Top positive review
Even better the second time...a quarter of a century later.
Reviewed in the United States on November 15, 2016
When I was on a school field trip in the seventh grade, I took Stephen King's "IT" with me to read. The trip was going to be two days in Virginia, and was an example of staying overnight on a school trip. It should have been an adventure. The trip was frankly a waste, but the book was sublime.
I'd gotten into reading Stephen King two years before by way of a trip over the previous summer to my uncle's house. He had a collection of Stephen King novels and I'd started reading them with Pet Sematary, which had been adapted to the big screen two years before. In the intervening time, I'd devoured Salem's Lot, Carrie, Firestarter, and Misery, and The Shining. I found a copy of the 1990 TV movie adaptation and watched it. I recognized just how much I figured it had to have been toned down, but it was a decent primer (or so I thought). I felt warmed up and ready for the brick-like tome I'd acquired. I was wrong.
Reading the book was like a marathon, and I was prepared for a sprint. I easily identified with the younger versions of the characters, but had trouble with identifying with their adult incarnations. I appreciated the story and the implications of both eras, but entirely missed out on how well crafted the story was. In the end it took three weeks, but I completed the book, considered myself proud for conquering the nearly 1200 page tome, put it on the shelf, and...proceeded to put it out of my mind for nearly twenty five years. Almost, and entirely unintentionally, like the characters in the book...
Twenty five years later, I was on a kick of re-reading books I'd read as a kid, and then I approached Stephen King again. In the interim I'd devoured his books and probably thousands of other books by many dozens of different writers of differing skill levels, and when I thought "I should re-read some Stephen King" I thought about it, and it came down to either reading "IT" or "The Stand" and to be honest I felt "IT" was the better book. I remember it being a mountain for an adolescent. I wondered how I'd do this time.
It was SO MUCH better than I ever thought it would be!
I felt ACHINGLY nostalgic in the sections with the characters as kids. Whereas as a kid I identified with those elements as mapping directly onto my friends and setting, I did it unconsciously. Now I was (at times painfully) aware of it. I longed for the good times and friends of my youth. I appreciated how well King encapsulated the distance between childhood and adulthood and all the roads we travel in between. I reveled in how little we remember accurately about the past and how mutable it can be. I realized that IT was in fact two predators...both the eponymous monster who will kill and devour you, and the predator that robs us of our memories and the clarity we remember having as a kid.
The prose is wonderful. King doesn't use mere words to tell stories, he uses meanings themselves, woven seemingly seamlessly into shades of context and pigments of innuendo and occasionally bright, obvious splashes of unobfuscated emotion that jar you because...hey...in real life that's how it works. And in getting that right, King manages to make the impossible elements like the supernatural nature of IT and the relationship IT has with the town of Derry and the inhabitants there...normal. This could have happened. It could be happening. And it's that esoteric dread that King wields masterfully. The implications. The possibilities. Even in the fact that both eras are now, as of 2016, dated (the earlier phase was in the 50's, and the later phase was in the 80's...eerily we would be neck deep in the middle of the next cycle were it coming) was delightful. It was an added layer of nostalgia woven over the rest of the tapestry.
If you haven't read this book, read it now. Enjoy it. If you have read it, by all means read it again. It will thrill and delight and horrify and frighten you all over again.