Saturday, November 08, 2008


Through November, I am participating in a forum-sponsored "spooky reading" challenge, tackling mysteries, horror, or any other suspenseful book. The challenge is pretty flexible. One of the titles I selected was Stephen King's novella The Mist. I was lucky to find this stand-alone, movie tie-in edition because the story collection, Skeleton Crew, in which the novella was originally published, is rarely available at my library's branch.

I read for the first time twenty years ago, on one of the long rides from my parents' home to college. For a long time, I thought I remembered the plot, but thirty pages into the story, I realized that none of the details seemed familiar. Turns out I really only carried with me the setting and atmosphere. Creepy enough.

Last week, in the days leading up to Halloween, I started my re-read. The story starts innocuously enough by introducing the main characters (David), his wife (Steph) and son (Bill), and his neighbor (Norton). The story is set in Maine, the coastal part of which is notoriously foggy. When a major thunderstorm hits David and Steph's home, knocking out powerlines and downing trees, David and Norton, along with Bill, head to town for supplies. David, Steph, and Norton have all noticed that the attendant fog is denser than usual—something about it is "not quite right."

At the Federal grocery store, all talk turns to the weather. From the large windows that front the store, the characters can't even see cars in the parking lot. When customers leave the store, they disappear into the thick mist. And then the customers who are still in the store begin to hear the screams from those who have unwittingly walked into the deadly parking lot. The survivors, of which Dave estimates there are about seventy, barricade themselves in the Federal and hunker down for the duration. Much drama ensues—darkness falls, monsters emerge, numerous battles are waged with monsters, blood is shed, alliances form, allusions to witchcraft are made, theories are formed about where the monsters came from, and daring escape is hatched. The end.

At first, I found the characters annoyingly stereotypical (macho men, codependent young women, and cranky seniors). Building the suspense is the one thing King did so well in this novel. Perhaps that statement is a big Duh since he's built his reputation on the suspense. Oh, and his monsters, many of which are predicated on superstition or on the unknown, are pretty scary. My husband was out of town when I read it. As I turned off lights before going to bed, I found the house disconcertingly dark. When the monsters struck, every sound in my house had me cowering in a corner.

Those things considered, I was thankful to have committed myself to a short King novel—have you seen the size of The Stand? Overall, I wasn't as impressed as I have been with other things I have read by King. Undoubtedly, I was less well-read and more impressionable when I gorged myself on King as a teenager. But I do think King has a genius way with short fiction—Different Seasons, three stories from which were filmed to great acclaim (e.g., "Shawshank Redemption") comes to mind. And the audio version of Night Shift, with stories read by Matthew Broderick, kept me company on the endless drives across Nebraska during my rep days. I had high expectations for more of the same in The Mist. However, this novella felt like a synopsis for a screenplay. It neither as concise as other King short fiction I have read, nor as well-developed as a full-length novel.

It was entertaining and a worthwhile read for the fun of spooking myself silly around Halloween. Also, I will probably never view foggy days in quite the same way. For a while.

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