Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is Professor of English at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in fiction and screenwriting, literature, film and popular culture, and theology. The author or co-author of twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Garrett is (according to BBC Radio), one of America's leading voices on religion and culture, and a frequent speaker and media guest on narrative, religion, politics, literature, and pop culture.

Garrett's new book is Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Garrett's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of works about race and prejudice for my next nonfiction book for Oxford University Press, and a lot of that has been compelling (James Baldwin rocks!), but the last thing I read purely for pleasure was Stephen King’s It, which I just finished. It kept me awake. As some of you may know, It is about a group of kids (later, their adult selves) who stand in the gap against a monster that long ago took over their Maine town and that kills people—especially kids and the helpless—every twenty-some years before hibernating. Or something.

I was prompted to return to the book by the super creepy trailer for the new film adaptation coming out soon, and I had originally read it decades ago when it was first published. I went through a stretch in my late teens and early twenties where I read a ton of Stephen King, thinking I might just be a horror writer, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this book held up on re-reading it. I’ve gone on since my first reading to write my own novels and to become a teacher and critic, but the things that are good about It are still really good. When people ask me if King is a talented writer, I tell them he has a lot of insight into character and point of view. In novels like It and The Stand, he can juggle a whole lot of characters, and we get a strong sense of their backstory and their brokenness, two things that make it possible for us to identify with characters from the get-go. In the opening chapters, he introduces us to a big cast, but they’re so well differentiated that it’s never a problem keeping them straight.

Now, the thing that troubled me originally—the reveal of the monster in the last section of the novel—is still really bad. H. P. Lovecraft instinctively knew that the less you show of the monster, the scarier it is (think of this, perhaps, as The Jaws Rule, after the long-delayed reveal of the shark in Steven Spielberg’s movie). When the monster It is appearing in different guises—especially as Pennywise the Clown—this book is drop-dead scary. At the end, when it’s revealed as a Cosmic Creature from Beyond the Stars, we keep reading because we love these characters, but the frisson that kept us turning pages is gone.

Ultimately, though, what I loved about reading It again was re-connecting with old friends. I’ve been through some rough weather myself in the years since I last saw these character, and I felt like I knew them better, knew myself better, and could appreciate their stories and their journeys more now than as a young man. Stephen King is not a great writer, but he is a compelling storyteller, and I really lost myself in this long book for a long time!
Learn more about Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Entertaining Judgment.

--Marshal Zeringue