Analysis: Stephen King is much maligned by the alleged guardians of literature. When the horror writer won the National Book Foundation’s annual award for “distinguished contribution” in 2003, the guardians got downright frothy.
“I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind,” wrote Harold Bloom, the distinguished literary critic from Yale.
Ouch. Hard to dismiss Bloom, a brilliant literary scholar, but his comment is unfair. Obviously, no one is going to mistake King for D.H. Lawrence, but King has contributed a lot to the world of letters – especially in horror and supernatural fiction.
King’s talent lies in uncovering the dark underbelly of the ordinary. For example, on the surface his novels “Cujo” and “Christine” are stories about a rabid dog and a car geek obsessed with his wheels. But running below both tales – and rippling like a snake – are dark, supernatural currents.
King’s short story “Quitters, Inc.” falls into this family. In this gem of a story, King takes self-help into a nightmarish realm. The beauty of “Quitters, Inc.” is its scope – its damnation of our results driven culture. Who cares about the methodology! Look at the outcome!
Basically, he “mobs up” Weight Watchers. And what hand-wringing fun it is to watch Dick Morrison crack down under the authoritarian rule. How after his mild protests, Dick succumbs to the terrorism and torture. Why not? Once his wife gives her approval (even after being subjected to shock treatment), what’s not to like about quitting cigarettes and losing weight?
Here’s the scene right after Dick’s wife is tortured and he has to tell her why it happened:
“When he had finished he was silent a moment and then said, ‘I suppose you hate me. I wouldn’t blame you.’
He was looking at the floor, and she took his face in both hands and turned it to hers. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I don’t hate you.’
He looked at her in mute surprise.
‘It was worth it,’ she said. ‘God bless these people. They’ve let you out of a prison.’
What an indictment on the American way of life. King is skewering our first under any circumstances mentality – and with such wit.
There’s never a dull moment in King’s stories and “Quitters, Inc.” rips along at a fast pace. The best part of the story is that King lays it all out for the reader – gives us a long, hard look at the consequences and then we get to ride along with Dick and wonder where he’s going to end up.
The reader, in fact, becomes Dick Morrison. We feel his pain – his anguish and his fear. We’re even right there with him when he hands over the business card to another patsy who wants to quit smoking.
And that’s the fascination with “Quitters Inc.” We’re all in the rat race together and we’re all keeping score. So who amongst us didn’t feel smugly superior (despite the sudden jolt in the belly) to Jimmy McCanns when we learned his wife only had four fingers?
Isn’t that the real horror here?
We've got a King Thing. Read about it here