One Thousand One Hundred and Fifty-Three Pages. Three Weeks. My first big undertaking of the summer was Stephen King’s It. It has been on my To-Be-Read list since the 2017 movie came out. I had heard plenty of horror stories about the novel and the creepiness that is Pennywise the Clown. However, none of that could compare to the experience of actually reading the novel.
I want to preface this review with the fact that I have only seen the 2017 movie of It. I’ve never seen Tim Curry’s version, which I always thought was a movie, not a miniseries. The more you know. I do not overly enjoy horror movies, especially when they employ jump scares. I spend the majority of the film with my ears plugged and eyes covered. Horror novels, on the other hand, create fear in an entirely different way that allows me to enjoy it while still getting the adrenaline rush.
We lie best when we lie to ourselves.It: A Novel, Stephen King, page 445
If you follow me on social media, you would find that I almost gave this book up on the day I started it.
The level of homophobia was difficult to take in. I was able to separate Stephen King from his writing, but it is still heartbreaking to read. This is followed by an incredible level of racism. Once I got to that point, I had already resigned myself that I was going to push through.
Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought.It: A Novel, Stephen King, page 782
The massive novel seamlessly blends past and present by splitting sentences between sections, allowing memories to blur into present, creating a world where the two exist side by side. This is one of my favourite aspects of the novel. At the start, it can be difficult to place where the reader stands in the story, but it becomes clear as the transitions begin to take place between past and present.
The story itself is enticing. Getting insight on the characters from when they were eleven to when they are in their late thirties helps to build them from the ground up. They are not simply cardboard cut outs to help clear the way for a terrifying monster. Rather, they are well-rounded with fleshed out personalities that draw the reader in.
One of the more difficult parts of this novel for me was the treatment of Beverly. And I don’t simply mean the way that her father and eventual husband treat her, though that is terrible. While all of the children have complicated relationships with their parents, she is the only one who is physically abused. Then she perpetuates that cycle by marrying someone who is also abusive. She seems to fill a placeholder for all the terrible things that can be done to a young girl and later, a woman. However, I think the worst part is that she never is truly given the chance to fight back against her father or her husband. And that is frustrating.
The other portion of this is how the group treats her. She becomes a token of affection for all of the boys. Which, while believable, diminishes her role as an integral part of the group on her own merit. Ben, Mike, Stan, Eddie, and Richie aren’t there as love tokens. Bev may have a crush on Bill, but it is already clear that he is the leader of the group before she arrives. From the moment she enters their world, the boys are always trying to protect her. It is realistic for the period of time, but considering that she is supposed to be as important as the rest of the characters in the group of seven, it is difficult to follow the logic in having her always being associated with the crushes of the boys around her.
That being said, King’s treatment of Bev in her own sections of the story does provide some relief. She refuses to be treated as a damsel in distress. She demands respect from the boys, and eventual men, in her group. She fights her way through the difficult situations that she is presented with.
As I previously mentioned, horror movies terrify me, while I enjoy horror novels. This book exceeded my expectations on the horror front. It is a terrifying creature, able to contort itself to become what someone fears, but appearing throughout time as Pennywise the Clown. There were points while reading that the terror was ratcheted up so high that I needed to take a break. I needed to remind myself that I was reading a novel, not experiencing the terror myself. Especially as darkness crept across the sky and night fell.
“Come on back and we’ll see if you remember the simplest thing of all – how it is to be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark.”It: A Novel, Stephen King, page 908
Have you read It? Maybe started, but didn’t finish? What was your take on this huge novel? Share your thoughts in the comments.