It’s funny how literature has changed. One of my sister’s favorite authors (perhaps her very favorite) is Stephen King, who was arguably the most popular author from the mid-1970 through the mid-1990s. During that era, Mr. King often was at odds with critics, who thought his tales of horror were not quality fiction. When you think about what passes as literature almost 20 years after his heyday (and, yes, Mr. King is still writing, too), his writing is high art compared to Twilight or many other popular novels today.
I was never into scary books (or scary movies for that matter), but I remember being so moved by the film Stand by Me and, specifically, its screenplay that I had to read the novella from which it came. I wanted to know which words were the screenwriter’s and which were Mr. King’s. As it turns out, The Body (the story from which Stand by Me was adapted) began with what is probably my favorite passage of all time:
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
The first time I read that passage, I went back and re-read it 20 times or more. It was in a book of four novellas, entitled Different Seasons. While many people may not have read these stories, most do know of them. Aside from the film version of The Body (which represented the autumn/fall season, as in fall from grace). The story that referenced summer (of corruption) kept its title for the movie Apt Pupil. And spring (as in, hope springs eternal) was adapted into The Shawshank Redemption. The only story not turned into a film, The Breathing Method, is currently being adapted for a treatment that may be shot next year.
Regardless of the movies, Mr. King’s pacing and humanity are brilliantly written into this four story book. I also think that The Body contains the most terrifying words Mr. King ever wrote: “Friends walk in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” I have read quite a lot of Stephen King subsequent to discovering him in Different Seasons, but this is still my favorite of his works. It’s a great introduction to Stephen King, especially if you are looking for popular fiction that stands the test of time.