- Lowcountry Weekly 9/15
Misery: An Open Letter to Stephen King
It finally happened.
And just as I was on the brink of losing my ever-lovin’ mind . . . or deciding to pack up a house full of junk, dogs, kids and unmatched socks and move North.
But just before I started to look up cute little lake-side rentals on Zillow, I came to my over-sensitive senses.
See, my brain delivered a cease and desist order to the rest of my cranky and irritated self when I stepped out onto the porch this morning and didn’t break out into an all over body sweat.
My hair didn’t suddenly turn damp even though I had just blown it dry. Beads of perspiration did not form down my back, nose, or thighs the minute I locked the door behind me. I didn’t have to inhale a burst of hot, humid air right after sucking down my Chocolate Royale Slim Fast shake.
I glanced at the thermometer by the front door. Twice. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Sure enough, the little red line miraculously had dipped under 90. I cried out in joy. I was going to make it.
I’m a born and bred Southern girl, right? This means I can take the heat, not snow shoveling in a Thermal full-face mask so my nose doesn’t fall off?
One of my favorite authors, Robert Goolrick, was actually inspired by stories he found published around the early 1900s in a small Wisconsin town paper and wrote A Reliable Wife based on his findings. Apparently, during vicious months-long, white-out, lake effect snow storms, a whole lot of people tended to act abnormally. You know, like severing their own limbs and taking out their entire family with an axe over an argument about what’s for dinner. You can’t tell me crazy doesn’t make for some really good fiction.
Just imagine the scary genius of one of my other favorite writers, Stephen King, and would it exist if he lived in a sunny bungalow in L.A. instead of the blistering windy winters of Bangkok, Maine? Which reminds me, I finally downloaded his sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. I know I’m two years late. But when strapped to two estrogen-bombed offspring, one tends to pick one’s battles.
But after realizing that this novel, like 90% of all his other ones, would once again be set in a snowy New England town, I felt like he should know it doesn’t have to be winter and it doesn’t have to be up North for someone to lock themselves in their house for months, stop shaving, and start having conversations with imaginary people. It happens here at my house every summer.
Here’s my letter:
Dear Mr. King,
First off, let me tell you I am a HUGE fan. But not the stalker kind you are used too, I’m sure. So, DON"T STOP reading! It’s just thanks to you I am deathly afraid of clowns, identical little twin girls, walk-in freezers, aneurysms, and art-wielding phantom-limbs. This is most certainly not a bad thing since I enjoyed every sleepless night and terror induced dream.
I also enjoy the detailed descriptions of your snowy New England: the howls of the relentless wind against the glass-paned windows of a creaky old Victorian, the snow banked steepness that surrounds a dark and dangerous remote mountain road, the candle-lit silence in strange rooms rendered dark by downed power lines and frozen limbs off trees. I feel closed in just by simply reading what’s written between your pages, suffocated by the frosty isolation you pull us into like a secret trap door that opens in the vast whiteness that protects your world, then shuts, leaving us secluded and alone teetering on the brink of a quiet sort of madness.
But, see Stephen, even though it’s been 35 years since Jack’s been a very bad boy and went on to become that great, big alcoholic caretaker in the sky, or at least for eternity at the Overlook Hotel, doesn’t mean you can’t take his tricycle riding, scarred for life, psychic son, Danny out of your freezing New Hampshire and place him down here for a summer. There really isn’t much of difference. Trust me. They’re just a different kind of hell.
See, Steve, down here people are driven to their own kind of slow-boiling insanity that sneaks up on them around May like a swarm of sand gnats starved since early spring. It starts as a simmer, this unyielding heat, a tease, a tickle that gets you going outside in the morning but then causes you around noon to make a hasty retreat back inside where you then never leave. Down here in coastal South Carolina, the extreme heat, much like your freezing winters in Maine, brings out the crazy, if you know what I mean.
I have seen normal, sweet-loving children’s heads spin with their teeth bared and fingernails clawed in. I have watched conscientious mothers take to their bed, doors locked; pints of ice cream the only things they let in. I have witnessed yards over-grown, beer bottles strewn, and grown men submerged in baby pools of tepid hose water and their own salty tears.
There’s the creak of the ceiling fan that taunts you overnight while you try and sleep on top of the sheet. There are the bugs, the lizards, and the marsh crabs that let themselves in without knocking first to escape the scalding sun, scaring you half to death. There’s the lifeless, flat, hot air that rushes through the holes in your screens and under your doors, leaving a $600 dollar electricity bill that makes you want to let out a bloodcurdling scream.
See, scary stuff really does happen down here in the South, Steve, when the heat’s 110 degrees.
Just a thought.
Anyway, thanks for your time and good luck with the new book. If you need any help, you know where to find me. Actually, I will finally be outside now that my driveway isn’t giving off steam and the heels of my feet won’t burn off walking to out get the mail. (Not looking for your responding correspondence, of course. Remember, I’m not that crazy.)