I lucked up and found a copy of Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid in an indy bookstore last summer, and I finally got around to reading it this month because between work, family, and writing, my time for recreational activities is pretty limited. What time I do have is divided between reading, knitting, and gaming, so my reading list is pretty backlogged. But! I do hope to make some inroads this summer, and I started things off with this slim volume.
The brief, non-spoilery version is that I liked it a lot. I’ve been a Stephen King fan for decades, although I don’t love everything he’s written. Sometimes, he can get a little too… vulgar for my tastes. Dreamcatcher is a notable example, although reading it when I was suffering from a stomach virus was probably not the best life choice I’ve ever made. But when he’s on, he is on, and I consider him to be an amazing storyteller. Maybe he’s not a “literary” writer — although I think some of his works come very close — but he’s a brilliant storyteller.
The Colorado Kid is not a horror story. It appears to be marketed as a mystery/crime story, but… it isn’t really that either. For readers who are familiar with King’s work, I’d say forget trying to categorize it in a particular genre and think of it as a story that’s close in style and tone to works like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. This one is about people and about storytelling, and it’s got some really interesting things to say. And now I’m about to get more specific and spoilery, so I’ll put the rest behind a Read More.
The interesting thing about TCK is that nothing really happens. The framework of the novella is that three people — two older men, one younger woman, all of them journalists — are sitting around, talking about something that happened in town years ago.
That’s it. That’s the novella.
And yet, it’s so engrossing, I had to force myself to put the book down so I wouldn’t end up staying up until the wee hours of the morning and finishing it all in one go. At its heart, this is a story about storytelling. It’s King musing about why we like stories that are tied up in neat packages with a beginning, middle, and an end — and then denying us that. Some readers might not be satisfied with the ending because we, like the characters, are left without concrete answers about what happened to The Colorado Kid (and why and how). In the end, I’m not even certain whether the guy was murdered or not. Personally, I didn’t mind it. Yes, I would have liked to know the whole truth, but I find what King did so fascinating and effective that I don’t really mind that he left us all hanging.
I mean, that’s life, isn’t it? There are some questions that we’ll never have answers to. We don’t like it because we are curious and we like to know things. The unknown can be frightening, but ultimately, there are a lot of unknowns in life, and King makes us confront that and wrestle with our own need to know.
He also gets in some points about the media — how it’s produced, how we consume it, how the news is packaged in a way to be palatable for us. This is one of King’s most smart, insightful works, one that gave me things to think about after I closed the book. If you go in expecting a hardboiled detective novel or some horrific twist, you’ll be disappointed. But if you liked his other works that focus more on the characters and the human condition than on the jump scares and gross-outs, I think you’ll like this.
I know I did. I wasn’t expecting to come away with a new addition to my list of King favorites, but for me, TCK is right up there with The Green Mile, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and The Body as one of his best, most insightful works.
As an aside, fans of the Sy Fy show Haven will find a few familiar touchstones — the two male narrators are named Vince and Dave, for example — but when Sy Fy says the show is based on TCK, they mean “very very very very loosely based”, so don’t go in expecting to find Audrey, Nathan, and Duke or The Troubles in its pages.