The Regulators by Richard Bachman

house-sized cowboy with drawn gun peers over roof of suburban homeThe Regulators, which Stephen King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, is an unnecessary companion to King’s novel Desperation, which he also published in 1996.

The Regulators opens on a hot day in July, 1996. A teenager is delivering the Shopper on Poplar Street in Wentworth, Ohio, when a red van rolls into town. Within minutes, paperboy Cary Ripton and a German Shepherd are dead at the hands of a shooter inside the van.

An autistic child, brainwashed by what he sees on TV, becomes central to the mayhem that’s about to unfold as residents of Poplar Street react to the senseless shootings.

Before the day is out, some residents of Poplar Street get killed.

Some find they have strengths they never knew they possessed.

All see and hear things that should change their lives forever if any of the characters were a believable person.

Bachman/King juggles bits pieces of fantasy and naturally occurring elements of human nature, keeping enough balls in the air to distract readers from paying attention to any one of them, and the insertion of news clippings, letters, and diary entries make The Regulators feel like notes for a novel rather than a finished work.

Read Desperation instead.

The Regulators by Richard Bachman [Stephen King]
Penguin Books. ©1996. 475 p.
1996 bestseller #5. My grade: D

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Four Past Midnight: novellas

burning gap at 12:04 on clock face marks 4 past midnight
It’s horrors time.

Four Past Midnight is a set of four Stephen King novellas in a single wrapper, each with a different way of scaring readers.

The first novella, “The Langoliers,” takes a science fiction approach. In it, 11 passengers on a flight from L.A. to Boston wake to find they’ve slipped into a people-less world where they are the likely next victims of some unseen menace eating its way across America.

In the “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” a novelist is menaced by someone who claims the novelist stole his story.

“The Library Policeman” turns a child’s fear of what will happen if library books aren’t returned on time into a tale of a real monster who sexually abuses children while maintaining the guise of something other-worldly.

“The Sun Dog” is a tale of technology: A Polaroid camera takes photographs of objects that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

King is at his best in the stories that open with situations that make adult readers uncomfortable. “Secret Window” revolves around a perennial problem for fiction writers: Is their work really original? The “Library” story opens with a man who is picked at the last minute to give a speech to Rotary and has to ask the librarian for help.

Four Past Midnight by Stephen King
Viking, ©1990. 763 p.
1990 bestseller #2; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni


Pet Sematary explores attitudes toward death

Snarling cat below a dark picture of man holding a body in a cemetery.
Above and behind the cat face, a man holds a human body

Although Stephen King is associated with supernatural horror stories, in my opinion King’s really frightening stories are those in which the action centers around people’s all-too-human characteristics.

Pet Sematary is one of those stories.

The story opens with the arrival of Louis Creed and his family in the small community of Ludlow, Maine.

Creed, a medical doctor, has been hired to run the University of Maine student health program. Wife Rachel will have her hands full at home: Gage is still in diapers, Ellie will begin kindergarten in a few weeks, and Ellie’s cat, Church (short for Winston Churchill) has yowled nonstop the entire three-day car trip from Chicago.

The Creeds get a warm welcome from their elderly neighbors across Route 15, Jed and Norma Crandall.

Jed takes the family on a hike up a path on their property. It leads to pet burial ground created years before by local kids—they named it “Pet Sematary”—and still maintained by them.

Rachel’s reaction is bizarre: She doesn’t want her children to even hear the word death.

In the rest of the novel, King explores attitudes toward death.

And horrible things happen because of human weakness.

That’s what’s most frightening.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Doubleday. [Book Club ed.] ©1983. 374 p.
1983 bestseller #3. My grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales Multiply Horror

Castle that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale

Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales is a collection of stories too long to be short stories, too short to be novellas, and too depressing for anything. Andre Govia captures the mood in this photo.

Set primarily in 19th century Europe, they are part fairy tale, part philosophical treatise. The tales are usually told late on a dark night when a storm is threatening.

Several are set as stories within stories. In “The Dreamer,” there are actually four different stories, three of which are told at second- or third-hand — the literary equivalent of a story my cousin got from somebody at work.

My favorite story — the last! — is about a gentleman who loves the arts. The gentleman mentors a young poet. Thinking that a woman’s influence would be good for a poet, the gentleman proposes to a lovely young widow.

The poet and fiancée fall in love.

The poet shoots his mentor.

Dying, the mentor crawls to his fiancée’s feet. She picks up a stone and smashes him on the head with it while screaming, “You poet!”

After laboring through this book, I understand the impulse to murder someone for being a writer.

Isak Dinesen would be my first victim.

Seven Gothic Tales
By Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
Modern Library edition
420 pages
1934 bestseller #10
My Grade: D

Photo credit: FairyTaleCas by Steve011

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni