I first picked up this book in October of 2016, fully expecting to be terrified. And I was. So much so, in fact, that I read the first sixteen pages and promptly deleted it off of my kindle, because I couldn’t sleep knowing that IT was right there on my nightstand, probably waiting for me to drift off so It could climb out of the ereader and into my nightmares. That’s what I get for starting IT the week of Halloween. At night. In complete darkness because my husband was sleeping next to me and I didn’t want to wake him. Because he was exhausted from working security at the Tree Farm Massacre, the biggest and scariest “haunted attraction” in our area. Which he had been telling me terrifying stories about for a month. Which of course added to my fear. It was a vicious cycle, and I was so bone-deep scared that I thought I would never pick IT up again. Thankfully, I was wrong. My cousin read this 1,153 page book in THREE DAYS (who does that?!) and guilted me into giving IT another chance. And he doesn’t even like Stephen King! (Though he does want me to go see the new movie with him when it comes out later this year; pretty sure that's going to be a no for me.) I figured, since it’s spring now and the days are longer and my younger cousin handled IT just fine, I would give IT a try. (The title makes reviewing this so weird. Just sayin’.) And I’m very glad I did, because IT was pretty darn fantastic.
What terrified me the first time was obviously still there, and is a very central focus in the book. That fear has a name, and It is Pennywise. I feel like King’s creation might be almost singlehandedly responsible for our society-wide fear of clowns. Because, even though It takes different guises, at the core we always see It as Pennywise. Until we see It revealed as something else, something even more disturbing on a deep, primal level. But Pennywise is It’s face and It’s voice, and has inspired fear in thousands, and will most likely do so for years to come. How many of us are terrified of clowns for reasons we can’t quite pinpoint? *raises hand* Well, I’m pretty sure King’s nightmare creation is one of the roots of that fear.
Can an entire city be haunted?
If that town is Derry, Maine, the answer is an unwavering “yes.” The scariest evidence of this is not Pennywise, is not the unnamed smell that permeates the town, is not even the incredibly high ratio of disappearances and missing children and unsolved murders. The scariest evidence of this is the townspeople themselves, and their ability to rationalize the disappearances, ignore any violence that doesn’t touch them, and turn a blind eye to the rest. What’s so scary about this is that it’s true of many people. We tend to ignore what makes us uncomfortable, turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, so that we don’t have to leave our comfort zones and do something.
Be brave, be true, stand.
Pennywise is what most of us see when we think of Stephen King’s IT, but the book is about so much more. It’s about the subversive power of fear, yes. But it’s also about the power of laughter and love and hope. It’s about the power of the imagination and friendship and the comfort in knowing you’re not alone in your fear. It’s about the slow and steady sadness of growing up, and about the fact even in the midst of adulthood, there is some part of us that will always cling to childhood. And, perhaps most of all, it’s about childhood itself, and about the magic that resides within us when we’re kids. It’s about the miracles that we stop seeing as miracles as we age. It’s about good taking a stand against evil, even when that stand might result in a slow and painful death.
There are things that King excels at. He has retained incredible insight into the mind of a child, and writes incredibly believable kids, as well as moving childhood friendships that feel real. He is also fantastic at evoking the feel of a bygone era, especially the 1950s and 60s. Both IT and 11/22/63 made connected me with time periods I never witnessed myself, in ways that surprised me. But man, there are things about his writing that throw me off in every book. First of all, there are stylistic choices he makes that disconnect me from the story, no matter how invested I am. For example, having entire multi-page sections written in italics just makes my eyes cross. And stopping a present section mid-sentence and finishing that sentence at the beginning of a flashback section throws me out of the story, as well. Then there’s King’s sex scenes. Some people write beautiful, intimate scenes that move you. The only thing I generally feel when I read one of King’s sex scenes is uncomfortable. *shudders* The stylistic choices (which are a completely subjective complaint) and those sex scenes are the only reason this wasn’t a five star read for me.
Should you read IT? I would honestly say yes. If you have any interest in reading King, if you like horror, if you want to experience the 50s or re-experience childhood and the foundational friendships that come with it, then yes, please give IT a chance. IT’s huge and IT’s scary, but IT’s one of the best things to ever spring from King’s pen. And don’t worry; Pennywise hasn’t crawled out of my copy yet, so I’m sure you’re safe. Well, pretty sure, anyway.