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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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small towns

Some Thoughts on a Saturday

Small towns have this very appealing veneer of wholesomeness, untouched by the darkness of a major city.  Norman Rockwell captured this in a lot of his art, making us feel nostalgic for a time and place that never really existed, except in our own minds.  But small towns are actually far more David Lynchian than Norman Rockwell, in part because of human nature – the good, the bad and the very ugly.

I grew up in a small town and still live here.  I’ve always seen both its surface appeal and the dark nature that lay beneath.  I love it for the same reasons I hate it – it’s small, I know almost everyone and life is fairly predictable.

How would I describe my town?  On the surface, it’s very Mayberry – one could fully expect to see Andy Taylor and Barney Fife make their rounds, touching base with residents, tourists and shop owners alike.  But once you’ve been here awhile (or grown up here), you start to get the sense that there’s something else lurking, something dark and unsettling, very like that fictional town of Twin Peaks.

When I was a kid, I used to think there were psychic vampires living in the sewers (this was years before that seminal Stephen King classic IT (1986) was published).  Under the bright sun, I could see darkness and it was everywhere.  It was in my classrooms, it was in the theaters I chose to participate in, it was even in my home.  How do you fight that?

Unlike Twin Peaks, Washington or Derry, Maine, the darkness in my town is not supernaturally related, but very human.

And so is its light.

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So, I’m re-reading Stephen King’s IT……

……..which is one of my favorite novels by King, ranking right up there with The Stand‘Salem’s Lot, and the Dark Tower series. At one time, I had nine copies of this particular title. I know, that’s quite a bit. But two copies are in Spanish, one’s a British publication and the rest were various American printings, including the one with the cover of the TV movie, featuring the fabulous Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown.

I weeded them down – I kept the Spanish copies, the British copy, the American hardcover and one of the paperbacks, which I refer to as my expendable copy. Expendable, because it is so well-read and battered that some of it is being held together by tape. This one I am not afraid to read while in the tub or on a trip – it’s already worn out, so what’s the worst that could happen to it now?

In any case, I hadn’t read IT in a long while before picking it up a few days ago. It was like slipping on a comfortable sweater or pair of shoes – worn, familiar, loved. I know every word of this massive tome. In fact, I’ve read it so many times, that I will skip my least favorite parts in order to devour my favorite ones. Because I know IT so well, I don’t miss much. Sometimes I focus and read every single word that King put down in this tome.

Derry, Maine is a small town like any other with its secrets, its routines, its people. I grew up in a small town not so different from Derry, although located some three thousand miles away to the west. My childhood friends are now my grown-up friends and they resemble, to some degree, the Losers Club of 1958. Although we did not face off with any killer clown from outer space, we had our share of adventures. That sense of familiarity creeps up on you, much like the thin wisps of fog that creeps inland from the sea.

The attention to detail that King puts into this novel pays off in ways that still hold up, no matter how many times you read it. I read IT for the first time when I was 17 and I haven’t stopped, nearly thirty years later. In spite of the many times I’ve read IT, I am always caught by surprise by a phrase or event. On some level, I’m even willing some things to change, even though I know it will always turn out the way it had before.

And I never fail to cry at the last line written before closing the book.

Clockwise from top: American HC edition, British HC edition, travel copy, Spanish edition.
Clockwise from top: My copies of ‘IT’: American HC edition, British HC edition, expendable copy, Spanish edition.

Recommended:
IT by Stephen King
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
On Writing by Stephen King
Danse Macabre by Stephen King

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