For Halloween, I decided to read the book Pet Sematary by Stephen King. This isn’t a review of that book (you can read that here), but rather a commentary on why I enjoy reading many of his books.
It’s the way he builds suspense.
Stephen King’s endings aren’t usually a twist ending, nor are they a surprise. Far from it. Most of the time, he’s even teased his own ending by page 50, or maybe 80.
Here’s an example from page 70 of Pet Sematary:
“Looking back on it, Louis would think–when he could bear to think about it at all–that the nightmare really began when….”
After this first tease, in which all the reader is told is that some nightmare happens (though the reader likely knows this going into a SK book in the first place), he gives a hint about the future. This is where the suspense begins to build. When, so early on, I know some things about how the book might end, or about where the story leaves off at the end, I get antsy. I don’t know much, but I want to know more.
I desperately want to know more.
And as I keep reading, he continues to tease tiny bits of details of things yet to come. It’s these bits of detail that make me, the reader, want nothing more than to plow straight through the book to find out what really happens.
That suspense he builds, in my opinion, is King’s best skill as a writer. I’m not one to get scared, or creeped out by horror books, but I do find myself getting caught up in the suspense of what happens to characters in a story. Especially when I know just a small amount of what happens, and I’m trying to figure out how the story I’m reading now is going to get where I know it’s going.
Sometimes it goes on too long, as it did in the case of Pet Sematary. Sometimes it’s just enough.
In the novel of Carrie, the ending scene at the high school is no surprise. The book chronicles the events leading up to it, and the aftermath of it. But that doesn’t make it any less horrible or twisted when it does happen. It’s almost cathartic when you get to it. I remember reading it, thinking, “Finally!”
There are certainly other things that bring me back to Stephen King’s books. He does a great job with many of his characters, and his voice is quite good. And most of the plots of his books are enjoyable. There’s a reason he’s such a mainstay.
But it’s his command of suspense that makes him a master storyteller.