Thursday, 2 February 2012

From My Bookshelf… ‘The Regulators’ – Stephen King

Because sometimes it’s nice to put all the new stuff to one side and read books that have been on my shelves for years. What’s the point of having them on the shelf otherwise…?

Lets take things back to the late nineties when I had just left college and was getting my first proper taste of the world of work at the local psychiatric hospital where I was working the night shift. It was quite a nice job actually, apart from the odd bout of nastiness from the patients. Most of the patients slept straight through the night, leaving me to either have a quiet smoke (when no-one was looking) or cram my face full of sugary goodness in an (often vain) attempt to stay awake for the whole shift. I also read a whole load of books, there really wasn’t an awful lot else to do (apart from when I found myself working on the elderly wards, that’s another story though). At the time, I was working my way through a large chunk of Stephen King’s back catalogue; all the horror stuff anyway, I still haven’t read ‘The Eyes of the Dragon’ nor the books that he wrote with Peter Straub. A lot of these books had been out for a long time and ‘The Regulators’, along with its companion novel ‘Desperation’, was the first time that I’d actually picked up a work by King (it says Bachman on the cover but we all know by now don’t we?) that had only just been published. I lost the two books when I moved to Northampton (‘book purges’, the time of many an ill thought out decision…) but a trip to New York, years later, saw me leave with a new copy of ‘The Regulators’ and a copy of ‘Desperation’ followed not long after.

Years on from that and a chance browse across the shelves reminded me that it had been ages since I last read either book. ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’ share many similarities but none of these points to the best book to read first (probably intentional). I figured that I’d start my re-read off with the book that originally kicked it off for me all those years ago…

It’s high summer in Wentworth, Ohio and nowhere more so than on Poplar Street where the sun is out, Frisbee’s are flying and the local paperboy is about to be the first to die in a drive by shooting unlike any other. The idling red van on the corner is only the start of the horror to come and, unbeknownst to the residents of Poplar Street, it is a horror that was born right in the midst of their quiet street. Will any of them survive the horror that lurks in Audrey Wyler’s house or will they perish at the nightmarish guns of the Regulators…?

The abiding thought that has stayed with me since I first read ‘The Regulators’, all those years ago, was that it was ok but King had written books that were one hell of a lot scarier. That was pretty much the thought I had upon finishing the re-read this time around. Having said that though, ‘The Regulators’ has stayed on my shelf while books such as ‘Christine’ and ‘The Shining’ went to ‘Charity Shop Heaven’ many years ago. It definitely has a staying power that the other books don’t and, having thought about it, I’m going to say that it’s very much down to the cast; I find myself engaging with them just that little bit more than I have done with the casts of King’s earlier books. There’s something about Johnny Marinville (author who is just looking for a quiet life) and Steve Ames (the guy who happens to take a wrong turn at the wrong time) that made me want to keep turning the pages to spend time with them, even though I’ve read the book before. Thinking about it, these characters (as well as some of the others) are just so open and honest about whom they are, no pretension at all. The first time I read the book I felt like I’d known Johnny, Steve, Cynthia and Collie Entragian for years already and, this time round, I felt like I was catching up with old friends (old friends in a fight for their lives but you know what I mean).

It’s a good job the characters appealed to me so strongly though because, like I said, the actual story wasn’t anywhere near as scary and chilling as King is so obviously capable of. It starts off well enough with a picture of glorious American ordinariness slowly corrupted by something unexplainable and just plain evil. The tension is ramped up smoothly yet inexorably and you’re sucked in just about the time the first gunshot is fired.

And then you find out what is causing it all…

This is where the book falls down for me as you don’t really find out enough about Tak to get a feel for why it is putting Poplar Street through hell. Doing it for food and fun will only get you so far and things proceed to degenerate into a repetitive cycle that forces the plot onwards but at the cost of some of the earlier sparkle. The moments inside Seth Garin’s head make up for this (as does the 'gradual possession' side plot) but only a little bit. The ending has to be experienced though, you can see what’s coming (and how it has to happen) but the sheer power of it will knock you sideways.

‘The Regulators’ is a great tale of survival against supernatural odds that is spoilt, sadly enough, by the supernatural elements set against the residents of Poplar Street. I stay for the characterisation though and that’s why I’m sure I’ll be reading it again and again.

Eight out of Ten

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