Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mile 81

by Stephen King
(New York: Scribner, 2011)
eBook, 80 Pages, 213 KB, Short Fiction

At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded up rest stop on a highway in Maine.  It's a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into.  It's the place where Pete Simmons goes when his older brother, who's supposed to be looking out for him, heads off to the gravel pit to play "paratroopers over the side."  Pete, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out.  Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn't been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says "closed, no services."  The driver's door opens but nobody gets out.  Doug Clayton, an insurance man from Bangor, is driving his Prius to a conference in Portland. On the backseat are his briefcase and suitcase and in the passenger bucket is a King James Bible, what Doug calls "the ultimate insurance manual," but it isn't going to save Doug when he decides to be the Good Samaritan and help the guy in the broken down wagon. He pulls up behind it, puts on his four-ways, and then notices that the wagon has no plates.  Ten minutes later, Julianne Vernon, pulling a horse trailer, spots the Prius and the wagon, and pulls over. Julianne finds Doug Clayton's cracked cell phone near the wagon door — and gets too close herself. By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are a half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. Two kids — Rachel and Blake Lussier — and one horse named Deedee are the only living left. Unless you maybe count the wagon…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … I feel like I am in an abusive relationship with Stephen King.  Things started out so good when we first met.  His stories were scary and interesting and funny and engrossing (sometimes with an emphasis on the grossing part).  We had fun together, stayed up late together, went everywhere together: Castle Rock, Derry, two winters in Colorado, ‘salem’s Lot

Then, things started to get a little—strained.  We stopped going to the same old places.  Castle Rock was gone, Derry just didn’t have the same shine, Colorado was out of the question … we started visiting places like Dark Score Lake, Little Tall Island … the MidwestNevada.  It just wasn’t the same anymore.  He became needlessly violent, he treated me like I wasn’t smart enough anymore, he beat me over the head with his morals.  So I left.

But I never really did.  He kept a little part of me with him.  A little part of my heart.  He would whisper into it saying things like That was just a phase, I’m over it now.  Come, see what I can do.  Want to go to the ends of the world and back?  We can.  Want to see how literary and metafictional I can get?  Come with me.  And, like a fool, I did.  I went.  Some of it was good, most of it wasn’t.  Sometimes we tried to recapture our old spark and did the same old things in the same old places, but really, the gloss was off the relationship.

But now I was hooked.  I kept coming back.  I was entirely co-dependent.  He said he had changed, that it could be like old times, but it wasn’t.  I kept getting my heart broken, kept getting hurt, and then thanking him for doing it.  I couldn’t stop.  I kept trying to believe he had changed, believing it would be different this time, but…

So, I thought maybe I would just take it one step at a time.  Start off with baby steps again.  A series of quick rendez-vous.  That worked for a time.  Not all of those get-togethers were fun.  Only about three or four were, to be totally honest, but they allowed him to wedge his way in to my life again and entice me into a long term relationship.

And here I am.  Reading Mile 81.  Another quick tryst (at only 80 pages long) between King and I, and it was just as unsatisfying as some of the others have been, especially those in Just After Sunset.  There is nothing particularly exciting about this story, rather it seems as if King is simply rehashing his stories—again—and in the end, Mile 81 is simply an amalgamation of Christine and From a Buick 8 with a healthy dose of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby thrown in for good measure.  The resulting mash is a story that is unsatisfying and riddled with characters that are not very believable, especially 10-year-old Pete Simmons who is the most world-weary and wise pre-teen I have ever met and functions more as a deus ex machina than a main character/hero.

My emotions regarding this book (novella?) (short story?) are so over the map that I’m not even sure I can articulate how disappointing this entry is.  And the worst part of it?  I read it.  I read it because it was written by Stephen King and I am desperately trying to recapture the spark of our relationship.  Even worse than this?  I’ll pick up 11/22/63 even though the MacGuffin of this book (available November 8, 2011) is a time-travelling English teacher who, through the magic of an enchanted diner storeroom (yes, you read that right), heads back to 1963 IN ORDER TO STOP THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION.  No really (and if it sounds more than a tad familiar, that’s because—minus the time travel—it is).  That’s what this one is going to be about (there is a teaser at the end of Mile for 11/22/63).  Will I read it?  Damn me, but yes I will.  Why?  Because I hope it will be better than Just After Sunset, Duma Key, Lisey’s Story and Mile 81, and a host of others that have been disappointments.

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