No spoilers ahead, fret not.
I’ve had something of an odd trajectory in my reading of Stephen King. I started first with his 2000 nonfiction book, one of his few, which was also part autobiographical, On Writing and then moved to 2006’s Cell followed by 2009’s Under the Dome and then 2011’s 11/22/63 before finally settling in with a classic of his, the namesake of this review, 1986’s It.
In other words, I’m not “classically trained” on Stephen King. Going by his autobiographical work, there are fans of his that believe King’s writing is different pre-1999 accident and post-1999 accident. My first and continuing exposure to King was post-1999 accident. It is the first pre-1999 book I’ve read. I’m not sure I can discern a difference. Maybe I need to (and will) read more King.
Now certainly, I’ve had exposure to his ideas and concepts through the plethora of movie and television adaptations of his work, so I’m aware of them.
In any event, It is a captivating book, even at a staggering 1,138 pages (hardback edition) because of the layered storytelling within the small town ethos, which is something of a trademark for King and within the juxtaposition between the past and the present through the eyes of the main cast of characters, “good guys” and “bad guys” alike. Personally, I thought the passages with the children, the main characters set back in 1958, was the best because King writes children superbly well. In other words, he finds that balance that best represents children in my view: Innocence and intelligence. That is, children are still innocent by virtue of being children, thus manifests the imagination and the ample prey on which It feasts, but within that is also an intelligence that surpasses the expectations of adults and to which adults never give ample credit.
“Big Bill” is the leader of the group and instantly likable due to what happened to his brother, as well as his stutter. In fact, the entire group is a misfit casting or as they call themselves, The Losers Club. Ben is overwhelmingly fat. Eddie has asthma (or does he?). Mike is black, which in 1958 is especially a problem. Stan seems to have OCD. Richie has trouble being serious. Bev is a girl (again…1958).
Then you have that son of a bitch that torments them, Henry Bowers, a few years older and a whole lot meaner. He’s psychotic and gives Pennywise the Clown a run for his money as the worst scum in the novel.
As the story progresses, we get learn more about the characters, like how Bill’s parents have essentially ignored him, Ben’s mom keeps enabling his eating, Eddie’s mom constructs the illusion of his asthma and so on. In between this, we get the adult version of these guys (and girl) called back to the small town of Derry to confront It (or Pennywise) once more. Meanwhile, we get interludes to learn more about the town of Derry and its history, which I found interesting.
Overall, I think King keeps enough action, intrigue, a few scares, even some tender and sweet moments and surprisingly a lot of humor interwoven throughout to keep the 1,138 pages going by at a nice clip. It’s a worthwhile journey into the lives of these characters you come to love because they’re misfits and they’re battling something so unspeakably evil.
Perhaps the only criticism I could offer the book is its miscarriage of the Bev character. She starts out tough and take-no-shit from the others in the Losers Club, but she becomes stereotypical love-struck kid/adult as the story progresses. There’s also a scene in particular that I found head-shaking bad, but alas, King ain’t perfect.