Friday, January 15, 2010

Book 9: It by Stephen King

Everyone romanticizes childhood but when you cut through all the bullshit being a kid is terrifying. Imagine having the realities of childhood imposed on you as an adult:

1. You do not control your environment.
2. You do not have any say in where you live.
3. You are surrounded by beings that are much larger and stronger than you.
4. For years you are bombarded with images of a world you CANNOT name.
5. You cannot control your own bodily functions.
6. You spend the first few years of your life having sentient thought without being able to express it in any comprehensible way, as if you were in a living coma.
7. You would be defenseless without your caretakers who can mistreat you and you can do nothing about it.

Need I go on? Even those of us lucky enough to have had a relatively unscathed childhood (and I count myself a member of that small crowd) there is a patina of terror that envelops most of what I remember as a child. You are in a situation that you do not understand. By situation I mean life.

Stephen King is not a great writer. I rarely note the language he uses (i.e. 'What a sentence!' or 'What an image!'). But the cumulative effect of the narratives that he calls into being is stupendous.

'It' is, for me, a treatise on what we go through as children. I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be truly in peril as a child. I had loving parents, great siblings, an extended family that was ever-present and fun on both mother and father sides. And still...

I respond to the situations that Stephen King creates in this book as if I had some deep dark secret never told, ever unfolding. The novel tells two dueling narratives involving the same set of characters as children and years later reconvened as grown-ups. They faced an unspeakable evil as children and have gathered to finish the job.

The irony is that they have all each forgotten much of what happened. In order to triumph they must willingly go back into that trauma and come to terms with it. Put as baldly as that it is an obvious metaphor for dealing with the past and its effects. Woven into the context here it takes on epic proportion as these people face not only their own internal demons but actual external ones as well.

I was brought to tears again and again as he articulated these personal trips his fictional counterparts were on. The double power of the narrative is such that we see these kids bravely facing something that will haunt them for years to come.

When I look at pictures of my son as a little boy I am struck by how open he is, how vulnerable. And how much strength there is in such vulnerability. We shed this openness, through design I think. There just wouldn't be any way to survive if you took the full brunt of input that you could handle as a toddler.

And I ache for him, knowing that some day he will have to look at those pictures and wonder what the hell happened and how it all went wrong.

But King leaves us with the knowledge that doing so can chase dark dreams from our nights, that finding the bravery to confront the scary moments of childhood inevitable leads to a powerful clean present moment.



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