IT by Stephen King

Every twenty-seven years, an evil presence returns to the sleepy town of Derry, Maine to feast on children. Alternating between 1958 and 1985, King focuses on a small group of friends that dared to fight back against that very entity; a being they dubbed IT.

As a kid, I was picked on by bullies. Be it my lazy eye, my stutter, my weight or my shyness, I was a pretty easy target. In IT, King produces two monsters. There’s of course, the shape-shifting, child-killing entity commonly known as Pennywise the Clown or IT, but there’s also the ruthless, psychotic bully Henry Bowers, who lives to torture the novel’s main characters, The Losers’ Club, and Henry Bowers is a son of a bitch.

To date, I’ve read a good chunk of King’s catalogue and although I still have a ways to go, I can’t think of a character that I wanted to see “get his” more than Henry. On a surface level, Bowers exists to provide Ben, Eddie, Bill, Beverly, Mike, Stan and Richie with a common enemy so they may ready themselves for an all-out battle with Pennywise. However, I think King wrote Bowers so well that he stands on an equal footing with the novel’s namesake. This kid is a monster, plain and simple. Pennywise, while its actions are abhorrent, at times feels less dangerous than the psycho with the switchblade and a fist full of gravel lurking around every corner.

Bowers’ targets and the novel’s main characters, The Losers’ Club, are all well-drawn characters both as children and adults (although, like most, I enjoyed the 1958 losers over the 1985). I found myself connecting strongly with Ben, the chubby kid with the crush, as he squirmed his way through school, avoiding bullies and packing on the pounds. While I never experienced the level of aggression from a bully that Ben did (or Mike for that matter), it was still a tough time having to duck insults and threats from bastard-classmates.

I didn’t find the novel quite as scary as some of King’s other work but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the author’s behalf. He really pushed Pennywise to the limit with some of its dialogue and scare-tactics. Rather than frightening or unnerving me, there were a few scenes of animal torture/death that turned my stomach. You can fill a book with an insane body count, but kill one dog and it’s an unforgivable sin!

My biggest gripe however, would be with something that occurs near the end. I can’t dig too deep without charting into spoiler waters, so I will say that it made me want to throw my poor Kindle across the room. It’s safe to say that the scene in question likely won’t make it into the upcoming movie as it was not in the 90s mini-series.

Having read both Under the Dome and The Stand, you’d think I’d be used to King’s longer novels. But there were points while I was reading this story where I really felt its length and I found myself acting as editor, looking at what could be cut out to bring this under 1,000 pages. While most of it seems integral to the kind of story King was trying to tell, there seemed to be some unnecessary bulk. It seemed insane to me that around the 70% mark, he was still introducing new characters.

I know that seems like a lot of complaints, but I did like this book. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s still King in the end. There are better books that he’s written but with a catalogue of over fifty novels, they all can’t be as good as The Stand or as scary as The Shining.

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