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A learning experience: The Colorado Kid

No need to make a fuss about it: my favorite Stephen King book is Danse Macabre, with On Writing coming second. I’ve read also a nice share of King’s fiction, but I always found his essays a lot more interesting.

On the other hand, I was quite curious to read The Colorado Kid, for two main reasons:

First, it was published by Hard Case Crime, and I am sort of a Hard Case Crime cultist. Second, everybody seemed to hate it, in particular those that style themselves as King’s fans.

With such credentials, I said to myself, it had to be good.
And so, having received a copy as a gift for Christmas, I spent two evenings reading it. And here’s a few thoughts.

Now, first of all, a disclaimer: basically whatever my opinion can be of a Stephen King book is meaningless. The man’s a best-selling author, and his books sell like in cartloads. My opinion is not going to change anything.
And yet…

It had a great cover, too.

I liked The Colorado Kid, because it was not what I was expecting, and because it worked for me on a number of levels.

The plot in a nutshell: in 2005, on a small island off the coast of Maine, two ageing journalists relate the mysterious case of the Colorado Kid to their young intern. It’s both a mystery and a test of the girl’s skills as a journalist.

The first thing that worked for me was the way this short novel works as a masterful crash course in dialog. The whole book is basically three characters speaking, and you need to be good, when the words fall on the page, to characterize the three voices sop that reader won’t feel lost.
I think I’ll re-read this book just for that focus on the dialogue.

The second thing is, of course, the fact that the book is a long meditation on the subject of mystery, and on how the reader’s mind works when a mystery is concerned. The way the mystery is presented, what the reader needs to latch on the story, how the plot is supposed to develop. Another strong lesson, almost an essay in narrative form.
I like that.

Third, with its open ending, The Colorado Kid works as a sort of zen koan, narrative-wise, and reminded me of Scarlett Thomas’ idea of a “novel without a plot”. Another powerful idea worth exploring.

And I can see why the fans did not like this book – there’s a mystery but there’s no solution, there are no monsters (at least in plain sight) and it’s just these two old coons and this chick talking about something that happened to someone else twenty-five years before.
No clowns and balloons, no killer cars, no Jack Torrance.

But it was a nice read, and a lot of fun, like a brain workout. Now I’ve here Joyland, waiting in the queue. Because that one, too, was published by Hard Case Crime, and the fans I heard hated it. It’s got to be good, right?

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