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Three Kings - Reviewing the work of Steven King, Barbara Kingsolver and Kingsley Amis

By Pete Moss

In my endless quest to impose order on a disorderly universe, I'm constantly looking for 'themes'. Even in my personal reading.

So recently I undertook to celebrate the concept of '3 Kings'. I understand this phrase has biblical connotations, but I'm not really into the bible. Matter of fact, I've been known to drive around with a 'Your Religion Sucks' bumper sticker.

My deal is that I'm a runner for Warner's in LA and I made lots of money doing runs for that flick '3 Kings'. They were having probs cause they were using a new kind of film, which had a special way of showing color, but kept breaking in the editing machines. Being how the flick was shot in the desert and the color of everything is different in the desert, because of the continual harsh sunshine, and, they couldn't go back and re-shoot, because Clooney was busy, and David Russell is finicky..whatever, I'm getting way off the point.

The point is, I decided to celebrate the 3 Kings thing by reading 3 books by authors who had the syllable 'king' in their name.

The first author was Stephen King and the book was the original 'Carrie'. At this point I assume everybody knows the plot of 'Carrie': Naive girl has first period, gets tortured by mean jockettes. Jockettes get punished. Jockette party splits. On one side cruel jockettes out for revenge, on the other not-cruel jockette suddenly feels guilty. Lots of plotting by both parties ensues, culminating in conflagaration and carnage at the prom.

This book kicks ass. Not just because I had Stephen King for Creative Writing at the University of Maine at Orono in the spring of '78. Stephen King is a good fuckin writer. He understands that if it walks on two legs it's a monster.

That's what 'Carrie' is all about: the needless cruelty that humans practice on each other. I recall reading once how the scariest movie ever made was 'Psycho' because the monster was just 'some guy'. Stephen King gets that.

The next book was 'The Bean Trees' by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is a little thin here. It's a first novel, so keeping the thread going for several hundred pages may have taxed Ms. Kingsolver. Far as I can tell it goes like this: Young trailer trash woman (think Paula Jones) runs away from Kentucky in a jalopy. In a unlikely incident in Oklahoma she picks up a baby girl. More driving, then the jalopy breaks down in Arizona. Once in Arizona Ms. Trailer Trash proceeds to build herself a family. Eventually the state demands some explanation for where the baby girl came from, then trailer trash girl has to go back to Oklahoma and go through a frankly unbelievable adoption sequence. Also, there's a side story with a bunch of angelic Guatemalan refugees.

Let's get one thing straight: Babs can write. She can be descriptive, and suck a reader right in. But she has an ax to grind, and she's not going to stop grinding 'til that ax is sharp enough to split atoms. The ax she's grinding is: Men are the monster.

That buries the needle on my bullshit meter. I found myself sympathizing with Angel the one-leg rodeo cowboy, and not sympathizing with those Guatemalans who were way too ethereal, which I'm sure is the opposite of what Babs intended. Perhaps if there had been a scene where one of the Guates was speechifying while taking a dump, it would have humanized them.

But, you could do a lot worse than reading 'The Bean Trees'. The little girl character Turtle is really appealing. On the other hand, as a guy, I felt sorry for the baby boy Duane, growing up in such a femna-centric family. As Paul Newman put it in 'Slapshot': He's gonna wind up with some guys dick in his mouth.

Finally I read Kingsley Amis, 'The Green Man'. This book is also kind of thin on plot. Basically, a guy owns a pub in England and he keeps seeing ghosts. He runs around trying to find out why the ghosts are appearing. But the origin story of the ghosts is murky, at best.

I love English people. All the people from that corner of Europe; Scotland, Ireland, England, have a way with words, much like the Nordic people have a way with engineering.

I've read "The Golden Bough" where a teabag professor speculates on the origins of Northern European tree worship, and I liked it. I don't really get the purpose of worshipping oak trees, but I go along with the idea that human beings need to worship stuff, and I'm inclined to be tolerant.

'The Green Man' is full of this kind of pagan nonsense, and it's pretty entertaining. Also the narrator drinks lots of alcohol, and I can identify with that.

But if you read the whole book there's a definite fear of pussy. Yeah, I'm talking about the little hairy triangle between a woman's legs. I don't identify with that. I know there's a pagan superstition that a guy who never sticks his tree into a twat lives longer, that every time you give a female 10 cc's it takes a few days off your life span, but I don't believe it.

It sounds like priestly mumbo-jumbo to me, whether the priests are pagans or monotheists doesn't really matter. Like I said, I've been known to drive around with a 'Your Religion Sucks' bumper sticker on my '64 Corvair.

That aside, I have to give Kingsley his due: he has a way with words. He uses adjectives like 'frugiferous' to describe a sweater. He can bag on an old American tourist who takes forever to order dinner because he has to always find a 'more roundabout way of expressing himself' which is described as 'regrettably Jamesian'. If you've done much reading or gone to college you have to laugh.

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, Kingsley needs more Joy of Sex. Plus he's trying to do too many things at once. The blurb on the back says: "A cunning blend of terror, suspense, satire and metaphysical speculation", which is at least two genre's too many, regrettably Jamesian indeed.

So the wrap-up is: Stephen King wins easily. All three of these authors are writing about fear, but Mr. King is the only one who overcomes it. Kingsolver and Amis both succumb to their fear, and even wallow in it. And, far as I can tell, one of the main things about being a successful king or queen is overcoming your fear.