Wednesday, September 15, 2004


The Journals of Eleanor Druse, by Eleanor Druse, Read by “The Author”, Books On Tape, 2004

The packaging of this short little turd of a book makes a presentation as though this were a true story, going so far as even to state that it is “Read by the Author.” From the moment you hear the voice of the nameless reader claim that she is in her seventies, you realize you’re being had.

Let me, for a second, quote you the back of the packaging so you get the idea of what is being sold here.

Inspiring the ABC-TV series “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital,” THE JOURNALS OF ELEANOR DRUSE documents the spiritualist’s experiences with the paranormal. Included here is Eleanor’s account of her own near death experience, occurring in 1999 as a result of a head trauma accident, as well as her present-day obsession with Kingdom Hospital — a regional medical center in Lewiston, Maine, built on a site where in 1869 a textile mill burned to the ground killing dozens of textile workers — mostly child laborers. Sensing that beneath the hospital building evil still lurks, Eleanor feigns illness to be readmitted onto the grounds where the ghost of a young girl is desperately trying to make contact.

Now, apart from the glaringly poor grammar (check out that run on sentence bracketed with unrelated m-dashes!), this hyperbolic encapsulation suggests that this is a true story that Stephen King liked so much that he decided to write a television series using this woman’s account as a starting off point. That is as much as is suggested. The book’s fragmentary ending, leaving things hanging as it does, is helpful for this series, as it can either pick up where this left off or it has its half-season shelf-life already spelled out for it.

But, have you guessed the secret yet, Gentle Reader? This isn’t a real journal, there is no Eleanor Druse. This is just more scant poundage in the gross ton of fecal matter King routinely foists upon the publishing world month in and month out. When the last tree is chopped down to publish yet more of this scatological graphomania, it won’t be the Lorax that hops out, it’ll be the head of Stephen King going “booga booga booga.”

That this is King’s work is glaringly obvious within the first few minutes of the CD. Apart from the reader’s patently obvious youth, every one of King’s overworked clichés and trite images is on display, crammed to bursting this short work. At this point, King is no longer beating a dead horse, but he’s fast at work on knocking the stuffing out of the horsehide sofa.

What initially drew me to listen to this dreck was the urge to find to some old King on CD to review. When I was twelve, Salem’s Lot scared the crap out of me. All the scares Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson cooked up in The Shining were based on something. So, what I wanted to do was go back and read some of the early stuff, before good ol’ boy Steve King started believing in his last name a little too hard, back when editors actually edited his work. What he publishes these days has the feel of being unalloyed, the chaff and the wheat (mostly the chaff, though).

Unfortunately, the only thing the library had that was close to being old enough was a twenty-eight-hour recording of The Talisman (written with Peter Straub) and I had no desire to spend that long in King’s world. So, this book struck me as a fairly reasonable alternative. Something ostensibly true (“Read by the Author”) that apparently scared the “King of Horror” enough to inspire him to write in a similar vein.

What this book really is is a teaser for the television series. The copyright listed on the back of the box claims the holder of said copyright is “Sony Pictures Television Inc.” That struck me as interesting. What it really is beyond that is a ripoff of the Danish miniseries The Kingdom. The name does kind of give it away, huh? What it is beyond that even is (unneeded, redundant) proof that Stephen King should be put out to pasture.

When I say every cliché of King’s is in evidence, I’m not being exactly accurate. Yes, someone is described as wearing “Coke-bottom glasses;” yes, people die from fear, their faces in a “rictus of terror;” and, yes, the central character is a bit of a kooky outsider. The childhood mystery of supernatural proportions that comes back to haunt adults is the central theme, natch. But as the story went along, I waited patiently for the angelic though somewhat slow black man who stands for pure good. He'd have to show up soon, yes? Alas, as in Denmark, there are no black faces to be had in The Journals.

There are corny jokes like Eleanor Druse used to teach at Faust Collge. Get it? Get it? Faust College — isn’t that spooky? When Kingdom Hospital is overrun with rats, the exterminator company is Lovecraft Pest Control. Isn’t that a precious New England reference?

Which is one of King’s worst flaws apart from creaky old script construction, characters with less depth than the toilet bowl, and predictability that makes sunrise look periodic and inconsistent. Eleanor repeatedly, tiresomely refers to the "medical-industrial complex." The joke, an allusion to Eisenhower's famous military-industrial complex remarks, grows progressively more fatiguing. One suspects that King, who spent much time in the hospital after being hit by a car, is getting out his frustrations and angers at hospital bureaucracy. For added in-joke fun, while Eleanor’s in Kingdom Hospital, one of “Maine's first citizens,” an artist no less, is hit by a van while out for a walk. who could that “artist” be? King's name has clearly frazzled his brains to prop him up with all kinds of delusion of grandeur.

And the curious thing about King lately is that he’s been striving for a bit more literary cache. A stint as co-editor of Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards with Sherman Alexie and Lorrie Moore (two talented writers propping up the doddering Old Man of Letters), getting a couple tales published in The New Yorker. What’s most amusing about these attempts is that there is no discernible effort to write better, to work harder, to hone his craft. Stephen King hasn’t honed his craft since forever. Every book or story that’s come out since about Pet Sematary has been the same treadmill of spooks under the bed, the same characters, the same settings, the same everything.

I’d say more about the reader of this work, whoever she may be, but I don’t really have the urge to add that kind of effort. Suffice to say her reading of the Maine working class accent made me wish I had someone, anyone within striking distance. I’d have preferred it to be the author of this driveling mess of a book, but after wasting some six hours on this coprolitic work, I don’t have the heart to waste even more.


Spaceman Spiff said...

Nice diatribe. Too bad the real author of "The Journals of Eleanor Druse" was Richard Dooling, not Stephen King.

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