and applaud.

So I'm only 80 pages in and I'm giving up, but I've had enough. So far we've had no plot whatsoever, but I can't imagine this character doing anything that I'd care about anyways.

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